Leathering Oars

One of the things that I have always found fascinating about wooden boatbuilding is how many different material manipulation disciplines it pulls you into. 

Of course there is the woodworking itself but coming right up behind it is metal work, rope work, canvas work, electrical and mechanics, and now we have leather work.

Leather, like canvas requires the simplest of tools to get started and even taking a step deeper into the tooling isn’t a great expense.

The stitching chisels and edge beveler were a big improvement over just an awl. The strap cutter is a huge time saver over the ruler and knife plus it is massive win when cutting rawhide babiche lacing for canoe seats. I also have a groover which is much like a marking gauge which is used to create a trough for saddle stitching. I could probably stand to add some edge burnishers to the kit and maybe a slot punch for who knows what occasion.

The latigo itself is easily the greatest expense. I pay about $200 for a side from my local supplier Tandy Leather. For just one set of oars you are probably better off going to a local belt maker and having them cut you some 5/8”x 36” straps for the buttons and both collars can probably come out of a 6”x12” piece. 

I’m not a fan of the turks-head knot buttons. I feel they are not as positive a stop unless they are very chunky. Amusing to tie perhaps but a far greater time commitment than the leather buttons.

If you want to avoid leathers altogether there are a couple options: 

The Adirondack guide boats always featured oarlock horns that are permanently pinned onto the oar. 

Irish curraghs feature the simplest oar designs out there which use a wooden yoke attached to the oar with a hole in it. These drop over iron pins set in the curragh gunnels which serve as oar locks. See attached photos.

Designer Paul Gartside often spec’d red cedar oars, laminated out of two pieces for stability and leathered with a substantial wrap of fibreglass instead of leathers. A great option considering how costly sitka spruce can be. In such a case I would be inclined to leather the oarlocks themselves just to soften the ride so to speak. Leathering oarlocks instead is a longstanding tradition as well, probably better suited to the use of hardwood oars such as ash or hickory. In such a case the leather would be much thinner to make the tight turns around the hardware.

If you want to go deeper into oars and such I suggest the following books:

Boats, Oars and Rowing by “Captain Pete” R.D. Culler 

It has been bundled into a new publication called Pete Culler on Wooden Boats, ISBN 978-0-07-148979-9


(This is on my wooden boat nut Must-Read list BTW)

And then going neck deep into rowing nerdsville is: 

Oars for Pleasure Rowing by Andrew B. Steever ISBN 0-939510-76-6 

Published by Mystic Seaport but appears to be  is out of print. Maybe somebody is printing it on demand or you can sell your car and buy one of the few overpriced copies listed online. Good luck on that one.

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