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Email This Page to a FriendPreview: It All Begins with the Oar — Behind the Scenes at Shaw and Tenney
May 8, 2013
A graceful oar or paddle is a rare and beautiful thing. Almost an endangered species. To create one (and we don’t use this word lightly here) takes proper wood, sharp tools, and most of all, a skilled eye. Although we have known about their work for many years, it was a revelation to go behind the scene at Shaw & Tenney to watch the young crew at the factory shape oars and paddles worthy of even the most precious of boats.
As the possibility of posting of our 100th video came along, we kept an eye out for one that would do justice to the honor of being Number 100. We hope you’ll agree, “It All Begins With an Oar,” does just that.
– [Maynard] I’ve been rowing all my life. I remember taking my sister, Carolyn and our neighbor, Corrine, out for a row. That’s the first boat I remember really rowing and Pallen Hood hired me one summer when I was in college to work for him. To help him tend his fish wares and he was kind of a legend around Rockland, especially Owls Head. I learned about rowing style I guess, from him. He’d usually row and we’d be together in a small boat. We had a peapod and we came in alongside the dock one day and I watched him make the dock and how gracefully he handled his oars. Just beautiful, like choreographed. I guess it was an epiphany for me that rowing is more than just making a boat move through the water. There’s a style to it. And having a good set of oars in your hands makes all the difference in the world. It was only a little while ago that I got a chance to see how quality oars were made. And I want to take you there so you can see from beginning to end how it’s done. The oar we’ll be making is a red spruce and will be seven and a half feet long. A good all around oar for most situations. First, we’ll grab a pattern from the many that hang above the bench and position it on the plank so there’s no cross grain. Then we’ll mark around it. The top corners have to be knocked off to fit the lave. This lave goes back to the 1800s and is used to round the drip and the long, tapered loom of the oar. The grip and the very beginning of the loom are machined turned first. Then the grip is gradually brought to size by hand using a conventional cutting tool and a caliper. Two cutters, one mounted on each side of a worm driven steady bearing zip down the loom and change its cross section from square to round with Will chasing along with sandpaper behind the cutters, this kind of oar is complete.
– [Brad] Next saw is the cornering saw and we’re going to parallel this thickness right here all the way up the blade and taper it off. I can’t touch the center here cause this is gonna be the rib on the oar and this is the same height as the shaft when I blend it all together. So I’ll be taking an angled cut turning it in my hand as I go through the blade.
– [Maynard] As he slices off the excess wood, Brad not only twists the oar but changes its angle as well, so the blade makes a smooth transition into the loom. Now for forming a The next tool is a big drum sander with 36 grip paper and the oar shape gets refined here. It’s rally something to watch. The eye and hand coordination that takes place here. These guys are like one with their machines. They take off a little wood here and a little wood there and keeps sighting it until it looks just right. Here in the end, it’s ever finer sandpaper to get rid of the scratches, first by a series of drum sanders and finally, 180 grit by hand with the grain. After sanding comes a brushed on coating of sealant. Each dunking amounts to three brushed on coats and all oars get two dunkings, or the equivalent of six coats and spar varnish. But you know I went to school there at the University of Maine and Shaw and Tenney was down the street and I never got a chance to see them. Now many years later, here they are. We went in. We saw all that great machinery and a bunch of young guys making oars and paddles, carrying on from what had taken place in beginning 150 hard years ago. To see the enthusiasm and the skill was quite an eye opener. Because of the the care that’s being given, this thing isn’t dying. It’s living, and it’s gonna be around for awhile. Life doesn’t have to be as complicated and somehow we’ve made it. But you can drop back and enjoy things that are simple. When I’m out there rowing, it’s just the boat, the oars and it’s quiet. It’s very hard to beat.