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Tools and Woods with Bob Smalser


 
  A Simple Pair of Seven-Foot Oars 1 of 4  

 

These are for the wedding-gift sailboat to the oldest son, so the family consensus is that store-bought oars or my cruder, painted workboat oars won’t do…

I’ll have to bite the bullet and finish something in… ugh… brightwork. The yacht-finish masochists among you should be pleased.

I pick a couple weathered 8/4 X 6 old growth Western Red Cedar planks off their stack.  Tight grained and clear stock I milled from a sunken log I salvaged 4 years ago.  These rift-sawn planks were milled to be door stock for the new house…but I can spare a couple for a good cause.

Why cedar? I have it on hand, and mast-grade Sitka Spruce, Port Orford or Yellow Cedar… all much stronger and more appropriate than WRC… are 8 bucks a BF. 

I have some good Doug Fir…but it is ugly finished bright, IMO…. and doesn’t plane as crisply as the others.  I can do some things to the cedar that will make it adequately hard and strong for this application.

Well… after planing off the weathering… the chalk line shows I picked one wrong plank.  A butt log board I couldn’t overcome the taper in… and if I rip it straight there is a pin knot in the way and insufficient stock remaining for the blade. 

Fine for a door panel or an oar blade… but no good at all for an oar loom. I can go back out in the rain and muscle around a few thousand pounds of planks to find a better one, or I can make do.  I decide to make do.

An edge joined blade will take longer to do but will be stronger, eh?  A joined oar also gives me the option of orienting the stronger edge grain to the moment of effort in the loom… like in a baseball bat… while using the face grain pieces on either side of the loom to minimize the chances of the blade splitting.

That option is useful when making an exceptionally light oar…which these are not, and I don’t use it, as I want these oars to have some spring during use.

The first step in laying up the oars is to joint the fence edge and rip my looms from the straighter 8/4 plank…and there is zero movement after the rip, which tells me the stock is perfectly seasoned. If it were otherwise, I’d have to go find other stock. I rip a 16th oversize and joint all the faying surfaces on the jointer for a good layup.

I rehearse my glueup…

…glue up using Elmer’s Poly and leave it overnight.

 

Why poly and not epoxy?  Well, in the old days, we woulda used Plastic Resin Glue, which in edge joining… a joint not hard on glue… is also more than adequately strong. 

Even with perfectly jointed edges, it will take a bunch of clamping pressure to bring 8/4 stock into a good joint…poly loves high clamping pressure while using epoxy under those circumstances may starve the joint of glue. 

The soft cedar soaks up glue, so I use a lot of glue on all mating surfaces, and let it soak in a while before clamping, keeping a wet surface.

This next step looks silly, but works. Because of the softness of the cedar, I’ll epoxy in a Purpleheart spline into the oarblade tip.

It’s a crossgrain glue joint, but cedar is exceptionally stable and epoxy exceptionally flexible. In the process, I’ll use the heat gun to thin unthickened epoxy, flowing it deep into the end grain of the blade tip… as much as the wood will take… followed by thickened epoxy and the splines, which are cleaned with acetone first, as Purpleheart is oily.


 
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