How to Make Wooden Boat Oars: A Beginner's Guide

If you’re an avid boater, you know the importance of having the right equipment. One of the most essential pieces of equipment is a good set of oars. While you can buy oars from a store, there’s something special about making your own wooden boat oars. Not only is it a fun project, but it also allows you to customize your oars to your specific needs and preferences.

Making wooden boat oars may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and materials, it’s a project that can be completed by anyone with basic woodworking skills. The first step is to choose the type of wood you want to use. Popular options include pine, spruce, and ash, but any strong, lightweight wood will work. Once you have your wood, you’ll need to cut it to the desired length and shape, and then sand it down to a smooth finish. From there, you can add any additional features such as grips or varnish to protect the wood from water damage. With a little patience and attention to detail, you’ll have a beautiful set of custom wooden boat oars that will last for years to come.

Understanding the Basics of Oars

If you’re planning to build your own wooden boat oars, it’s essential to understand the basics of oars. Oars are an essential component of rowing boats, and they play a crucial role in how the boat moves through the water. Here are some essential things you need to know about oars:


The length of your oars is critical to getting the right amount of leverage and power when rowing your boat. The length of the oar is determined by the distance between the oarlocks, which is the part of the boat where the oars are attached. The general rule of thumb is that the oars should be about two-thirds the length of the boat’s beam, or width.

Blade Shape

The shape of the blade is also essential to how the oars perform in the water. The blade’s shape affects the amount of water that the oar moves and how much resistance the oar encounters. A wider blade will move more water but will also create more drag, while a narrower blade will move less water but will be easier to row.


The material you choose for your oars will also affect their performance. Wooden oars are traditional and can be beautiful, but they require more maintenance than oars made from synthetic materials. Synthetic oars are often lighter and more durable than wooden oars, but they may not have the same aesthetic appeal.


Feathering refers to the angle of the oar blade as it moves through the water. Feathering can help reduce resistance and make rowing more efficient. Some oars are designed to feather automatically, while others require the rower to manually feather the oars.

Understanding these basic concepts will help you make informed decisions when building your own wooden boat oars. Keep these factors in mind as you decide on the length, blade shape, and materials for your oars.

Choosing the Right Wood

When it comes to making wooden boat oars, choosing the right wood is crucial. The type of wood you use will affect the durability, weight, and overall performance of your oars. Here are some factors to consider when selecting wood for your oars:

Wood Density

The density of the wood affects the weight of the oars. Generally, denser woods are heavier but also stronger and more durable. Some popular wood options for oars include spruce, ash, and maple. Spruce is a lightweight option and is ideal for small boats or calm waters. Ash is a popular choice for larger boats or rougher waters due to its strength and durability. Maple is another strong and durable option that is also lightweight.

Wood Grain

The grain pattern of the wood can also affect the strength and durability of the oars. Straight-grained woods, such as ash, are stronger and less likely to break than woods with irregular or twisted grains. When selecting wood, look for straight, even grains for the best performance.

Wood Moisture Content

The moisture content of the wood can also affect the weight and durability of the oars. Dry wood is lighter and more durable than wet wood. When selecting wood, make sure it is properly dried and has a moisture content of around 12%.

Other Wood Options

While spruce, ash, and maple are popular options for oars, there are other woods that can be used as well. These include:

  • Douglas fir: A strong and durable wood with a straight grain pattern.
  • Sitka spruce: A lightweight and strong option that is popular for racing oars.
  • Cherry: A beautiful wood that is strong and durable but heavier than some other options.

In conclusion, choosing the right wood for your oars is crucial for their performance and durability. Consider factors such as wood density, grain pattern, and moisture content when selecting wood. Popular options include spruce, ash, and maple, but there are other woods that can be used as well.

Tools Needed

To make wooden boat oars, you will need some basic tools. Here are the tools you will need:

1. Saw

You will need a saw to cut the lumber to the appropriate length and shape. A circular saw or a handsaw will work well for this task.

