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Thread: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

  1. #1
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    Default Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    This is my first foray into traditional, fixed seat oar construction and use. I've recently built a pair of 6 -1/2' flat bladed oars with square looms on the inboard end. The oars are sitka spruce but the square section and grip is sapele. The oars will be used in an 8' pram. I'm ready to put leathers and buttons on but I'm not sure how or where. The leather is vegetable tanned hide that I soaked in neat's foot oil for a couple of weeks. It has been drying for about 4 months. I intend to cut some 1/2" strips for the buttons and cover the buttons with a turks head knot.

    Does anyone have any guidance for button location? I've done a bit of internet searching and haven't come up with much. I did come across Shaw & Tenney's length formula which calls out an inboard length. Would this length also be the location of the button? Since I have weighted inboard looms would this also affect the location?

    Also, does anyone have any thoughts on attaching the button to the loom? Some say nails or tacks are fine but others predict an untimely demise for any oar treated this way. I'm pretty sure the button is supposed to go over the leathers, not next to them. Some suggest gluing on the button. Does anyone know of a glue that will stick to oiled leather. I'm thinking barge cement but would like know for sure before making a mess.

    I'm probably overthinking this but love to hear other opinions.
    Last edited by Dusty Yevsky; 05-13-2017 at 12:19 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    It depends on the beam of the boat, and height of the oarlock relative to the seat, and your own personal body geometry. So really, your boat configuration is probably quite unique to you. I don't know if there is a formula you could simply plug in and get a good answer.

    So perhaps you need to fiddle and fix by trial and error using the actual boat that's going to use the oars.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    You also need to take into account your rowing style. Do you row with hand overlap or not? That will change where you position the leathers and buttons as well. I second the recommendation to set the oars up in the boat and determine the best position from there.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Take it out rowing and see what feels best for you., mark it and come back to the shop and install it.

    The nail holes won't hurt anything if you store the oars inside. Use copper or bronze or brass.

    I would get some latigo from a leather worker, along with whatever glue he uses, and bed the leathers in the glue then wrap the buttons on top of the leathers, also bedded in glue for their full length, then add the nails as well. Place the button nails where they will be in sheer where the button is up against the lock.

    If you install the buttons on wood at the end of the leathers they can creep, leaving a bit of wood showing between the button and the leather. Guess how I know this.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    I take the view that the buttons are only there for when you let go of then oars. You should be able to row without any buttons.
    Shetland rig does not use them, there is only a small nib to catch in the hummlebands to stop the oars getting loose when you let go of them.
    You can just see one on the further oar.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    I like buttons for when it's choppy, one less adjustment to be made. I can do without them, but it's easier with them. Plus, as Nick says, they really are handy when I let go of the oars. That little nib can turn up and there goes an oar.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    No personal experience, but check out the thread "More photos of Don Kurylko's....page 23.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    I don't use buttons anymore. I used to simply stitch on the leathers and use a turk's head for a button. I placed it near the end of the leather. Holds the leathers tight in position with no nails or glue and looks great.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    A ring of nails says "tear here"

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Turk's Head Buttons -
    These have served me well, as have the baseball-stitched leathers (No tacks).
    The buttons are actually concentric turk's heads. A four-lead knot tied over a three-lead knot produced effective height without going to a bulkier strand.


  11. #11
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Thanks for all the helpful replies. So what I'm understanding is the way to figure the location is to simply row the pram without leathers and see what feels right and then install them? This goes slightly against the grain of my previous sliding seat rowing set up experience, where the received wisdom on position, height, entry angle, etc. is dictated with a NASA-like precision.
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Scheuer View Post
    Turk's Head Buttons -
    These have served me well, as have the baseball-stitched leathers (No tacks).
    The buttons are actually concentric turk's heads. A four-lead knot tied over a three-lead knot produced effective height without going to a bulkier strand.

