Oars for Northeaster

Hi Birch2, started a new thread for your oars question, it’s a good one I hope garners a lot of feedback.

I use 8’ straights from Barlkey Sound and 8.5’ spoons from Shaw and Tenney. I find the 8’ oars too short for solo rowing station. While tandem 8s are ok at bow seat. The 8.5s are a bit long for bow station but doable for stern. Both stations require crossed hands but it was easy to learn. To my mind 8.5 is a little short for the solo station - I’ve come to enjoy crossed hand recovery. However, plugging the Dory's variables into oar length formulas show 8.5' to be the "correct" length.

IMHO the spoons are much more pleasant to pull, especially in a chop. It could be a question of craftsmanship though, the S&Ts are fine indeed.

A chat with John came around to 9’ oars being possible as long as the extra length came inboard. It may also help balance the weight outboard. Being rather cheap I’ve not gotten a 9’ set as the S&Ts are spendy and shipping on that length rises dramatically. It would be an expensive experiment! Having both 8' and 8.5' sets is pretty versatile without having piles of oars filling up the basement. If I could have only one pair it would be 8.5 spoons.

There are plans and a template kit for home built straight blade oars here:

They look intriguing to me. I’ve sworn not to build another boat this winter but who could criticize a guy for building oars? Would like to hear from anyone who’s built a pair.

Cheers, e

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RE: Oars for Northeaster

I made a pair of spoons last winter, using a woodenboat article "Making Spoon-Bladed Oars," 117:86 as a guide. It assumes you have a nice bandsaw, which I didn't. I ended up cutting the spoon profile in three 1.5" chunks of wood and then gluing them together to get 4.5" blades; the middle 1.5" also comprises the shafts and handles. The article also assumes you have a spokeshave and carving tools... I didn't, and actually used a powerplane for as much of the shaping as possible, tuning with an angle grinder, and finally 40 grit sandpaper. It worked, but between those shortcuts and this being my first pair, they turned out just OK.

They took all of $11 worth of wood and rooting through the piles at the big box store to find clear pieces. It was a well-worthwhile project, and I ended up with serviceable 10 foot oars for nearly free. A second pair could only get better, though if I could do it over, I would start by getting a spokeshave for shaping hollows. 

I used douglas fir, which is stronger than spruce as the article used, allowing me to make 10' oars and 1.5" shafts, and still proving to be plenty strong this boating season. The downside to this wood was when shaping, the growth rings had vastly different hardness, leaving ridges everywhere during sanding. I would look for a different species of wood next time. 


RE: Oars for Northeaster

I'm intrigued by the idea of making oars but don't want to own any more tools. Perhaps I could make flat-blade oars with what I've got -- a hand-held circular saw, a saber saw, a handsaw, and a drill. I've made some crummy (but useful) kayak paddles in the past, but I will want something nice to go with the Northeaster Dory once it is finished.  The CLC plans might work for me -- despite the mention of the need for a bandsaw.

So, I'll probably start with a pair of 8.5' oars and a pair of 8' oars. Unless I get more advice somewhere.

Thanks, Silver Salt and ndadam.

RE: Oars for Northeaster

 A muscle-powered saw, as long as it's sharp, will do all the cutting you need. There'll be less noise and more sweat, but the wood won't care.

A plane, rasp and spokeshave  will take care of the shaping. Look at the beautiful oars our ancestors were making in the 18th century without electric tools.

Have fun,



RE: Oars for Northeaster

   Hi Laszlo,

Thanks for the encouragement. I wholly agree with you about hand tools. Three years ago I finally bought a new handsaw and was amazed at how well it cut wood. For many purposes it was quicker and easier than getting out my circular saw. 

My Dory is coming together so well and so fast that I really do need to figure out the oars. What good is a nice boat without oars to row it? I like the idea of rooting around in the big box store for some suitable lumber and making an attractive set of wooden oars. Now to buy a spokeshave. . . . 

RE: Oars for Northeaster

   I have two pairs of 8' spoons on my Dory from CLC.   I've been reading some, and talking to a couple rowers on the West coast (Washington) about the old time tradition of using much narrower blades (native Americans and Alaskans)

My understanding is that narrower blades give you faster/easier initial movement but may not have as high a top speed.  The guys at the CLC booth in Port Townsend agreed conceptually said what I could do is cut some (1/4"?) off each side of the width of one pair of oars, then if I didnt like it I'd use the other non cut pair for me and let my Wife use the narrower ones when we go double rowing (not that oten)




RE: Oars for Northeaster

   Curt, my spoons blades are fully one inch narrower than the flat blades but are longer. They work very well. Were I to perform surgery on the flat blades they would loose width as well as thickness. Someone somewhere said most store bought oars are best thought of as oar blanks.

RE: Oars for Northeaster

   I bought some lumber for a set of oars. Now I need to decide on the shape of the blades.  Roughly 2 feet by 7 inches. Or a bit longer and narrower?

RE: Oars for Northeaster

   I found a couple of nice sites about making oars based on Pete Culler's designs. Here is perhaps the best one:


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