In his book, “Small Boats”, Phil Bolger, in his essay on rowing, describes how to modify an ordinary mass production oar to make it more pleasant to use.
With the current Covid-19 situation, maintaining one’s equipment may be the best way to self-isolate.
Twenty-five years or so ago, I built a glued-lap Defender design from Phil Bolger’s “Small Boats” book. My good friend, Chris, bought the oars for the boat. i still have them, even though the boat is long gone. (retired to Half Moon Bay, Sunshine Coast, oarless!)
The oar blades:
What I am going to do is to flatten the “power” side of the blade using my grinder and a sanding disk.
The sanding disk will slightly cup the power face of the oar.
I continue to remove material using the sanding disk until I have sanded to the edges of the blade.
As I am slightly cupping the blades, I will not remove any material from the passive face of the oar.
This is the passive face of the oar…untouched except for a little sanding.
To put the logos on the oar blades, I print them onto Onionskin paper and then varnish them on.
The handles (unvarnished) rest on one of the steps and the leathers (also unvarnished) rest on another. There is actually some sun today.
The rains have begun…I will put ten or more coats of varnish on the oars, one coat a day. Usually I put on more coats until I run out of varnish. (It always seems to harden up in the can, might as well use it) This time I have bought a big can of varnish, so only ten coats.
When the Pandemic is over I will take the oars out for a spin…may be a while.
My next project is to build the Herreshoff Pram from John Gardner’s book, “Building Classic Small Craft”, pages 18 to 31.
A long, long time ago I built Phil Bolger’s 11′ Defender design in glued lapstrake planking. I made some long-reach clamps for the build. They were pretty crude but they did the job.
I used threaded rod and tried to imitate a Wooden Handscrew Clamp with the adjustable jaws.
I cut up some 2 by 4’s and used some cherry firewood for the handles. Bolts are set into the jaws. I made up thirteen clamps for the 11′ Defender build.
I was imitating the classic “Jorgensen” handscrew clamp design that has hardwood jaws that can be offset and/or angled to keep parts from shifting.
In the thirty years since the last build, I am now older and wiser, maybe a little more skilled and I am going to again build a glued-lap clinker boat.
In reading the November 2019 and June 2015 issues of Small Boats Monthly, I found the plans for Brenne Clamps by Christopher Cunningham. I decided to build some.
By the way, Small Boats Monthly is a great resource…you should subscribe!
The Brenne clamp
was designed by Harald P. Brenne, a
teacher at the boatbuilding section of Saltdal Videregående Skole at Rognan in
Northern Norway. The clamp is referenced
in the book Planking and Fastening by Peter H. Spectre, in an article by Bjørn
There is also an
article by Bjørn Skauge in WoodenBoat magazine, issue 29, page 67.
I had a look at Christopher’s plans and then drew up some of my own.
My clinker planking will be about ¼” and 1/8” thick, making a total thickness of ½”, 3/8” and ¼” at the lap. This clamp will work for planking lap thickness of up to maybe 1”. I decided to have a 10” reach, making the clamp 16” long. I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a number of recycled ¾” oak-faced plywood shelves from the local Urban Repurpose store for 25¢ each.
Each shelf gave me enough material for two clamps. For the Pins, I used some 3” common nails.
I did not have any luck in making springs work. I could not source compression springs long enough not to pop out of the clamp when fully open. My son suggested using extension springs attached at the cheek end of the clamp…Instead of a springs, I used some surgical tubing at the cheek end to open the clamps, secured by ½” (could go to ¾”) screws & washers. For the steel strap connecting the cam to the bottom jaw, I used left over scrap metal, some aluminum bar, some left-over half-round from Gwragedd Annwn’s build and some left-over concrete form ties (cut to size) from my garage/boathouse project.
The tools I used were: Bandsaw with a 3/8” blade, Shopsmith with the 12’ sanding disk, Drill Press with a 2½” hole saw, and a 5/32” drill bit, Hacksaw, 1” Belt sander with a metal sanding belt, Cordless drill, Hammer, Metal files, Scissors, Varnish brush and a Random-orbit sander.
I suggest that
you build one clamp, using screws so you can disassemble the clamp and make it
into a pattern…when you know that your interpretation will work for your build,
you can then make as many as you want.
To make the clamps, I traced the patterns onto one of the ¾” oak-faced plywood shelves.
I cut out the pieces with the bandsaw using a 3/8″ blade.
I then sanded the pieces to the line using the Shopsmith 12” sanding disk.
A little extra sanding on the hinge end of the upper jaw insures that the upper jaw will move freely between the cheek pieces when assembled.
I used the Drill Press, clamping the upper jaw blank and cutting out the cam semi-circle with the 2½” hole saw.
After cutting out the half-rounds, I sand the cam lever pieces. Be careful when sanding the cam lever pieces. I now match the cam lever piece to a particular Upper Jaw piece and sand the cam lever to fit the Upper Jaw piece.
Next, use the drill press with the 5/32” inch drill bit to drill two of the remaining pilot holes…One in the cam, off centre.