2. Drill

You will need a drill to make holes in the oar handles for the oarlocks. A cordless drill is recommended for ease of use.

3. Sandpaper

You will need sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges on the oars. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper and work your way up to a finer grit for a smooth finish.

4. Clamps

You will need clamps to hold the oar pieces together while the glue dries. Make sure you have enough clamps to hold the pieces securely in place.

5. Epoxy

You will need epoxy to glue the oar pieces together. Make sure you have enough epoxy for the job, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

6. Paint or Varnish

You will need paint or varnish to protect the oars from the elements. Choose a high-quality marine-grade paint or varnish for the best results.

With these tools, you will be well-equipped to make your own wooden boat oars.

Safety Precautions

When making wooden boat oars, it is important to prioritize safety. Here are some safety precautions you should take:

Wear Protective Gear

Wearing protective gear is essential when working with power tools and sharp objects. Make sure to wear safety glasses, gloves, and a dust mask to protect your eyes, hands, and lungs.

Use Proper Tools

Using the right tools for the job is crucial to ensure your safety and the quality of your work. Use sharp tools to minimize the risk of accidents, and make sure they are in good condition before using them.

Work in a Well-Ventilated Area

When working with wood, dust and debris can accumulate quickly, which can be harmful to your health. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area or use a dust collection system to minimize the amount of dust in the air.

Follow Instructions Carefully

When using power tools or working with unfamiliar materials, it is important to read the instructions carefully and follow them closely. This will help you avoid accidents and ensure that your work is of high quality.

Take Breaks

It is easy to get caught up in your work and forget to take breaks. However, taking regular breaks can help you stay alert and focused, which can reduce the risk of accidents.

By following these safety precautions, you can ensure that your woodworking project is both safe and successful.

Cutting the Wood

To make your own wooden boat oars, you’ll need to start with some lumber. The most common wood types used for oars are ash, spruce, and pine. Ash is the most durable and is the preferred choice for many experienced boat builders. Spruce is lighter and more flexible, making it a good choice for racing oars. Pine is the least expensive, but also the least durable.

Once you’ve selected your wood, the next step is to cut it to the right size. You’ll need to cut two pieces for each oar: one for the shaft and one for the blade. The length of the shaft will depend on the size of your boat and your personal preference, but a good rule of thumb is to make it about 7 feet long. The blade should be about 2 feet long and 6 inches wide.

To cut the wood, you’ll need a saw. A circular saw or a handsaw will work, but a table saw is the best choice if you have access to one. Make sure to measure and mark your cuts carefully before you start sawing. You don’t want to end up with uneven or crooked oars!

Once you’ve cut the pieces to size, you’ll need to shape them. The shaft should be round and tapered towards the blade, while the blade should be flat and thin. You can use a draw knife, a hand plane, or a power planer to shape the wood. Be careful not to remove too much material at once, as this can weaken the oar.

Finally, you’ll need to sand the wood to remove any rough spots or splinters. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper and work your way up to a fine grit for a smooth finish. You can also apply a coat of varnish or oil to protect the wood from water damage and give it a nice shine.

Overall, cutting the wood is an important step in making your own wooden boat oars. Take your time and be careful, and you’ll end up with a beautiful and functional set of oars that you can be proud of.

Shaping the Oar

Once you have cut the oar to the right length, it’s time to shape it. This is where the oar begins to take its final form and where you can really start to see the beauty of the wood.

Round the Edges

The first step in shaping the oar is to round the edges. Use a plane or sandpaper to remove any sharp corners or edges. Make sure the edges are smooth and rounded, but not too rounded. You want the oar to be comfortable to hold, but not so smooth that it slips out of your hand.

Create the Handle

Next, it’s time to create the handle. The handle is the part of the oar that you hold onto, so it’s important that it’s comfortable and fits your hand well. Use a saw or chisel to shape the handle. You can make the handle round or oval shaped, depending on your preference.

Shape the Blade

The blade is the wide, flat part of the oar that goes into the water. It’s important that the blade is shaped correctly, so that it moves through the water efficiently. Use a saw or chisel to shape the blade. You can make the blade flat or curved, depending on your preference. A curved blade will grab more water and provide more power, but may be harder to control.

