Wednesday 3 April 2013

Making Blades

I had a trip out to Windsor yesterday to collect a set of new gig oars from J Sutton Racing Blades, one of the few companies left to specialise in making traditional wooden oars.
They live in a corner of a boat shed at Romney Lock, at the end of an unmarked track, the satnav's downfall. We took a long time finding it using old fashioned methods including following-one-nose and asking-directions-from-locals-who-haven't-a-clue.
The shop is a lovely mess of wood and varnish and chippings and sawdust and cramps and tools and templates. Our gig oars are stacked up on the right.
In residence was Peter Martin, who has been making oars from Canadian sitka spruce since 1963.
The shaft of an oar is basically a box with a hollow in the middle for lightness and 'cheeks' glued on the ends to form the blades.
He showed me how the blade is planed into shape using ball-shaped planes. It must take years to learn now to get a good even cut without digging into the wood.
The basic shape of the blade is marked out from a template, but the final shape is determined by just three measurements. If you make more, the blade inevitably comes out shaped like a 20p coin, he explains.
As the shape emerges from the wood, he ensures it is symmetrical by putting his thumbs on the spine in the middle and feeling the width. Much quicker and more reliable than fiddling about with a ruler, he says.
Our set of six 13ft gig blades took a week to make. Goodness knows how long he will be taking on his current job, a set of second-best blades for the Royal Rowbarge Gloriana (left). He made the best set, of course, with their ornate painted and gilded blades, but she is now being made available for trainee and disabled rowers so some workaday oars are required.


Anonymous said...

Would it be crass to ask the cost,Matthew from titchmarsh rowers in Walton on the naze

Alli said...

I love these traditional wood oars. I have been dreaming of making one myself for a long time. It's always interesting to hear about different techniques.