The two lower jaw holes are for two bamboo pins that reinforce the fixed joint between the lower jaw and the cheek pieces. I will drill and pin the Lower Jaw after the glueing the cheek pieces to the Lower Jaw and the glue has dried. The third lower jaw hole is for the pin that holds the cam to the lower jaw. It is below and slightly offset to the cam hole when the clamp is assembled. I dry assemble the clamp and use the cam strap to determine where the third Lower Jaw hole should be. There is one hole in the upper jaw. The hole is at the pivot point. The pivot hole is on the midline of the Upper Jaw and the same distance from the end of the jaw.
I drill one hole at the top of the strap.
With everything cut, I dry-assemble the clamp in the closed/locked position.
There should be about 1½” between the jaws at the cheek pieces. I usually make sure that the jaws are parallel at the tip.
This is when I glue the cheek pieces to the lower jaw. If you are making a pattern, you now have one, just use screws instead of glue for the next parts…
I get the clamp “squared” up and make the jaws parallel when the clamp is closed, then clamp it up.
I ballpark the length of the cam straps, insuring that there is enough length to go from the cam to the middle of the Lower Jaw.
This is when I cut the cam straps to length…The distance from the middle of the lower jaw up to the cam lever hole. It is personal preference as to which way the cam operates. Mine the cam moves forward to lock. Thought it looked better.
When the glue dries, mark your two remaining pilot holes. These are the for the two bamboo reinforcing pins. Glue them in. I usually give all of the pieces a coat of varnish after sanding and before final assembly. I tried using bee’s wax but it did not work.
Time to attach your jaw-opening device to the clamp. I did not have any luck with springs, although, I did order a lot of Pruning Shear or Secateur springs from China…should get her sometime before summer… I will give them a go when I get them, but for now….
A small amount of spit makes the screw turn easier in the Surgical tubing.
I usually do not attach the cam and cam straps until after I attach the the Surgical tubing…Having the Upper Jaw able to swing freely makes the job easier.
Reassemble your clamp…ensure that the clamp works to your satisfaction.
If the clamp jaws are not meeting tightly enough when the clamp is in the closed/locked position or are too tight in the closed/locked position, you can fix this. Two ways, re-drilling the hole in your Lower Jaw or replacing the cam straps or re-drilling the pivot hole in the strap. You could also add another layer of cork or leather to the jaws of you could sand off some of the cork if too tight.. Fill any “unused” holes with bamboo pins glued-in.
If the Surgical tubing device will not open your jaws fully, you have several fixes. One: shorten the length of the tubing, Two: double up the tubing, Three: take the Upper Jaw off and sand down the pivot end of the jaw.
If your clamp works to your satisfaction, dissemble and use the pieces as templates to make as many as you need…One for every foot of boat length for each side of the boat..?
All in, I spent less than Ten dollars for the twenty-two clamps I made…Each clamp cost less than 25¢ in materials!!! and I have enough left-over material for another ten!
Hope to see you out on the water in a glued-lap clinker boat soon,
The Urban Oarsman, and three paddlers leave the rain of Vancouver and paddle & row into the sunshine of Pitt Lake
Heather and I arrive at the Grant Narrows boat launch. It is $15 for me to launch Gwragedd Annwn and free for car-topped kayaks. Paddlers get all the breaks. I also pay $20 for parking until Monday. The rain is just easing up.
We will paddle on the East side of the lake for the trip up, West side for the trip down.
I am packed and ready to go. After stepping the mast, I row Gwragedd Annwn up river to Pitt Lake. Heather is still packing her Coop Kayak.
The rain has stopped. The clouds are getting lighter to the South. Maciej and Sharron arrive as Heather departs Grant Narrows.
Raven Creek campground is about 10km uplake from Grant Narrows.
The South shore of the lake has a number of old log boom pilings. Three of them have been put to good use by Ospreys. Several of the pilings have nesting platforms on top of them.
The South end of Pitt Lake has the largest negatively accreting delta in the world, and Pitt Lake is the second largest fresh water tidal lake in the world. We will have to make sure to bring the kayaks above the high tide line. There is a dredged channel leading along the South shore and then up into the lake. With the high water and our shallow draft, we can Row & Paddle anywhere.
The rain has stopped completely. There is no wind. Ideal conditions for paddling.
Whenever you begin a paddle, things always get better….
Good weather is on the way!
Heather and I make it to the Raven Creek campground…Meanwhile…
Heather and I do not see Maciej and Sharron. The Raven Creek delta blocks our view of the South shore of the lake.
Maciej and Sharron arrive at Raven Creek. We are happy to see them.
We are all secure for the night. The kayaks pulled up and Gwragedd Annwn moored securely.
We make camp and make supper. The sun has dried everything out.
We have a modest campfire on the beach below the high tide line.
The tide does rise quite high. The evening tide is the “low” high and the morning tide is the “high” high. We have about 12″ or so to go before our camp floods.
The full moon tomorrow night will be the “Blue” moon and the tide will be at its highest then.
The tide is higher in the morning than it was last night.
The plan for Saturday is to paddle to Vickers Creek Campground, another 17km or so uplake (27km from the Grant Narrows launch).
For a moment, I think that I see a clue to the Giant Salamander mystery.