Sand and Finish

Once you have shaped the oar, it’s time to sand and finish it. Sand the entire oar with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any rough spots or imperfections. Then, apply a finish to protect the wood and bring out its natural beauty. You can use varnish, oil, or wax to finish the oar. Apply several coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

By following these steps, you can create a beautiful and functional wooden boat oar that will be a joy to use for years to come.

Sanding the Oar

Once you have finished shaping the oar, the next step is to sand it to a smooth finish. Sanding is an important step that can make or break the final look of your oar. Here are some tips to help you sand your oar to perfection:

Sandpaper Grits

Start with a coarse grit sandpaper, such as 60 grit, and work your way up to a finer grit, such as 120 grit. The coarse grit will remove any rough spots or bumps, while the finer grit will smooth out the surface and prepare it for finishing.

Sanding Techniques

When sanding, use a back-and-forth motion, and apply even pressure to the surface of the oar. Be sure to sand the entire surface of the oar, including the handle and blade. Use a sanding block to keep the sandpaper flat and to prevent uneven sanding.

Removing Dust

After sanding, use a clean, dry cloth to remove any dust or debris from the surface of the oar. This will ensure that the finish adheres properly.


Once you have sanded the oar to your desired smoothness, you can apply a finish to protect the wood and give it a polished look. There are many different finishes you can use, such as varnish, polyurethane, or oil. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and drying times.

Sanding your oar may take some time, but the end result will be worth it. A well-sanded oar will look beautiful and perform better on the water.

Finishing the Oar

Once you have completed the sanding and shaping of your wooden oar, it is time to apply the finishing touches. Finishing your oars will not only make them look beautiful but also protect them from the elements. In this section, we will go over the two main steps of finishing your oar: applying varnish and polishing.

Applying Varnish

Varnishing your oars will give them a shiny and protective finish. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Choose a high-quality varnish that is suitable for outdoor use. Spar varnish is a popular choice for wooden boat oars.
  2. Apply the varnish in a well-ventilated area. Use a brush to apply a thin coat of varnish to the entire oar, making sure to cover all the surfaces.
  3. Let the varnish dry completely. This may take several hours, depending on the temperature and humidity.
  4. Sand the oar lightly with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any imperfections or bubbles in the varnish.
  5. Apply a second coat of varnish and repeat the sanding process if necessary.
  6. Let the oar dry completely before using it.


Polishing your oars will give them a smooth and glossy finish. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Use a soft cloth to apply a small amount of boat wax to the oar.
  2. Rub the wax in a circular motion, applying even pressure.
  3. Let the wax dry for a few minutes.
  4. Use a clean cloth to buff the oar, removing any excess wax and bringing out the shine.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your wooden boat oars are not only functional but also beautiful. With proper care and maintenance, your oars will last for many years to come.

Maintaining Your Wooden Oars

To ensure that your wooden oars last for years to come, proper maintenance is essential. Here are some tips for maintaining your wooden oars:


After each use, rinse your oars with clean water to remove any salt or debris. If needed, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub away any stubborn dirt or grime. Be sure to dry your oars thoroughly before storing them.


To keep your oars from drying out and becoming brittle, it’s important to oil them regularly. You can use a high-quality wood oil or linseed oil. Apply the oil with a clean cloth, making sure to cover the entire surface of the oar. Let the oil soak in for a few minutes, then wipe away any excess with a clean cloth.


If you prefer a glossy finish on your oars, you can apply varnish. Before applying varnish, make sure the oars are clean and dry. Apply the varnish in thin coats, using a clean brush or cloth. Let each coat dry completely before applying the next. Sand lightly between coats to ensure a smooth finish.


When storing your oars, make sure they are clean and dry. Store them in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing them in a damp or humid environment, as this can cause the wood to warp or rot.

By following these simple maintenance tips, you can ensure that your wooden oars remain in top condition for years to come.

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