    Gorgeous! This is what I'd like to end up with. I like the concentric knot idea. However, my turk's head tying ability is a little shaky, with a very basic one in my repertoire. Does anyone know a good online tutorial covering the various permutations? Also, other than friction, what holds the TH in place?
    Last edited by Dusty Yevsky; 05-15-2017 at 01:24 PM.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Thanks for all the helpful replies. So what I'm understanding is the way to figure the location is to simply row the pram without leathers and see what feels right and then install them? This goes slightly against the grain of my previous sliding seat rowing set up experience, where the received wisdom on position, height, entry angle, etc. is dictated with a NASA-like precision.
    I had the same experience going back to a traditional, fixed-seat boat after years of sculling in singles. There are some things that cross over between the two styles, and I have managed to come up with an amalgam of techniques and equipment that works for me, but there is far too much variation in boats, oars, rowing techniques, opinions and tradition to come up with a rigid formula. There are definitely some rules-of-thumb regarding things like oar length, and there are some resources and authors (Culler in particular, for me) that can provide guidance but when I was setting up my boat I ended up just sitting in the boat and putting my hands where I wanted them at the mid-point of the stroke. That gave me a good starting point and I adjusted from there after rowing for a bit. I did end up re-lacing my leathers and moving them a couple of inches up the shaft after my first attempt so I recommend giving yourself that option before doing anything too permanent.

    Also, unlike Nick and others, I have never gotten completely comfortable rowing without buttons. It feels like a bit of a failure sometimes - like a real traditional boat rower would know how to row without them. Or without oarlocks entirely - just a thole pin and a lashing (and I suspect that even the lashing is scoffed at by the real old salts) but I haven't managed that trick yet. I like my buttons and I'll probably stick with them.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Quote Originally Posted by cstevens View Post
    there are some resources and authors (Culler in particular, for me) that can provide guidance

    Also, unlike Nick and others, I have never gotten completely comfortable rowing without buttons. It feels like a bit of a failure sometimes - like a real traditional boat rower would know how to row without them. Or without oarlocks entirely - just a thole pin and a lashing (and I suspect that even the lashing is scoffed at by the real old salts) but I haven't managed that trick yet. I like my buttons and I'll probably stick with them.
    Yeah, Culler's book seems to be the lodestone that all experienced fixed seat oarsman point to. Now I have a good excuse to spend even more money on nautical books. And buttons? I can't even imagine trying to row without buttons.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Another vote for buttons. I like PL Premium for gluing leather in marine applications, but YMMV.
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  15. #15
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Quote Originally Posted by Dusty Yevsky View Post
    Does anyone know a good online tutorial covering the various permutations?
    I don't know if they are any good, but a DuckDuckGo search of "turks head tutorial" returns a bunch of YouTube lessons.

    A thought (at the peril of having this comment relegated to The Bilge) - does anyone worry about the political correctness of this knot's name?

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    I use turk's heads as well.
    The cure for everything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea
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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Hervey Garret Smith's Marlinspike Sailor is the go to for learning turk's head knots in my mind. He makes it SO easy to follow along. He was an illustrator by trade and a sailor in his spare time so he was able to accurately draw what he saw in his hands at each step of the way making his illustrations the gold standard to this day.
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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    The Ashley Book of Knots, at about 1305.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    Quote Originally Posted by Sailor View Post
    Hervey Garret Smith's Marlinspike Sailor is the go to for learning turk's head knots in my mind. He makes it SO easy to follow along. He was an illustrator by trade and a sailor in his spare time so he was able to accurately draw what he saw in his hands at each step of the way making his illustrations the gold standard to this day.
    Agreed! I love his illustrations because they are so easy to follow. I have a set of older hardwood oars that have lived a rough life. I replaced them last year as I've had them for 16 years and one of the buttons has completely rotted off. The brass (?) tacks are still there, and the wood around them is solid. I replaced them with lighter oars that are easier to row with (and will likely fail a lot sooner).