Perhaps another clue to the Giant Black Salamanders of Pitt Lake mystery…a miss-identified seal sighting.
As afternoon arrives, a slight breeze picks up. I decide to try sailing.
This is the idea…too windy to row, Sail. Not enough wind to sail, Row.
I put my rudder on, drop the leeboards and hoist my 104 square foot balanced lug sail for a downwind run.
We meet mid-lake. Heather, Maciej and Sharron are much faster in the kayaks and have checked out the Vickers Creek campsite. They say the beach is too jammed with drift logs for a landing.
They have also checked out Ashby Creek and have come to the same conclusion. We decide to check out the north end of Pitt Lake for a campsite.
The kayakers are so quick that they can check out the sites and have a break and meet me before I arrive at the North end of the lake.
Even under sail, the kayaks are still faster than Gwragedd Annwn. They will paddle up and scout for a campsite. If they do not find anything, they will return and we will try Vickers or Ashby…..
In his book “The Vancouver Paddler”, Glen Stedham says that there are sandy beaches near the mouth of Red Slough, on the Eastern shore suitable for camping. With Pitt Lake water level so high, will the beaches are under water?
Maciej decides to explore the Pitt River delta area for a campsite.
The camp is sandy, with willows sprouting. The tops of the willows have been eaten by Moose…In the sand, we see their hoof prints and their scat.
We hope that we do not get stepped on by browsing moose in the night.
I am using my wife’s Trangia stove, still going strong after all these years. This methyl alcohol stove burns silently, boils AND simmers well. Great stove. Lightweight…quiet as the wilderness itself.
We have solved the Giant Black Salamanders of Pitt Lake mystery. There are not giant salamanders, but giant toads!
This one seems to be eyeing up Maciej.
Tonight is the night of the Blue Moon. Heather wakes up to see it.
The moon is scenic through the clouds. Sadly, no photos turned out.
We have discussed where to spend our last night. With both Vickers and Ashby Creek campsites being log-jammed, we decide to return to Raven Creek.
The kayakers paddle down river too.
The kayakers will go to Ashby Creek and try to intercept our one night campers. We do not have any cell phone or internet service here to communicate with them.
Kayakers having a rest stop.
For Gwragedd Annwn and I, the wind picks up and I try sailing again. With inflow wind speeds of up to and sometimes over 8 kts, I get over 5.5 kts, most of the time in the right direction. I hope the wind holds!!!
I sail right past Ashby Creek and do not see any kayakers.
I furl the sail and begin to row. Perfect rowing (or paddling) conditions. However, with no air movement whatsoever, brilliant sunshine, I am cooking. I have about an 8km row to Raven Creek beach. 3+hrs at the thwart?
In this heat, I row for about ten minutes, stop, wipe my forehead and neck with a wet bandanna, have a drink of water and row on…then repeat…and row on…repeat…and row on…and repeat and row on.
After three and a quarter hours of rowing and three litres of water later, I am at Raven Creek.
Maciej receives an email sent to him this morning that the two Sunday kayakers have left the Grant Narrows launch…We have missed them. We hope that they will have a good paddle and a good night.
In the photo above, you can see the high tide line behind Sharron and Maciej, at the bow of Maciej’s kayak.
Sunday evening sunset. It will be warmer tonight with the cloud cover.
We are all prepared for a rainy Monday morning….
At 5:30 in the morning there is no rain and no wind. Because Gwragedd Annwn is so slow, I decide to leave earlier than planned. Do not want to row in the rain.
Expecting a wet morning, I prepacked and I am almost ready. I pack up my swag tent and remaining gear and leave. (I do, however, make enough noise, like a boy scout troop apparently, to wake everyone else up!)
Being a true leader without knowing it, I have inspired the kayakers to leave too.
Hummmm…Seems as if we are paddling back to the rain we left on Friday!
The rain eases up and hopefully we will be on the hard, packed up and away before it begins to rain hard.
We all arrive at Grant Narrows and load up the kayaks and I put Gwragedd Annwn on her trailer. We pack-up all of our gear.
We go for breakfast.
Distances, with a little sightseeing:
Day one, to Raven Creek campground 9.12km.
Day two, Raven Creek to Pitt River delta, 22.34km.
Day three, Pitt River delta to Raven Creek 21.17km
Day four, Raven Creek campground to Grant Narrows 10.14km.
There is no water level gauge on Pitt Lake that I know of. The nearest one is the Fenton Gauge.
May 17th, 5am. 1.0568m Low Low
May 18th, 8pm. 1.4628m Low High
May 18th, 3am. 1.36m High Low
May 18th, 8am. 1.75m High High
May 18th, 5pm. 0.94m Low Low
May 18th, 11pm. 1.66m Low High
May 19th, 3am. 1.59m High Low
May 19th, 9am. 1.79m High High
May 19th, 5pm. 0.96m Low Low
May 20th, Midnight. 1.69m Low High
May 20th, 5am. 1.68m High Low
May 20th, 8am. 1.7874m High High
The gauge is located on the river near Sheridan Hill, South of Addington Point.
We sighted Ospreys, Canada Geese, Eagles, Mergansers, Humming Birds, Ducks, Seals, Beavers, Western Spotted Toads, Loons, Ravens, Downy Woodpeckers, Crows and saw Moose sign.
