View Full Version : oily oar questions

Pram Man
05-10-2011, 01:41 AM
Well, I am about to build my first set of oars. Unless people here say "varnish them! varnish them!", I would like to oil them. But what sort of linseed oil? Over here in central Europe they don't use it to oil their cricket bats, they feed it to their horses (well, that may be the case everywhere, I suppose). Do I need a particular kind of linseed oil for my oars? And how much oil will I need? And what do people think about oiling the thwarts as well? etc etc.

And here is question number two: I often read that sewing leathers is preferable to tacking them because tacking may let water into the wood, leading to rot. But how great a danger is this? Tacking seems so much easier to me. What are your thoughts on this?


Pram Man:)

Michael Beckman
05-10-2011, 03:29 AM
Go for linseed oil without chemical additives. It doesn't have to be food quality by any means, but you don't want it to set up before soaking in. In the US its sold as raw linseed oil and boiled linseed oil. Raw is the preferable one. Leave the handles unfinished though, oiled or varnished handles feel terrible on the hands.

Lazy Jack
05-10-2011, 05:44 AM
Linseed oil won't "soak in" to any appreciable degree in any case. It is also perfect fungas food. If you want an easy flood on wipe off close to the wood non-film finish, there are any number of oil based finishes with appropriate mildew retarders. None, however, provide much resistence to UV degradation both to the finish and the wood, weather checking (with chronic exposure to the elements) etc that a film finish with uv inhibitors (varnish, paint, etc) would provide. However, maintanence of oil is easier with a quick sand and another application of oil. No matter what, if you use oil, the oars will eventually appear somewhat grubby - if that really matters.

Stiching on leathers is better than tacks for the reason you sited. I have a pair of spruce oars which I tacked the leathers on to. The wood is turning gray and the varnish is lifting around where the tacks were driven.

05-10-2011, 06:54 AM
Varnish and minimal tacks.

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George Ray
05-10-2011, 08:04 AM
Any oil will make the wood happy by slowing the entry of moisture that promotes not only rot in the extreme case but checking/cracking. Pete Culler is a good source for some tips on such things. His book 'Skiff and Schooners' has a chapter on Goops and Goos. I suspect he tended toward linseed mixed with a bit of varnish, pine tar and japan drier. It ends up being something between and paint and oil. That sounds good to me.

Dan Newton
05-10-2011, 08:10 AM
Oil looks great and is easy to apply, but will allow water to penetrate and raise the grain. I tried boat soup, which is Linssed oil,turps,pine tar and japan drier, for about a year. It seemed like a part time job, every couple of weeks I'd have to apply it again. Someone on another thread called it "caveman goo", that made me laugh, but in the end, I sanded carefully and put some spar varnish over the goo. Friends say you can see the oars flashing in the sun from a mile away.
I have also heard that tacks at that high strain location will weaken the oar. The sewing is fun if you punch the holes in the leather first and stich'em up tight or they'll slide.

Best of luck.

wizbang 13
05-10-2011, 08:21 AM
I leave oars un finished generally. Oil, varnish or paint, it gets rubbed into the boat sooner or later, as the oars get put away or knocked around.

"caveman goo" is my word

Ian McColgin
05-10-2011, 10:00 AM
Oil kinda pointless unless you like your oars to weigh a ton as they absorb water, mostly in the wrong place making the oars heavy in the blade. Varnish is ok for fancy spoon blades but if you're making traditional oars on the Pete Culler model paint is far more traditional and honest.

I think it well to CPES the bejezus into them, especially on the blade and working up the end grain. Tips take a lot of abuse. However, do not treat the handles with anything like varnish or paint. Raw wood only, unless you really like blisters.

No tacks. Even one tack admits moisture. Also, it's actually much much harder to get a snug fit tacking the leathers than stitching. For the average diameter, cut the leather so it wraps with a 1/8" gap. Note how the oar shaft is probably not a regular cylander and there will be some taper to the the leathers. So as you make them, mark on the inside which end is up and mark on the oar where you place the leather. Punch or slit your holes in from each edge so everything lines up perfectly. Soak the leather - a half hour in warm water should do it. Place it on the oar and start your stitching from the middle going down or up. You'll be able to pull the leather to close the gap if you use a herringbone stitch. Once half is stitched, go to the center and start the other way. It makes a pattern sorta like <<<<<<>>>>>>>. If you start from the center, you get a cleaner fit. Really.