    The new oars I purchased are 'gull' brand. I used an old jacket for the leathers and some strips I cut from a belt for the buttons. I used brass tacks to secure them, they are stored in a locker when not in use. I sat in the boat with the oars in the oar locks and pulled them together until the handles almost touched. I marked the location of the oar on the inner side and then installed the leathers and then the buttons, accounting for the thickness of the button. I don't like having the oars overlap as they are likely to smack your fingers. You can always pull them in more, but in a small rowboat most people don't need the extra leverage.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    One of the slickest button arrangements I have ever seen was something Dick Everett showed me and I set up on some oars which unfortunately escaped to someone else. Figure out where you most generally have the oars however you want. Then put a turks head at that point. Then leather over the turks head leaving a few inches above it to give you position flexibility. I didn't do the turks head per instructions out thick stuff, maybe enough to give me a 1/4" bump. I had to play with the leather a little wetting it and allowing a little more to get over the turks head. It didn't give you the big rest your oars against it bump of a racing oar or a big turks head but it gave you enough to register the oar in the same place and give you the flexibility to change, which is really handy if you are using the same oars at two positions which sometimes happens in a dinghy.
    Ben Fuller
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  21. #21
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    I've been thinking about the buttons. One thing I have found is that I put a LOT of pressure against the button when I'm rowing with the technique I learned in sliding seat sculling. To the point where I have popped a glued-on button off of the oar in the past. And I have found that it takes considerable effort for me to maintain the oar in the right place without the button. Obviously that's not what other people are doing in fixed seat rowing if the button is optional. I've also noticed that the sculling stroke is much flatter with less wrist and hand motion than various traditional strokes (the dory stroke for example) - I wonder if that's related? The flat stroke makes sense in sculling given that it is more efficient in calm water but obviously it's less useful when you need to account for waves. And I think a more circular stroke would have less tendency to exert outward pressure on the oar. I'm speculating though, since I'm sitting at my desk right now, not in a boat - more's the pity!

    One other aspect of the sculling stroke is that a good sculler will put very little, if any, control input into the oar position. The oar orientation and location is controlled entirely by the sleeve, the oar lock and the button. The sculler's job is to put power into the oar as efficiently as possible without extraneous effort into controlling the location of the blade. The less work you do there the better. Many years ago my first sculling instructor told me to imagine placing a wine glass on my wrist, and that I should be able to complete the entire stroke without spilling the drink.

    In any case it would be interesting to compare the sliding seat stroke with various traditional techniques or to get input from others who have experience with both styles. (And sorry for the thread drift!)

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    One of the major differences between a scull and a fixed seat boat is stability. In the former the oars serve like a balance pole. Hence you press out on the buttons and have flats on locks and oars that lock everything into place. Fixed seat boats don't need that so buttons mostly serve to locate the oars. You can make up oars with flats and use flat oar locks, but you often row in something less than smooth water which makes it handy to be able to control the angle of the oar. With practice your hand work will be almost as smooth as with sculling oars. I grasp the oars the same way with my thumb over end and just use my fingers to pull, keeping the oars running pretty much in a plane. I generally overlap my handles pulling one ahead of the other since the locks are at the same height. I don't have buttons right now so I have to focus on having my hands running straight back and forth.

    Chris Cunningham did two articles for WB one on a flatwater fast boat stroke, the other on a rough water heavier boat stroke which are worth downloading if you don't have access to old issues.
    Ben Fuller
    Ran Tan, Liten Kuhling, Vernon Langille, Josef W., Merry Mouth, Imp, Macavity and a quiver of unamed 'yaks.
    "Bound fast is boatless man."

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Oar leathers, button location and attachment

    I grasp the oars the same way with my thumb over end and just use my fingers to pull, keeping the oars running pretty much in a plane. I generally overlap my handles pulling one ahead of the other since the locks are at the same height.
    That's a spot-on description of the stroke I use as well. And yes, you're right about the stability differences too of course. I'll definitely dig up the Cunningham articles. Sounds like just what I'm looking for. Thanks!

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