Sharron has forgotten her keens at the Pitt River willow camp.
I found a great (well after it is cleaned) camping spoon.
Using scrap pieces of leather, I put a dab of Snow Guard is on the Left and a piece of Bee’s Wax is on the right.
Bee’s wax can be pretty expensive…Mountain Equipment Co-Op sells a 60 gram bee’s wax candle for $3.50. I bought a piece of “raw” bee’s wax from a store called Wicks & Wax, in Burnaby, B.C. for about $11.00/lbs.
Using a heat gun, I melt the Snow Guard and it soaks into the leather. Not much heat is required. I keep adding Snow Guard an allowing it to soak into the leather.
Melting the Bee’s Wax into the leather. More heat is needed to melt the wax compared to the Snow Guard. I am careful not to scorch the leather.
Both the Snow Guard and the Bee’s Wax must be molten to soak into the leather. The leather must be warm enough to keep them molten.
I turn the two pieces of leather over and view the results.
So which is better for treating your Oar Leathers? The Snow Guard is easier to apply, it needs far less heat to penetrate the leather. You can rub the Snow Guard on the leathers and leave them in a warm place or in the sun and the Snow Guard will soak into the leather.
The Bee’s Wax seems to fill the leather more fully but needs a lot more heat to melt and soak into the leather.
I have treated a new set of oars with Bee’s Wax and will try them out and see how well the Bee’s Wax performs.
The first step is to melt the wax. I use a tuna tin, my heat gun and a plant-pot heater to melt the wax.
Using a paint brush, I coat the Oar Leathers with the wax. It solidifies almost immediately. I paint on several layers.
I use my heat gun to melt the wax into the leather. Experience is showing me that many thin layers are better than a few thick ones.
I get the leather hot enough to melt the Bee’s Wax, and keep applying it until it no longer soaks into the leather.
When the leather is saturated, I move to the next oar.
When the leather is saturated, I wipe off the excess wax. The wax does not soak into the leather where the glue is.
With the Oar Leathers Bee’s Waxed, I will try them out and see if I like the “feel” while rowing.
For the Vancouver Wooden Boat Society, I am teaching a how to make Oars workshop at our new site, formerly the Old Coal House building, now the Wooden Boat Centre at 60 East Columbia Street in New Westminster, BC.
This is how to leather the Oars you make (or buy). I first like to get between 3 to 6 coats of varnish on the oars (not the grips). The oar should be varnished under the leathers. I like to get the leathers on while the varnish is dry but still soft. Subsequent coats of varnish will help “lock” the leathers in place.
To leather my oars, I used:
A piece of Double shoulder special 7/9oz Veg-tanned leather from Tandy Leather, four pieces of 8½” by 11” paper for patterns, a ruler, Scissors, a pencil, leather punch, big sewing needles, scotch tape, waxed twine, a 33 cm. by 38.1 cm. Ziploc bag and Snow Guard.
How thick should your leather be? The guiding factor I use is the max diameter plus double the thickness of your leather is less than the inside diameter of your preferred oarlock. In my case, max inside diameter of my oarlocks is 2 5/16″. The diameter of the oar at the leather is 1 7/8″ plus two times the thickness of the leather (1/8″) is 1/4″. This gives me a diameter at the leather of 2 1/8″. I will have 3/16″ of “wiggle room” at the oarlock.
Step One: you measure your oars to determine where your leathers should go. The measurement you begin with is the distance between your oarlocks. There are many oar placement formulas out there. I use the Phil Bolger’s recommended method. Bolger wanted his oars to just clear each other at the boat centreline with the oars horizontal and eight twenty-fifths of the oar length inboard of the oarlock. I usually like to leave a little less so I never smash my thumbs together (I have a bit of a bad habit of locking my thumbs over the end of the handle of the oar while rowing). I want my oars to be at the 8/25th from the grip (or 17/25th mark from the tip of the blade) mark on the oar. This is where I put my button. This means that when I push my oars down to the button, I am at the 17/25 gearing spot. I can bring my oars inboard to reduce gearing, but I cannot put my oars further out to increase gearing…I can only make it easier to row. I am fine with that. I am not very good at holding my oars in the oarlock at the right spot …that is why I put my button where I want my oars to sit.
The Key Factor is to put your buttons wherever you want, as long as the rowing feels good to you. The rowing gods will not send lightning to strike you dead if your buttons are not exactly at 8/25ths of the length of the oar! These are Your Oars, so do what works best and feels best for you.
If you are good enough at rowing to be able to hold your oars where you want them at the oarlocks, you can may not need a button at all and you should centre your leathers on the 8/25th mark, so you can gear up or down as you row.
Now in all honesty, I never change my gearing. My leathers could be only slightly longer that the width of the oarlock “horns” or “arms”. To protect the oar the leathers would only need to be an inch or two long, but, that does not look right. If you are going to change your gearing while rowing, you need a leather that is long enough to do so, so no matter what your gearing is, as long as you are rowing on the leather on your oar. Bolger shows his leathers as being 6″ long (Small Boats, International Marine, 1973, pg 30 & 31) …Some other authors go a long as 14″. As long as your leathers protect your oars from wear at the oarlock, the length is an aesthetic decision you must make. Whatever looks good to you. I am an 11″ leathers man myself.