Some people like a button at the top end to assist in not letting the oar slide out too far. If of leather, stitch it to the leather before putting the leather on the oar. Or make a turks head. Or leave it out as with a good oar stroke it serves no purpose. Whatever, you do not want a button on the bottom of the leathers as that inhibits smooth and classy shipping the oars.


Tom Hunter
05-10-2011, 11:34 AM
As above, paint them. It's best for the oars and the owner.

sewing leathers is easy if you buy a hole punch for a few dollars and punch the holes first, then sew.

I put some wood glue on the inside of the leathers before I sew them up. It does not glue them to the oars, but it does keep them from sliding around.

Jamie Orr
05-10-2011, 02:22 PM
I like varnished oars, I've found both oars and finish stay in good shape in normal use. As already mentioned, don't varnish the grips - I used some linseed oil on those but I'm not sure it made any difference other than making my hands smell interesting to dogs.

Paul Gartside has a great guide to leathering, see it at http://www.gartsideboats.com/leather.php I followed this and my first attempts came out just fine, they're still in use. He used a turk's head for a collar, I found directions for that in the Apprentice Rigger from Brion Toss, it's probably in your library.


Pram Man
05-11-2011, 08:25 AM
Thanks very much for all the answers. It looks like I'll have to get out my needle and thread then! I was thinking oil would be low maintenance (I am trying to keep things simple), but it seems varnish is the way to go.

I'll post photos of pram and oars - hopefully in two or three weeks.

Thanks once again,


Pram Man
06-06-2011, 01:58 PM
Just bumping this to the top again with a request: Does anybody out there have pictures of painted oars? I am interested in general appearance, colours, special touches and so on.

As you can see, I still haven't quite decided how to finish the oars. I have varnished my thwarts ready to screw them to the cleats, but they are a little too shiny, and I am not sure if I want the oars to look the same. So..., show me your painted oars. BTW the pram will be painted creme on the inside and red on the outside.

Thanx Pram Man

06-06-2011, 02:04 PM
I usually paint them a cream color from the bottom to the leather. And from the leather to the handle I oil them. It work great and easy to maintain. As said leave the handle raw, it work better. I've put rope around my handle personal preference.

Bob Smalser
06-06-2011, 05:50 PM
Leathering the oarlocks is a bit easier, and uses less leather, than leathering the oars.





06-06-2011, 10:56 PM
It looks like I'll have to get out my needle and thread then!
Not necessarily. You can either
1) Attach leather with brass brads, or
2) Use plastic collars (http://www.clcboats.com/shop/products/boat-gear/plastic-oar-collars.html) instead of leather (again attached with brass or bronze brads). This can be cheaper than buying leather wraps and buttons.

As to the oil - it doesn't provide mechanical protection. Varnish does, and so does paint (to a lesser degree), and both require annual maintenance.

Eric Hvalsoe
06-07-2011, 11:46 AM
How does paint offer less protection than conventional marine varnish?

I just painted my ten year old Barkley Sound spoons. The varnish was neglected, and they had somewhat gone to seed, which among other penalties leaves glue joints vulnerable to delamination. I did not care to take them down to a clean, varnish worthy 'show' surface. So I scraped and sanded off the loose stuff, pretty much to bare wood on the blades, dosed liberally with penetrating epoxy, primed and topcoated with Easypoxy Pearl Grey. I wondered if the paint would be scuffed onto the varnished surfaces of the boat interior, but have seen no sign of that get. I think they look great, and very much complement the boat, whose hull exterior is Matterhorn White, interior oiled and varnished. I have always sewn the leather collars, while glueing leather buttons with contact cement and setting with a couple of tacks. The glued buttons work, but other solutions might hold up better under heavy usage.

06-07-2011, 12:29 PM
My impression has been that varnish is harder than paint (alright, paints are not all created equal, but on the average paint coat is softer and more elastic). On a larger surface varnish may crack under heavy impact, while paint will abrade through. I agree, preparing previously varnished surface for re-varnishing is more demanding task than re-painting previously painted surface - probably because paint coat is thinner and more elastic. But this is mostly esthetic issue - you can ignore old varnish where it doesn't peel off, and varnish over it, it just won't look nice. Epoxy on its own is already a good protection, but it's thick and difficult to achieve a uniform smooth surface. I only use epoxy to fix nicks and scratches and add some on tips of the blades.

Eric Hvalsoe
06-08-2011, 03:43 PM
Interesting. Hardness, not sure I agree, can't really argue. Tally Ho.