Make Oars From Two by Fours




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Oars are expensive. Scrap lumber is free.
Here's a quick way to make oars out of two by fours and other scrap lumber. It's a lot quicker to do it than to read about it.

  More paddle and oar making projects:
Here's the quickest way I know to make a paddle.
How to make an Eskimo style kayak paddle from a 2x4 in 1.5 hours
Make a steering oar for a Marshall Islands Racing canoe.


Step 1: Sharpen a Pencil in a Funny Way

We're going to use this pencil to trace around something. We'll sharpen it toward one side so the line doesn't get offset by the thickness of the pencil.

Get one of those wide flat pencils from the lumberyard. Sharpen with a knife as shown so it's flat on one side and sharpened on the other side. Finish by rubbing it on a piece of sandpaper.

Step 2: Trace Around an Oar You Like

In the surfboard industry this is called "R+D", which stands for "ripoff and duplicate".
Find an oar you like and a piece of thin scrap plywood or sheet metal to trace it on.
Lay the oar on it.
Pound some nails around the oar to keep it from moving. Clamping it down would work also.

Trace the oar onto the pattern. You can hold the pencil vertical by holding it against either a spirit bubble level or a square.

Step 3: Cut Out the Pattern

Cut out the pattern using a saw. I used a bandsaw. Use whatever saw you have.
Don't cut yourself. A bandsaw is dangerous and cuts meat really well. Then sand down to the line with your favorite power sander.

You could skip the patternmaking step and trace right onto the lumber you're making oars from.
Or you could make one oar freehand and trace that for your second oar.

I'm making a pattern because I'm planning to make more oars later. I'm planning to let other people use the original oars I'm copying, so they'll probably get lost in some adventure. Then I'll still have the pattern.

Step 4: Trace the Pattern Onto a 2x4

Scavenge some lumber. Straight grain and small knots are good. I got some that had been used as forms for concrete. That stuff is usually decent under the grey scum.
If your oar blade is too wide for your 2x4, don't worry about it. The stuff you cut off around the handle will be plenty to glue at the blade end to make it wide.

Trace the pattern onto the lumber.
My pattern turned out crooked. Either I traced a crooked oar or the pattern warped.
To cope with that I flipped the pattern over and traced it again.
To get a straight oar, you can use either the outer lines, the inner lines, or the average between them.

Step 5: Cut Out the Oar Blank

Saw out the oar around the lines. I used a Japanese pullsaw. Any saw will work.
The offcuts will get glued around the blade. If you use an oar pattern with a narrow blade or find wide wood, no gluing is required. I found a 2x8 for my second oar.

Step 6: Glue Up the Blade

Glue and clamp the offcuts to the side of the blade to make it wide enough.
I used yellow waterbased "waterproof" glue. That needs a pretty tight fit. If you use epoxy your joint doesn't have to fit so well.

Step 7: Go Surfing

While the glue dries, go surfing.
Some pals and I went kitesurfing at Point Reyes.
Here's a hasty paddle we found washed up on the beach.
Someone made it from a chunk of plywood. Maybe they make a habit of losing paddles, so they don't waste time making them. Or maybe they were in a hurry to get out to sea and they lost more than that.

Step 8: Saw Out the Blade

Trace the blade onto the blank.
Jane Lee uses the "guillotine" brand meat saw to saw out the blade.
When she's done she still has fingers. Strive to do so well.

Step 9: Rotate and Cut Out the Handles

Trace the handle shape onto the side of the handle.
Cut it out.

Step 10: Plane Down the Blade

Clamp down the oar so it can't jump around. Plane it to the shape you like.
Feel the blade with your hand, then feel the blade of an oar you like. Your hand will tell you more about the blade shape than your eye will.

Save the shavings for your composting toilet.

Step 11: Finish Shaping the Handles

Do this when you're awake but not shaky from caffeine.
Put a coarse grit sanding disk on your angle grinder.
Wear dust mask and safety glasses.
Sand the two views down to the line. Then grind all the corners flat as shown to make it an octagon. Then round those octagon edges.

Sand the blades smooth.
Octagon the shafts where they meet the blade. Leave the shaft square by the handle. You want as much weight as you can get there to balance the weight of the blades.

