Getting on with the Oars


When our build started like most of the Seil Skiffies I had no experience rowing with longer oars, only distant memories of Bingham’s Pond (come in number Nine your time’s up etc  etc) and in those days the oars were only long because I was short. Sculling about in my wee dinghy and occasionally wrestling with the odd spades that are supplied with inflatables is no comparison with the delights of skiffing.

Back in September I set out some preliminary thoughts about oar-making here:-

My thoughts were largely second hand, as that post shows. Since then a little experience has been gained, many more articles read and as a result the ideas modified quite a bit.

The basic choice is between shorter and longer oars and rightly or wrongly our first set is going to be short, at eleven feet three inches. This is in line with the views of our building team and the absence of any local feeling in favour of going longer. Once we’ve got some sea miles under Selkie’s keel we may treat ourselves to a longer set and we’ll be watching what our competitors are using, particularly if they beat us.

We’ve also decided not to be too clever with our first set, so we’re not making wooden copies of high-tech racing gear. Our oars will be solid rather than hollow, rectangular in section with a maximum width fore-and-aft of 70mm and depth of 30mm. To keep them light I’ve given them Western Red Cedar cores and for strength Douglas Fir front and back faces. What follows is a description of how they’re made, partly for the benefit of those even more amateur than I and also for constructive comment please.

The overall length breaks down into a solid Douglas Fir section forming a handle twelve inches long and the rest glued into the shaft, then an eight foot section with the light core and the final section solid Douglas Fir tapered to the outboard tip. The blades are 4mm good quality marine ply to this pattern:-


It’s been good fun doing these, getting the Great Hut full of wood shavings and gluing up with gorilla glue, in the hope that it may attract some of them to the team.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarking the handle for shaping


Lovely smell of wood shavings


Handle roughed out


Looking better


Mark which way it goes


Glued in


Blanks for shafts assembled


Ready for finishing

To complete the oars I’ll be adding hardwood blocks to take the thrust against the pins and plates with holes for gearing.

Update 13 March

That’s the blocks and plates made and glued in now;-


The blocks are oak and the pads 9mm super-elite plywood that Captain Cormorant had accidentally left lying around in my shed. I’ll need to treat him to a nice eel for his supper to compensate.

The pads will each have three holes drilled to slot over the oak thole pins to give us three gears. The gearing is expressed as the ratio of the length of oar outboard of the pivot to the inboard section. The oars are 135 inches long overall, so a thole pin 31 inches from the inboard end gives a ratio of 3.35, 34 inches gives 3.00 and 37 inches gives 2.65. That gives a good range for varying conditions and strengths of the rowers.

These oars aren’t the lightest in the world, weighing in at about 4.5kg unpainted, but it’s easier to plane a bit off later than to put it back.

Update 24 March


That’s them ready for the final coat on the blades.

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4 Responses to Getting on with the Oars

  1. NickB says:

    Should we perhaps have a spare oar in case of breakages?

  2. Ewan Kennedy says:

    Yes, I don’t think it’ll be easy to break the shafts but the blades are a bit light. I’ve got enough wood for two more but am wondering about making a long one to experiment with.

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