The longer the leather, the less likely the leather is to slip on the oar.
Step Two: I am Using a 8½” by 11” piece of paper for a pattern, so my leathers are 11″ tall by the circumference of the oar. The circumference measurement is dependent on how much your leather shrinks or expands when wet-out. Take a test piece of leather (say 6″ by 6″) let it soak overnight and remeasure it to see how your leather changes when wet-out. If the leather expands when wet, deduct the extra so you end up with a ⅛” to ¼” gap. If the leather shrinks when wet, add to your measurement so that you still get a ⅛” to ¼” gap. On your paper pattern, mark where the button will be. Tape it to the oar with the button mark ½” past the 8/25th mark (where you want your oarlock to be). Mark on your paper pattern where the paper overlaps. Mark where the paper ends on the blade side, so you know where your leathers will go.
Another trick you can try is to use a strip of your leather (say the ½” by 18” strip for the button) to determine the around the oar measurement. This will allow for the thickness of the leather.
Remove the paper, draw a line to connect the two marks. Draw another line, ⅛” to ¼” further in from the first line. You want your soaked piece of leather to be ⅛” to ¼” smaller so you will have a gap that you will later pull tight. ( ⅛” to ¼”? how stretchy is your leather when wet?) Cut out the pattern. For my flat blade spoons this is 11″ by 5¼”. My button will be a strip of leather that goes twice around the oar, about 11″ long. A word or two about buttons. I use my button to help hold the oar at the correct (for me) spot at the oarlock. Two wraps of leather is fine for this. If you want your button to keep your oarlocks on your oars, say with Scotty strongbacks or any round oarlock designed to stay on the oars, you must make sure that the button stands proud enough to keep the oarlocks from falling off of the oars at the grip. Your button may have to do two jobs, oar placement and oarlock retention.
Make a paper pattern for all of the oars you are going to leather. Transfer the pattern to the leather. With my leather, I draw a line 11″ from the bottom of the piece. using the paper patterns, I mark on the leather where to cut.
I have four ½” strips at the beginning and four 11″ by the circumference of the oar less ⅛” (I am not going to stretch my leather much).
Using a pair of heavy-duty scissors, I cut the patterns out.
I find that it is too hard to just sew through the leather so I punch holes to sew through.
Step Three: On the rough side of the leather, I draw a line at least a ¼” in from the edge and mark the lacing holes every ¼” . You can use whatever measurement you want, just end up with an odd number of holes. Every 10cm would work just as well. I would not go any closer than ¼” as when wet, the leather is soft…do not want it to tear.
Punch out the holes…obviously, the longer the leather is the more holes to punch. I have never tried drilling them out. If you do not have a punch, I suggest that you buy one when you buy your leather…Talk to the sales clerks, and tell them what project you are working on. They may have some good suggestions for you.
Step Four: Having punched all of the holes, I put the leathers and button strips into a large (33 cm. by 38.1 cm Ziploc bag and add water…
I will let the leather soak overnight (however, an hour will do). I use room temperature water NOT hot water! Hot or boiling water will make the leather hard and unworkable.
A couple of extra tools may be helpful. A pair of pliers, a corkscrew and two small diameter wooden blocks (I used the cut-off grip ends of my oars from when I cut them to size).
When completely saturated, my leather went from 1/8″ to 3/16″ in thickness!
Another way of cutting your leathers to size is to cut the leathers Oversize, say 11″ by the circumference plus ¼” (bigger than your oar circumference!). Mark the holes ¼” on a line ⅜” from the edge. Do not punch the holes, soak the leather first. When the leather is saturated, remeasure the oar and then cut the leather to fit. If you have to cut the leather on the long edge to fit the circumference with a ⅛” gap, use a sharp knife and a ruler (on a breadboard). Now punch the holes on the ¼” marks, ¼” from the edge. I found wet leather easier to cut and punch than the dry leather.
Step Five: With the leathers thoroughly soaked, I begin to sew them on. I have the 8/25th point (where the oarlocks will be on the oar while rowing). I put the leather there and start sewing from the Blade end up to the grip end. This way I will finish at the button end of the leather and the button will cover where I tie the threads together.
Now the big question! Stitches Up? Down? on the front side? on the back side? I think that this is mainly an aesthetic consideration. Gwragedd Annwn’s spoon oars (with over 1500 nautical miles on them) have the stitching resting against the oarlock. The oarlock “wears” on them with every stroke. No issues so far. I use fairly thick ⅛”+ leather and perhaps the stitches settle deep enough into the leather so the stitching does not wear.
For the flat spoons I have made, I am putting the stitching “Up”, where they should wear the least against the oarlock. I will be able to see the stitching with every stroke. I will see how it looks and if I like the look.
After I have leathered the oars, I take a rolling pin and roll out the leather. This helps the leather to fit tight to the oar and helps seat the stitching.
If the stitching is a little loose, I use a corkscrew (on my Swiss Army Knife) to pull it tight.
