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Row, Row, Row, Your Boat? What better way to start a discussion on the subject of rowing! Although “just” a child’s song, one I think most of you will know, it depicts what fun it is to be merrily rowing, gently down a stream! While it does ignore the hard work of rowing upstream, there is still a life lesson in there somewhere. I’m on the subject because I decided to make a set of 10 foot ash oars for DIANNE’S ROSE so she could be a “true” Shanty Boat! I hoped to leisurely guide her downstream without the noise and cost of the outboard. Maybe we’ll even drift down the mighty Mississippi one day! I will not throw away the Iron Lung but keep it for the upstream legs! There are also lakes where engines are forbidden and a leisurely row could place your “Cabin in the Woods” in paradise lost! Also if that new motor we bought gets old and quits, we have a real chance getting somewhere safe without making it a big deal! Rowing fell out of favour this past century as motors became more powerful and reliable (not mine so much, but I remain optimistic!). Time progressed and hull shapes mattered less, you could just get a bigger motor to push your wedge through the water, why bother designing an efficient hull. Yeah, I’m not a fan of today’s plastic! I may risk losing half my readers but I suspect many of you agree. Truth is, today’s boat hulls simply can’t be designed for rowing. They need to support ever increasing weight and horsepower. While rowing could still move a powerboat to safety when the motor fails, safety regulations typically require only a single paddle as a backup! Why is that? This is a joke waiting to be played on anyone trying to paddle a motor boat any distance in wind, wave or current! Most people therefore dismiss human power altogether as a practical option. We may also be in too much a hurry and have forgotten that “life is but a dream”! Times change and I believe more efficient hulls and even rowing are making a comeback. Gas prices are a factor but we are slowly realizing life goes by too fast and there are special places where slowing things down a bit makes better sense. Being on the water, in nature’s back yard is one such place! When I designed our Shanty Boat, DIANNE’S ROSE, the plan was to mount a trolling motor on the bow, to maneuver in shallow waters, like fishing boats do. It was also going to serve as back up to the Big Push. I’ve predictably changed my mind as a romantic image of Old Shanty Boats sunk deeper into my brain (my best ideas need time to percolate, another reason to slow down!). Last season, while using our newly built Camp Boat I had the chance to experiment sculling from the bow, managing to move her around quite easily to new fishing spots. A loop of rope on the middle, front cleat, secured the shaft of a single oar. Worked back and forth, twisting the blade on each stroke it pull the boat forward. Working better than expected, I was convinced a good set of oars would work better still. I was fortunate a neighbour had a cracked Ash tree, a while back, needing to be cut down. I struck a deal to do the work for free if I could have the wood. A portable mill cut it into 1” and 2” planks. I used it for the boat’s flooring, runners and rub rails. It would also be the perfect wood for the oars. The wood had been air dried, better than kiln dried, which makes wood brittle, air dried maintains the woods flexibility so is ideal. But as always use what you have if you want to make yourself a set. I created a cool jig to turn the handles down to 1 3/4” radius (a router bit could also be used to knock off the corners and hand tools could finish the round). My system involved a strong drill (old with a broken switch), a 2”hole saw, a shaper and a wooden jig. The jig was key, made of plywood it allowed the square stock to be turned with the drill through a large diameter hole (to fit the 2 X 2” block). The hole saw, having screws into the wood through its slots, prevented it from slipping as the blank was spun and moved forward into the spinning shaper blades. This cut away the corners leaving a round shaft. The back part of the jig had two more holes spaced apart to receive the finished 1 3/4" rounded stock. In theory these two holes would tame any vibration! Well not so much! We ruined the first attempt because the stock was so out of balance it almost shook my arms off! It didn’t help that I had to plug my drill into a power bar to turn it off and on. I was in trouble because I had walked past the power bar that sat on the floor so couldn’t reach its switch. My helper, Ben, “helped” and unplugged me before things got too exciting! Our first blank had good sections so we proceeded, learning from Ben’s error (blame is important in woodworking!), this time I selected straighter material. Success!!! If I had to make more than two oars, I’m confident we would be able to perfect the jig and cutters to get perfect results every time. Needing only two, I was happy to do a little planning and sanding. The last 2’ were left square, to epoxy on more ash for the blades. When cured the blades were cut thin on the band saw and shaped. The previously mentioned jig was also used for the handles but with a router instead of the shaper. Again some hand work was required. This process too could be perfected. Another cool jig was used to finish sand the shafts. Using an inside-out belt from a belt sander. The blades after band sawing thinner were further shaped using a power plane, spoke shave, belt sander and then a random orbital sander. Wow, we had a beautiful set of oars! They became more beautiful when they were oiled (1 part RAW Linseed Oil/1 part Turpentine). Allow it to soak overnight, then wipe with a rag to remove excess oil (dispose of the rag safely). Three coats of varnish and since I like the look of painted tips we did this as the varnish cured. That’s it! I was so excited with the results I thought I’d let you all know about it. Since we’re all friends now. I will tell you that when my son was young I would sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat for his bed time. I made up a bunch of verses to stretch it out hoping he’d fall asleep. Row, Row, Row your boat gently down the Ditch. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life can be a “blank”! For my young sons ears I’d simply click my tongue to finish this verse. Row, row, row your boat gently down the Creek. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life will make you speak! Row, row, row your boat gently down the Stream…you all know this verse. Row, row, row your boat gently across the Bay. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, what is you have to say? Row, row, row your boat gently across the Lake. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, be careful for goodness sake! Row, row, row your boat gently across the Sea. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, to see what you can see! Row, row, row your boat gently across an Ocean. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, that’d be quite the notion! There you have it, I’ll spare you my many verses of “Incy Wincy Spider” but as a teaser I will tell you the last verse has tickles from foot to head but the poor spider ends up dead(… Best/Roy