Grapeview Point Boat Works


A proper pair of oars makes all the difference when rowing. Most oars are tremendously overbuilt for pleasurable rowing. If you intend to use the oars in surf or white water, the massive strength may be required, but if you are rowing in conditions that are more typical, you will enjoy the increased efficiency of rowing with oars that are more refined. Better oars make rowing easier, will get you to your destination sooner, let you travel farther, or all the above. They certainly are more enjoyable to use.

Get a nice pair for you to use, and keep a pair of those “battle clubs” around for the kids to bang around on the rocks.

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Grapeview Point Boat Works oars with spooned and dished blades
Grapeview Point Boat Works oars with spooned and dished blades


We use vertical grain spar grade Sitka spruce for oars. Sitka spruce has always been the preferred wood when lightweight and stiffness were required.


There are all sorts of formulas for determining optimal oar length for a given boat's beam. We find that there are more factors involved, which complicate the issue:

For most users, the typical short, beamy, and light boats (such as the Acorn) will be suited for approximately 7' oars. These boats won’t coast, or “carry” as far as the longer boats, so the stroke needs to be shorter and quicker. Longer oars can’t be easily used at the higher stroke rates, and will be more difficult to handle and store.

Longer boats move more efficiently through the water, so the benefits of longer oars are well worthwhile. Rangeley Lake Boats, Shellbacks and Peapods row nicely with 7½' - 8' oars.

Consider how the oars will be stowed. When towing or sailing we like to stow our oars beneath the thwarts to keep them out of the way and secure. It might be that eight footers won’t quite fit below the thwarts.

Having two pairs of oars aboard gives you a chance to "shift gears" as conditions change. You might start with an 8' pair for glassy conditions, then use an easier pulling 7½' pair as the wind and chop build.

When rowing around congested harbors or narrow channels shorter oars will be handier. We frequently row our sliding seat boat under a bridge that only allows 18" of clearance on each side when using 9'6" sculls. It’s easier in a peapod with 8' oars.

Blade shape

Oars with spooned blades
Oars with spooned blades

Our spoon blade oars are concave in both length and width. This compound shape combined with the use of vertical grain wood allows the blade to be thinner than usually seen while still being adequately stiff. Besides improving balance, thinning the blade also reduces the volume of the oar when immersed. Less blade volume makes the blade less buoyant, making it easier for the blade to enter the water and requires minimal effort to hold the blade underwater.

Weight and Balance

This is where the overbuilt oars really need improvement. Even some of the premium oars out there don’t balance well. We have taken .8 lb off a 4 lb high quality spruce spoon oar, and could have removed more without causing concern about the oars durability. Lower quality oars can be dramatically improved by attacking them with a plane and spokeshave.

Oar handle with lead insert before plugging end
Oar handle with lead insert before plugging end

Rowing has an advantage over paddling in that the weight of the oar is borne by the oarlock, not the rower. To take full advantage of this, the oars should be nearly balanced when in position, with the weight of the rower’s arm on the oar grip. We balance our oars by keeping the weight of the shaft and blades to the minimum consistent with adequate strength, and insert lead weights in the grips.

We can customize your oars by adding weights to suit you. Until you row with a pair of balanced oars, you may not realize how much effort is expended pushing down on the grips to get the blades out of the water and hold them up during the recovery.

Once you use a well-balanced oar with a thin blade, you’ll never look back.


Oar with leather and without a button
Oar with leather and without a button

Spruce oars will need protection from chafe. Leather is durable, looks great, and can be made to any length. Some leathers are tacked on, but this weakens the oar at the most critical point. We prefer to sew the leathers using a baseball stitch. Sewn leathers are long-lasting and reusable. If you keep the stitched side of the leathers up when rowing, there will be less wear on the stitches. In time, the stitching will work down below the surface of the leathers.

Stitching oar leathers
Stitching oar leathers

You'll want to keep the leathers lightly greased, particularly if you feather the oars. We like “Huberd’s Shoe Grease”. It holds up well, isn’t unbearably messy, and is inexpensive. Use it on the oarlock shanks, too.


Oar with leather and button
Oar with leather and button

Buttons are a matter of preference.

Boats that don’t track particularly well benefit most from buttons. These boats will be easier row on a steady course if the position of the oar in oarlock (hence leverage) is held constant. Buttons also keep the oar from sliding out of the oarlock when unattended. This can be important for fishing.

Some rowers will prefer to use long leathers without buttons, since they can move the oar in or out on the oarlock to change the “gearing” of the oar to suit wind, loading and water conditions. Buttons and leathers properly installed do not interfere with feathering. Keep them greased and they will feel like they are on ball-bearings.


Oval Oarlock
Oval Oarlock

We like oval oarlocks. Unlike conventional round or horn style oarlocks, the elliptical shape stays in constant motion with the oar. The oar has plenty of range of motion available in the major axis of the ellipse, yet the oar nestles against the minor axis. This eliminates the lost motion that can create a loose, sloppy feel when rowing. These oarlocks are suited for either feathering or non-feathering use. The shanks are machined to be a close fit to standard one-half inch diameter sockets. You'll like them, too.


We recommend bare wood grips. Varnished or painted grips are slippery when wet, and most soft grips increase the grip diameter too much. The bare spruce holds up surprisingly well. We have a pair of spruce oars for our tender that have spent most of seven years out in the weather, and the grips are grayed but solid. They do get a lot of use, maybe it’s the skin oil.

If you do use soft grips, be certain the grips are well varnished or painted before adding the soft grips. Water is easily trapped under the grip and rot can result.

The ends of the grips should be well rounded so that the rower’s thumbs can be comfortably placed over the end of the grip.

Tip protection

Oar tips protected with fiberglass tape
Oar tips protected with fiberglass tape

Before varnishing, we reinforce the tip of the blade with fiberglass tape.The glass tape prevents the vulnerable end grain from wicking and protects the blade from chafe. Riveted copper tips are the traditional solution, but the rivets tend to split the wood. Hardwood splines are effective, but may require that the tip of the oar be thicker than is otherwise desirable.


The blades and shafts of spruce oars should be painted or varnished to protect them from decay and warping. We finish our oars by hand-applying six coats of a high quality spar varnish, which allows the beauty of the wood to show through and lets you monitor the condition of the oar over time.