For the flat blades, I will put the stitching on the bottom (power face) side of the oars.
If you need to get more tension, wrap the lacing around a block and pull. If you are having trouble with pulling/pushing the needles through the holes, use a pair of pliers to pull the needles with.
Step Six: Buttons, Buttons, where do the buttons go?
Since Gwragedd Annwn is at home, I took my newly leathered oars out and put them into the oarlocks, sat in the boat and made sure that my thumbs had clearance. I marked where the buttons should go. I had measured right.
I took the 18″ by ½” strips of soaked leather and cut bevels in the ends with a sharp knife. I patted them dry with paper towel. I gave them a tug to stretch them. If you are using your button to keep “Captive” oarlocks on the oar, make sure that you have a long enough piece that when wrapped around the oar stops the oarlock from coming off of the oar….Oh, and now is the time to put the oarlock on! If you are using Scotty Strongbacks, make sure that the flat side of the “P” will be on the forward side of the oar. You want to be rowing against the pin. If you are using symmetrical captive oarlocks, any way will do.
I laid the strip next to the oar and spread a line of Titebond II glue down the centre of the strip.
I then wrapped the strip around the leather at the end with the end knot.
I secured the wound strip with a thick rubber band. I turned the button until the beginning end and the ending end were opposite each other.
I then took a hose clamp and used it to clamp the button loosely . Make sure that the layers are on top of each other. Tighten. If your button shape distorts, undo the clamp and re-align. The blade side of the button should be the straightest.
Step Seven: Wipe off excess glue and put aside and let dry.
If your hose clamps are not wide enough and leave a mark on the button that looks like this (and you do not like the look):
There is a fix for this…it uses a piece of 1″ by 12″ sheet metal flashing. I bought mine at the hardware store. You could also use a piece of cut-up 1 litre pop bottle. You need one strip for every button.
The method is to use the hose clamp to “clamp” the button, squeezing out all of the excess glue/water then take off the hose clamp, wrap the button with the flashing strip and re-apply the clamp. Tighten.
I do the same for all of the oars. The leather will shrink as it dries.
Step Eight: When the leather is thoroughly dry and warm, I rub Snow Guard into them to seal, waterproof and protect the leather. Put the oars somewhere warm (in the sun) for the Snow Guard to soak into the leather. In cold weather, I have heated the leathers with a Hair-Dryer to melt the Snow Guard into the leather or left them by the fireplace.
After the Leathering is done, I put some more (to total at least 12) coats of varnish on the oars. The additional coats will help “glue” the leathers in place.
Gwragedd Annwn has “D” section red cedar cupped spoon oars. They are 8’6″ in length and have a blade area of ≈125 square inches. I have two sets, sized for the fore and aft rowing positions. The fore pair weigh 4lbs. 13oz. and 4lbs. 13.6oz.; the after pair weigh 4lbs. 9.10z. and 4lbs. 8.2oz. They all have lead weights in the grips for balance. They have performed very well for me. After several thousand nautical miles of rowing, I have made some modifications to Gwragedd Annwn’s cupped spoon oars.
I felt that I had overbuilt the oars. I felt that they were heavy in the blade.
The first step is to rip off the splines from the 9′ cedar 2″ by 6″ (my oars will finish at 8′ 6″). The splines are the two opposite edges of the 2″ by 6″. The rounded edges will mean less wood to shave off later. The next step is to set the saw blade to 10° and rip the rest of the 2″ by 6″ into two trapezoid shafts.
The wide base of the trapezoid will rest against the oarlock, i.e., faces forward, the narrow top of the trapezoid (the powerface of the oar blade) faces aft.
After marking the blade shape profile on the blade blank, I carefully cut the spoon blade out.
After you cut the spoon oar blade blanks, mark the blade shape onto the blank.
After you mark the spoon oar blade blanks, you cut them in half, down the middle to make two “wings” to fit onto your trapezoid shaft.
I have not cut the blade shapes yet. I will use my jigsaw to cut them out later.
I used a ¼” round-over bit in my router to shape the narrow top of the trapezoid and a ¾” round-over bit for the wide base of the trapezoid shaft.
I set up the router in a router table and carefully ran all of the edges through it. I finished off the rounding-over with a 5″ random orbit hand sander. I then sanded with the grain to remove the sanding marks. Sadly no photos of the sanding process.
Now I know that I am some sort of varnish heathen…but let me explain. I have a cedar deck railing on my house that is varnished. I have refinished it twice in 30 years, most recently two years ago. For the railing, in the heat of the summer, I take a can of varnish and keep applying it until the can is empty. Coat after coat, as soon as the previous coat is dry to the touch. I do not worry about insects, dust, pollen etc. The varnish is for protection! No varnish failure on the deck yet. I am sorry to say that I treat my oars in the same way. Lots of coats. In the winter it takes a long time for the varnish to dry “hard”, in the summer not as long.
My other heathenistic varnishing thing is: I like my varnish to be warm when I apply it. Seems to “flow” easier, go on smoother, cover better, and result in less “drips”. In the winter, I warm it up by putting it onto my “plant-pot” heater. In the summer, not really a problem.
