I have made several sets of oars using fir. Usually they are heavier than I would like. Once I used basswood which is marginally lighter. Has anyone tried cedar?  Usually I split a 2x4 and laminate strips of cherry and maple for a nice colorful blade.  The leathers would protect cedar from the oarlocks.  Any ideas?

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I’ve got spruce oars from Barkley Sound Oar and Paddle. They’re a pleasure to row

Over the years there have been many posts concerning making oars and wood for oars. I think it has been discussed quite well. To further investigate use the Search function at the top of the main page of this site. Asking a question like, "What is the best wood for oars?" will bring you lots of posts and discussions. Let us know if this search doesn't answer your questions.

Rick Newman

I used yellow popular aka tulip popular. Available in the east and midwest. Commonly used to make moulding, window casing etc. Engineering properties as I recall are similar to aitka. Straight grain, no knots easy to work. Got the idea from a friend who teaches oar and paddle making at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum. Will try to get some photos posted.

Hey JC, wow, I had forgotten about Tulip. I've been involved with trees most of my life and am always impressed with the strength of Tulip. It has two very major flaws though, as I remember, it splits lengthwise very easily and rots in a flash. Did you spline the tips? do you epoxy them before varnish. This is a an interesting topic to me but it seems daunting. 

The wood choices are pretty broad, but supply is usually the problem.

Sitka spruce is a prime choice, but not as easy to find.  When I was at Edensaw woods, there was clear grain wood in Sitka spruce as well as western red cedar.  The cedar was purchased since it saved maybe 20-30 percent on the $200 chunk of wood.

Lighter weight can be achieved by using lighter wood on the blades and laminating the shaft.  

Tapering the the oar section will decrease weight and help stiffness as written about in Pete Culler's book Boats, Oars, and Rowing.

Finally, getting the oar balanced while rowing makes rowing easier.

As I have heard from the folks with lots of experience on this forum, the boats may come and go, but a good set of oars is memorable.


I can't agree more with Ants.  "Tapering the the oar section will decrease weight and help stiffness as written about in Pete Culler's book Boats, Oars, and Rowing."  Culler is a genius, but he didn't invent the wheel.  He reminds us of what working oarsmen knew a century ago.  People had already forgotten when he wrote most of his articles in the 60's and 70's, and we're now 50 years later still not listening.  Mass-produced oars are poorly balanced, and copying their dimensions will give us beautiful hand-crafted oars that are poorly balanced.



My scantlings for 10' oars for whitewater rafts and my 17' Grand Canyon dory:


Also as Culler stated: use what is locally available to you.  If you MUST go for something high-end, then order sitka spruce, Port Orford cedar, or Alaska Yellow cedar.

I've built 16 oars now, all fir.  The ones that felt heavy had no taper in the shafts and solid fir blades.  The beautiful oars JC Smith posted appear to have a nice taper in the shafts, and the square top counterweighted looms also help with felt weight.

If you are using cherry and maple in your blades, it will make the entire oar feel heavy regardless of what you use for the shaft.  Conversely, using cedar or spruce in the blades will make the entire oar feel lighter even if you change no other details.  A square top counterweight, a nicely tapered shaft, and low density wood blades will make a very light-feeling oar.  (red cedar will want a glass coating for ding resistance, but still will be lighter than solid fir or fir/cherry/maple laminate).


Left ones I made for a buddy.  Western Red Cedar blades with glass coating.  They're crazy light.

Middle 6 are my oldest oars; they got remodeled with more dihedral/rib cut into the blade profile and the shafts thinned/tapered down toward the blade shoulder.  Made a HUGE difference when I took them out this summer for the "first" time.

Right 4 are my newest oars, will use them this weekend.  Solid fir shafts, solid fir blades with jatoba accents...but the blades taper to 1/4" thick at the outer edges.  Glass only on the blade tips.

I do carbon fiber/glass wraps under the rope wraps so the wood grain doesn't get crushed by the oarlocks.

Thanks Shawn. They are tapered. The whole oar project was easier than I thought it would be. A home made spar gauge was key to that. This winter I will take the wraps and oar stops off, take 1/16 inch in radius off the shafts and taper the transition to the blades more. They came out well but could use more spring and less weight hanging on the outwale side of the oarlocks.

Interesting that you used tulip poplar.  It's a very resilient wood.  Hadn't heard of using it for oars, but that makes sense.  What is your current shaft dimension?  My old ones were 1.75" round, and I tapered them down to 1 5/8" at the blade shoulders.

New shafts are the same at the top of the blade, but are 1.875" round up at the rope wraps/squaretop transition.

My first ones were hand-shaped with a spar gauge.  My second ones I used the table saw to octagon the shafts and a handheld power planer to round them.

Subsequent oars have used a 1" roundover bit in a shaper table.  Crazy fast and round.  By tapering the shafts longitudinally, the roundover made the shafts "football" shaped which removed weight in the blade shoulders but kept depth in the power direction.

I have a whole "build thread" on MountainBuzz with pics of my original oar build from 15 and 8 years ago, their remodel and addition of square tops to the cylindrical shafts, and then my latest iteration of custom oars:


Also shows my jig to cove cut the blade hollows.

My oars are 2 inches under the wraps tapering down to 1 3/4 at the transition to the blades. I will take them down a good deal and probably not wrap so far down the shaft the second time. Will hurt to cut through my turks head oar stops.

Do you love the turks head oar stops?  I was thinking of the same for mine.  The plastic ones are so noisy and don't fit the soul of a wooden oar!!

Did you do a TH over a core?  I was thinking like 8 lead, 5 bight with the same 1/4" solid braid nylon I used on my wraps.

Have you tried using a serving mallet?


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