5 Handy Tips

A pair of sawhorses make contact with the handles and the leathers, leaving the rest of the oars free for varnishing.

If you find oars unruly subjects for varnishing, you can get them to behave themselves, as Ben Fuller of Cushing, Maine, does by cantilevering them on a pair of sawhorses. With the leathers resting on one, and the handles tucked under the other—weighted if necessary—nothing is in contact with the areas you’ll varnish. Spring clamps either side of the leathers keep the looms from rolling while you’re varnishing one side and allow you to turn the oar over to brush the other.

Insignia Sailcloth

The authors restore old Sunfish, and Kent is a pilot, so a combination insignia is in the works.

Adhesive-backed sailcloth is commonly used for numbers and class insignia on sails. It comes in several colors, and we used Challenge brand, purchased from Sailrite. The lightweight 3.3-oz polyester fabric ensures that the insignia does not interfere with the shape and pliability of the sail. There is a heavier fabric available from Contender that has additional UV treatment and weighs about a half ounce more than regular insignia sailcloth; it comes only in white and is well suited for repairing sails. The peel-off paper backing on Challenge cloth has a grid to aid in tracing out insignias and numbers.

Transom Extensions

The tops of the extensions, squared off inside of the diagonal side panels, serve as steps for climbing aboard over the stern. The bright finished squares of decking are hatch covers.

Many small skiffs would benefit from an extended waterline and increased planing surface. My own 14′ 9″ (4.5m) outboard skiff has deep V-hull shape that makes the ride more comfortable at high speeds in sharp chop, but the hull still weaves from side to side, drags a big wake at in low speeds, and requires a lot of power to get on plane. My boat also has a tendency to hobby-horse at high speeds; while I can stop this by trimming the motor to force the bow down, the remedy reduces top speed and fuel economy.

Trailer Tires

This trailer tire looks brand new—it still has all of the little rubber "hairs" left by the the mold that created it—but the codes molded into the sidewall indicate it is 16 years old. It needs to be replaced.

Imprinted on every tire is a lot of useful information on its size, type, load range, pressure, and date of manufacture. All trailer tires are marked with ST—Special Trailer— and they are not at all like vehicle tires. Trailer tires have strengthened sidewalls that keep the trailer from swaying in turns and allow them to carry the often very heavy combined weight of trailer and its load.

Eton Oar Stands

My reproduction of the stands used by the Eton Boathouse oar maker turned out to be remarkable quick and effective once I gleaned all of the important details from the newsreel.

One shot offered a glimpse of what appears to be the leg of a second stand. I guessed that was supporting the oar handle. The oar blade was cantilevered beyond the support, but it stayed put even with Len planing as vigorously, so something had to be holding the loom down. In another shot, Len did his “nervous tic” twice and both times the loom of the oar come to an abrupt stop in the same place, confirming that there was something fixed over the loom. Len had to give a noticeable tug to get the throat back on the stand, so putting a slight bend in the oar was what held it in position. Brilliant.

Copper Guards

This is one of a pair of oars that I built and equipped with copper tips in 1985. That winter they survived a 2,400-mile, 2-1/2 month row from Pittsburgh to Cedar Key, Florida. They've been in use on and off since then.

The traditional approach has been to cover the blade tips with sheet copper. The copper guards look good, take wear well, and make a good do-it-yourself project. I always put copper guards on my spoon-bladed oars. The tips are thin and have cross grain that makes them more fragile than straight-bladed oars; fortunately, the tips are straight across and easy to wrap with copper.

Power Carving

Angle grinders are designed for working metal; equipped with flap sanders and blades designed for wood they have plenty of power to do quick work.

Some of the woodworking tasks we take on in boatbuilding have a lot in common with sculpture, as we carve our way from a block to a purposeful shape. When I started making spoon-bladed oars I used gouges, curved spokeshaves, and my father’s Stanley 100-1/2, a small spoon bottom plane. I later turned to a Makita 125mm disc sander as a quicker way to work concave shapes. It spun at a screaming 4,500 rpm and used stiff resin-fiber discs that cut aggressively. It could shape the power face of a spoon blade when the edge of the disc was set at an appropriate angle to the wood. It made for quick work, albeit dusty and noisy, but the discs didn’t last long and tended to scorch the wood when their grit dulled.

Doughnut Fenders

A half hitch in the tail end, pulled up tight against the last wrap, keeps the fender from getting looser with use and age.

In the eyes of our traditionally minded peers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore my wife Jenny and I tread dangerously close to the gates of hell by sailing a fiberglass boat. Our redemption comes by way of the plywood lapstrake tender we built for it. I had installed a robust length of line along the outwale to provide a nice cushion to protect the mothership, but we needed something more to protect our tender from the dinghy dock and the loitering tenders-of-others.

Sliding-Seat Conversion

The sliding seat rig, spanning a thwart in the author's dory, has shorter tracks than those used in racing shells, but is well suited to using the same oars and locks that are used for fixed-seat rowing. Note the foot brace secured to the floorboards under the aft thwart.

I’d been thinking about building a sliding seat for my dory, so I clamped the Ducker slide into it for a test. I knew there would be clearance for the oar handles over my thighs, because I could sit on a throw cushion and still have room. I rowed 15 or so miles in 4 hours, much fartherthan I anticipated. I liked it, and decided to make one for the dory. I dug around my shop and came up with a couple of tracks and a seat.

A Downdraft Table

A simple downdraft table can put the space between the rip-fence rails to good use.

Building and maintaining a wooden boat involves a lot of sanding and a lot of dust. I have an exhaust fan for the shop, a dust collector connected to my tablesaw and jointer, and shop-vacuum connections for the belt sander, disc sander, bandsaw, and random-orbit sander. My latest addition to my arsenal of dust-collection devices is a shop-built downdraft table. It comes in handy capturing the dust from small pieces created by hand-sanding or that escapes the random-orbit sander.

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