I am leathering the Oars. I determine where 8/25th of the oar is. This is the accepted spot for the oarlocks. I take a piece of leather, about 12″ long and wide enough to go around the oar less ⅛”. ¼” from the edge, I punch holes along the edge every ¼”. I soak the leather in room-temperature water (in a baggie) overnight. Do not use hot water…it will ruin the leather. I use some waxed Sailmaker’s twine and baseball stitch the sides of the leather together. Two needles at the same time. Do not pull the leather together so tightly that you rip the leather…it will be pretty soft. If you are worried about the leather shifting after it has dried, there are a couple of things to try. I put some more coats of varnish on my oars after leathering. Varnishing right up to the leathers allows some varnish to seep under the leathers, glueing them in place when the varnish dries. Two or three coats of varnish will stick the leathers in place. You could also try smearing the oar under the leather with Titebond II glue before you sew them on. When you are happy with where your oars sit on the oar-collar, you can put on the buttons.
My leathers are stitched to the oars and I am going to fix the buttons. I like to have my buttons at the maximum gearing that I intend to use. In this set-up, I can always “gear-down”. I cut about a ½” strip of leather, soak it overnight and use Titebond II to glue it onto the leathers. Hose clamps provide the clamping pressure. I do not nail the leathers to the oars.
When the leathers are thoroughly dry, I rub them with “Snow Guard”, a leather waterproofing treatment. (I bought mine at Marks Workwear House) I leave the oars in the sun to warm the leather so the Snow Guard really soaks in. I keep a jar of Snow Guard in the boat and coat the leathers at the beginning of each row so the oars move easily during the stroke.
The decoration is printed on “Onion Skin” tracing paper. I cut the decoration out, and put a coat of varnish onto the oar. While the varnish is still wet, I put the decoration on…and varnish over it.
The procedure for balancing the oars is to get into the boat, dip the oar into the water, use a scale to determine how much weight to put into the grip so the oar just floats with the blade below the surface. This does not have to be done in the field, I did it by putting a big cooler full of water beside Gwragedd Annwn, placing the oar into the oarlock and floating the blade in the cooler. I used fishing weights to determine how much lead rod to put into the oar grips. The weight was similar but different for each oar.
So that is how I made Gwragedd Annwn’s Cupped Spoon Oars. The additional small leather collars towards the blade are to hold them in position when using the transom sculling notch. I also use my oars to determine the water depth. See my post “How deep is the water”
I quickly sand off the excess epoxy from the joint. I will re-varnish this spot. It will be covered by reflective tape later.
I going to make up a plug for the mast base. Because I reinforced the exterior of the mast with epoxy & cloth, I do not need as long a reinforcing plug on the inside as I had planned. I stuff more aluminum foil into the hollow mast. I leave just enough room for the plug stem. I use a plug of aluminum foil to make a “dam” to keep the epoxy from flowing down the mast into the “crumpled for radar reflection” aluminum foil.
I start with an oak hand shovel handle I bought from Princess Auto.
It is almost an exact fit. I sand off the finish so the epoxy will soak into the wood. I cut off the rounded top and the excess on the bottom.
I make up an oak disk, just over 2½” in diameter with a 1″ hole in the centre. I use my Shopsmith disk sander to round down the shaft of the handle. (I then sand the bottom of the mast to bare wood) The disk will fit against the bottom of the mast.
I mix up the epoxy…Two hundred stirs.
After I have coated all the bare wood, I mix wood dust with the epoxy and get ready to glue it all together.
I angle the mast so the base is up and pour the thickened epoxy into it. The Aluminum foil “dam” keeps the epoxy from going into the “crumpled for radar reflection” Aluminum foil while I get the plug glued in.
I then wrap the joint with the packing tape to keep the epoxy from leaking out. I stand the mast upright in the garage with the heat lamp on it.
Now all of the epoxy will flow down around the plug for a good glue-up.
I now turn to the other (Masthead) end.
I give the Masthead end a light sanding with the 350 wet/dry sandpaper and touch up the varnish.
The mast is 17″1″ long and 16′ 10¼” to the centre of the sheave. It is 2½” in diameter at the base, tapering to 2¼” at the masthead. There is 1½ pounds of (radar reflective!!) aluminum foil in the mast. The mast weight is (using my luggage scale) 14lbs.
Three photos of the finished mast in Gwragedd Annwn:
When the rains stop, I will rig Gwragedd Annwn with her new lugsail. I believe that I will have to move her mast-step and the mast partner to balance her for sailing…a little trial and error is in my future.
The epoxy has cured on the base of the mast reinforcing. I used 6oz. cloth, left over from Paul’s Canoe build.
I get out the wet/dry 350 grit sandpaper & bucket of warm water with a little soap again. I sand smooth the joint where the cloth meets and where I did a little filling.
The varnishing consists of: a coat of varnish, rotating the mast every 30 minutes for two hours to minimise drips, let dry, repeat. It is the same method I used to epoxy coat the mast, just more coats of varnish (8!)
I take the Masthead Sheave plug assembly into the house to fit the sheave, washers and pin. The pin is 3/16″ brass rod. I got the brass washers from Roy.
After I cut the pin to size, I file the edges smooth. Ready to epoxy the plug into place.
