Most of my boats are outfitted for rowing, and while I always have a pair of oars aboard, they’re often in the way when I’m sailing, motoring, or at anchor. Duckworks offers a solution: carbon-fiber ferrules to make sectional oars, which are much easier to stow when they’re not being used.
The ferrules are cylindrical and work best on oars with cylindrical or minimally tapered looms. All of the oars that I’ve made have tapered looms and carry an oval cross-section through much of their length, so they were not good candidates for the ferrules, but I was given an old pair of commercially made 10′ oars that were. They’re Sitka spruce, made by the Lister Brothers in Vancouver, British Columbia. With a bit of trepidation—I’d seen a pair of Lister Brothers oars for sale on an antiques website, priced at $1,500—I put those oars in my chop saw.
If you want the sections to be equal in length and both fit in the smallest possible space, don’t cut your oars in half—you’ll wind up with one section 3-1/2″ longer than the other. To make the sections of equal length, find the midpoint of the oars, and make the cut 1-3/4″ to the handle side of that mark. Then put the longer male side of the ferrule on the handle section and the female side on the blade section. (That puts the mating surfaces of the ferrule farther away from the oarlock where they’re subject to less strain.)
The 14″-long ferrules will add 7″ to the overall length of the sectioned oar. The additional length made my 10′ oars a better fit for the boats I’d be using them for, but if you want your oars to remain the same length, cut the oars as noted above and then trim 3 1/2″ from each end.
If your oars have a diameter less than 45 mm, you’ll have to add some thickness. The Duckworks website has a note from one customer who used wraps of fiberglass and epoxy to fill the gap. The looms of my oars have a diameter a bit larger than the 49mm outside diameter of the ferrule and needed to be trimmed to fit inside diameter of 45 mm, or 1 25/32″. I needed to reduce the diameter of the looms to take the ferrules. To do that I made a cradle to the hold the oar sections on my tablesaw: With the blade of my tablesaw at 45° I cut a groove along the face of a 2 x 4. I then set the fence of my tablesaw 3 1/2″ from the far edge of the blade (the length that gets inserted into the ferrule halves). With the blade lowered, I clamped the 2×4 across the table and, with the saw running, cranked the blade up through the bottom of the 2×4 until it cut into the groove.
With an oar section resting in the groove, I raised the blade in small increments, cutting just the end of the loom until I got a tight fit in the ferrule. With the blade set to cut just enough wood away, I butted the loom against the fence, rotated the loom to cut the shoulder, then slid the loom back and forth across the blade rotating a few degrees at a time.
You should do a dry fit before gluing the ferrules in place. If the button for the ferrule’s latch doesn’t pop up through the hole, you might need to trim a bit off the loom that fits the female half of the ferrule. Don’t take a rattail file to the button’s hole to enlarge it; you don’t want to give that a loose fit.
When you’re ready to assemble the pieces, paint epoxy on the ferrules and the sawn ends and newly trimmed surfaces the oars. Be stingy with the epoxy when coating the female side of the ferrule: A thin film on the inside surface of the ferrule is all that’s required; any excess will just get pushed ahead of the end of the loom and need to be completely removed. Clean up any epoxy that will cause problems joining the oar sections later. Set the oar sections with the ferrules up while the epoxy is curing to avoid any drips fouling the joint. After the epoxy cures, you’ll be ready to row. An easy way to assemble the sectional oar it to rest each half on the gunwale—to take the weight—and slide the ferrule ends together in the middle of the boat.
The sectional oars performed just as well as they did before being sawn in two. The ferrule is tight and takes the strain without any movement or complaining. With the halves of the oars each at 5′ 3-1/2″, I had lots of places to stow them on the boats they are meant for.
A word of caution: The earliest sectional paddles I used, both in fiberglass and in carbon fiber, had the same type of ferrule and over the course of several years of use and wear they tended to loosen up. Newer kayak-paddle ferrules solved the problem with joints that used compression to hold the two paddle halves together and take up any slack that might develop over time. The Duckworks oar ferrules are substantially larger and have a much broader area of contact between the two halves, so I suspect they’ll be very slow to wear and loosen. I’ll use one-piece oars when I intend to do a lot of rowing, but I’d still carry the sectionals for backups. Saved for use when a one-piece oar breaks or goes missing, the motor conks out, or the wind won’t fill the sails, the sectional oars will have a good tight fit for many, many years. Best of all, while they’re waiting to save the day, they can be tucked somewhere out of the way.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly.
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