Oar Leathers
September 27, 2001
Paul

Introduction

There are many ways to leather oars. We will describe one that works well for us, and requires no nails.

What you need:

Leather

Recently we discovered the virtues of oiled and siliconed boot leather for making protective coverings for boat use. The leather is supple for it thickness, absorbs very little water, is easy to work with, and so far is wearing very well.

Preparation

First of all measure the length of the part you are covering. Find a piece of leather about the right length, and a bit wider than the circumference of the oar loom.

Measuring

Leather stretches when wet, and shrinks again when it dries. Each piece I have ever met was unique - sometimes even within the piece it behaves differently from one place to another. I have no idea how to predict how much a piece will stretch when wet. Take the sample piece, wet it and wrap it around the object to be covered. Mark the width needed for the leather to wrap almost all the way around. Leave a gap of 1/8" to 1/4". If the leather is stretchy or you are working with a piece several inches wide, leave a wider gap. If your object is narrow like a stanchion for example, leave a smaller gap. If the leather is going to have to curve in two directions, as it would when wrapping a ring or boom crutch, be sure to try your sample measuring piece over several inches of the object. That kind of shape needs more width than a simple cylinder, and you can have the edges almost butting together to start with.

Cutting

Using the steel ruler, cut one edge of the leather on the cutting surface. Wrap it around the object again, and check the marks for width. Cut the second edge and check it again. If the leather wraps around with the same size gap all the way, proceed to punching the holes for the twine. If not, measure and cut again until you have an even gap where the edges will face each other.

Punching the holes

I use the smallest punch on my leather punch to make holes for the twine. Mark lines of dots on the two seam edges of the leather, 1/8" in from the edges and 1/4" apart. Marks on the smooth side are easiest to see. Do this carefully with a ruler, so you get the same number of holes on both sides. Punch all the holes.

Stitching

Cut a piece of waxed whipping twine four times the distance from your elbow to your fingertips. This may not be enough to complete the whole seam, but is about the maximum length to keep from tangling badly or getting frayed before the end of the job. Thread a sturdy needle onto each end. (Sailmaker's needles or canvas needles are good.)

Put your leather where you want it to be, and make sure it stays there until it is secured by the first few stitches.

Start with a needle coming up through the first hole on each side. (See Figure 1.)

Fig.1 The first stitch.

Take the needles across to the opposite holes, stitch down into the other hole, then up again on their original sides. You will have three strands next to the oar and two strands on top, with a needle coming out of the top of each first hole. Draw the thread up very tight.

Fig. 2 "Near" needle in second holes.

From here on I will refer to "near side" and "far side", assuming you are holding your oar across your lap or table. Take the near needle across from where it came out on the near side to the next hole on the far side. Go down under the seam and up out of the next hole on the near side. (With each stitch, your needle will start and finish on the same side.) Repeat with the second needle, going into the same holes but in the opposite direction.

Fig. 3 Closeup of Stitch.

Be careful to hold the thread to one side of the punched hole, so the second needle won't pierce the thread already in the hole. You should end up with thread coming out of each hole on top of the seam. Draw the thread up firmly with each stitch. Repeat, starting from the same side each time so the threads all cross in the same direction. The stitch shown is almost like lacing shoes, except both threads go through each hole.

Work along this way until you have about 12" of thread left in each needle. Take a new loop of thread about 6"long and fold it in half. Lay the loop in the seam several holes ahead of where you are.

Fig. 4 Tucking thread ends under seam.

Let the tails hang out over the completed stitches, and make the new stitches over the loop of thread, being careful not to pierce the loop's thread with your needles. When you reach the loop, draw the ends of the stitching threads up tight, tie them in a square knot, run the ends of the thread through the loop and take the needles off.

Fig. 5 Ready to pull ends through.

Grasp the ends of the loop of thread with pliers, and pull hard to draw the ends of the stitching thread through, under the seam and out to the front of the piece.

Finishing off

If you haven't come to the end of your piece already, continue on with as much thread as you need for the next section, drawing stitches up tight all along, working to within a few holes from the end of the piece. Make another loop sticking out a bit from the end of the leather, and sew up to the end. Take a couple of extra stitches through the last pair of holes, tie the ends in a square knot and feed the ends through the loop. Finish as before, drawing the loop's ends through to the front of the work, carrying the stitching threads under the seam for a few stitches. Trim off the ends.

Collars

As you can see, these oars have gotten pretty beat up when the oar leather slips out of the oarlock and bears directly on the wood. It was high time to give these oars some collars.

I chose to use Turk's Head knots. I cut a strip of leather 3/8" wide, and wrapped it around the leather except for the stitching, where I left a gap. I held it in place temporarily with double-sided tape. The plan was to give the leather squishing room as I tightened the Turk's Head.

Fig. 6 Squishing strip taped in place, with gap over the stiching

Next I set up a five-bight Turk's Head, triple-passed, on my fingers, big enough to slip over the squishing strip. I placed it on the oar, centered over the strip of leather, and proceeded to tighten the knot. One is supposed to be able to do this with a marlinspike, but I had better luck with pliers. I used pretty chunky nylon braid because the these particular oarlocks are a lot bigger than my oars, and I needed quite a bit of volume in the final collar to hold the oarlocks on.

Fig. 7 Wah-Lah! The finished article

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