Both the plug and the masthead are sanded down to bare wood. I set up the mast stand and then mix-up the epoxy. Two hundred stirs.
All is good.
After I have coated all the bare wood with the straight epoxy, I add wood dust to thicken the epoxy. I put the base of the mast on the floor, angling the mast up towards the top so the epoxy will, if anything, run down into the mast. I fill the mast head with the thickened epoxy mixture.
I insert the Masthead Sheave plug, the bamboo pin and then wrap the joint and pin ends with packing tape to prevent the epoxy from leaking out.
To have all of the epoxy settle around the Masthead Sheave plug, I place the mast upside down in the centre of my garage. Gravity will make the epoxy flow down and around the plug stem.
The distance to the inside peak of my roof is just a little over 17″. The mast barely fits!!!
Next step is to make the mast base plug. I have a piece that I will fit into the base. Tomorrow’s job….the mast is almost finished!
We have had over 20cms (almost 8″) of rain at the house. It has been very rainy and more rain is predicted. I decide to wet sand the mast tomorrow. Well, it is now tomorrow and it is supposed to rain all day today. I was all set up to wet sand the Mast and Masthead plug in the rain. Would you not know it…no rain today, but the temperature is just over 13° C.
I have a margarine container with some hot water with a little dish soap. I really want the varnish to stick to the mast, so I am making sure that the mast has a good bonding surface…the soap will wash off any “anime Blush” that there may be on the mast.
Well, there is a change of plans. I am going to fill a few minor flaws that I have found while sanding. I will live to varnish another day.
I mix up a small amount of epoxy and a touch of sanding dust and go around the mast, filling the few flaws that I have found. To keep the epoxy in place, I put a piece of packing tape over the epoxy. Sort of like a band-aid.
Well, this is a change of plans. I decide that since I cannot varnish the mast until the epoxy cures, I might as well go all the way with my other “idea”. Generally, the base of free-standing masts are reinforced on the inside, as there is a lot of stress placed on the mast base while sailing. I am going to wrap my mast base with epoxy & cloth to reinforce it. This will also keep the mast from being damaged where it goes through the mast partners (the thwart). I will still leather the mast at thwart level. (about 16″ up) to reduce chafing.
I used 6oz. cloth left over from “Paul’s Canoe build”. I am putting epoxy & cloth from the mast base to about 27″ up.
I intend to wrap the Mast/Masthead plug joint with silver reflective tape when I am done. Hopefully I can wet sand the mast base, the filled minor flaws and start to varnish tomorrow.
To solve the increasing inside diameter issue, when I epoxy the masthead plug in, I will stand the mast on its head, the epoxy will flow down around the masthead plug shaft, filling any gaps.
The procedure will be to push an “epoxy plug” into the mast, (remember, the mast is filled with crumpled aluminum foil) pour in epoxy & wood dust mixture, tape around the joint, stand the mast on its head, The epoxy & wood dust will flow down around the masthead plug. I have 17″ of height to the peak of my garage roof, so my mast will just fit.
When I made the mast, I used a belt-sanding jig to round the mast. The result was a round mast, but there are lots of cross-grain sanding marks. I am going to now re-sand the mast, with the grain, to end up with a smooth finish.
I mark the mast with a pencil circle…I will sand each stave and the marks will tell me which stave I have sanded
This part is where I “sand-off” an afternoon…the procedure is to move up and down the mast, sanding as I go…Each stave takes maybe 10 passes of the sander to sand off the cross-grain marks.
After I have sanded the mast with 80 and then 150 grit, I pin the masthead plug to the top of the mast and sand it flush with the mast.
I now brush off the sanding dust and vacuum the mast & masthead plug.
I take out the Masthead sheave plug to epoxy separately. I re-arrange my mast supports, one on each end. I use a metal bar, inserted into the top and bottom of the mast to hold the mast in the brackets. This way I can rotate the mast and epoxy all its sides.
I clamp the Masthead Sheave plug in a vise to give the top part a coating of epoxy. I will not epoxy the shaft and the bottom of the plug. When I epoxy the mast and the plug together, I want the epoxy to soak into the wood on both pieces.
I am epoxy coating the mast for two reasons. One: While sanding the mast I had noticed that some of the joints were not filled…the was sanding dust in the joint. To insure that all of the mast stave joints are epoxy filled, and Two: to seal the wood so no water will be absorbed.
The screwdriver is used to help turn the mast 180°. Why do this? Gravity makes the epoxy flows around the mast and settle on the bottom
My solution to drips is to rotate the mast 180° and then brush the drips out. I rotate the mast every 30 minutes until the epoxy is too set for the drips to form.
I also brush off the drips that have formed on the Masthead sheave plug.
A Note: after turning my mast a few times, I decide to epoxy coat my Traditional Small Craft Association membership card…I just got it in the mail today. The epoxy is now a little stiff, and does not flow over the card evenly, but now the card will last forever.
After the epoxy cures, the next step is to give the mast and masthead plug a light sanding, then varnish them. It will be easier to varnish the plug and the mast in the rotating rig separately. I will glue them together after a few (too many) coats of varnish have been applied…probably one a day for a week or so.