Step 12: Paint Them

Don't paint the handles. Tradition says it's easier on the hands that way.
Paint the rest with free paint from your town's toxic dropoff center or building reuse depot.
Hang the oars or rest them on nail points as seen here so you can paint both sides of the oar.

Step 13: Oarlocks

These are "instant" oarlocks designed by Phil Bolger and "Dynamite" Payson.
I made them from stainless steel rod, sheet, and wire.
The string tethers keep them from sliding off the oars and getting lost.
If the rubber hose is too tight or stiff to slide on, put it in hot water to soften and lubricate it.

Make the strap part of the oarlock big enough so the oar can pivot without bending or binding in the strap. Row so the oar pushes against the rod.

Happy rowing!

  More paddle and oar making projects:
Here's the quickest way I know to make a paddle.
How to make an Eskimo style kayak paddle from a 2x4 in 1.5 hours
Make a steering oar for a Marshall Islands Racing canoe.



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    23 Discussions


    2 years ago

    At this point I wonder why I bought my last set of oars. Exellent instruction! Thanks.



    4 years ago on Introduction

    I made some oars from using this DIY article. I used a jig saw with a new blade instead of a band saw for the blade and I shaped it all using a hand plane, spoke shave, and draw knife. The handle was easier to do with the spoke shave and draw knife. The 2x4s were ripped in half and then two 15 inch pieces were glued with polyurethane glue to the ends. The blades are about 15 in long and about 4 7/8 in wide.

    2 replies

    6 years ago on Step 13

    I would encourage you to place the oars so that the PULL from the rod.
    This is the way they are used in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. There, a single thole pin and a grommet -or strop- are used to fix the oars.
    The oar is always placed on the side of the motion of the boat, so that the grommet pulls from the thole pin.
    Just try it.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I have made several sets of oars over the years. A lot of people tend to use a 2x4 they have stuck away someplace or even get the lumber yard 2x4's, but it would be well worth the investment to ask the lumber yard to get you nice "CLEAR" Spruce boards. They will be a lot lighter. If you are going to be rowing any distance, the weight makes a big difference.

    Logan D

    6 years ago on Introduction

    I used two eight foot cedar two by fours I found sitting in my rafters to whip up this pair of 7.5 foot rowing oars for an old 12 foot row boat I picked up for free. They still need a few more coats of poly and maybe some rope to pad the shafts from the oarlocks, but they look great. Thanks for the help Tim!

    Screen shot 2012-08-14 at 12.14.25 AM.png

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    And he doesn't point out that your oars will be MUCH nicer than commercial oars; they'll have a pattern you like, and they probably will be much lighter spruce t rather than hickory.


    9 years ago on Step 2

    holding the pencil against a square is such a smart idea! I'll use this trick for sure on projects! seems obvious now... thanks.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I have been working on a design to build my own small boat. This would be a nice project to follow that with. (Modifying it to suit myself of course.) Thank you for sharing.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    To Mr. JohnMichael: If it is your first own design, please refer to the book of John Gardner "Wooden Boats" (Mystic Seaport, Connecticut) - or other classicals books from peoples that know-how-to : there is a lot to learn about and get good reasons to be proud of your job...and stay safe. Greetings from Belgium..


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for tha advice. I think that is amoung the list of books I have read on the subject. I am leaning more towards the skin and frame method, possibly stich and glue. I want to keep the wieght down.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry, but I find them Ugly : they look too short and the pal's not narrow enough for the sea . That's obviously not the best way to make goods and efficient "academics" oars. I am sure you are able to make them better with a quality wood and... a little more patience and application on the job.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    aside from obviously breaking the "be nice" rule of commenting, i think your comment misses the point. Of course it's not the best way to make good an efficient oars. People have businesses that revolve around making good and efficient oars, they mass produce them, you can go buy them. But this instructable shows how to make good and efficient oars, by yourself, out of scrap wood, for free - and that's better than buying them for most people on this site. If you want to make an instructable with better woods to show how it's done, go right ahead - but don't assume that you share the same goals and criteria as this author.


    9 years ago on Step 12

    They look ok for a first effort. I've made oars in my time, but you seem to have made awfully hard work of it!! There are simpler ways to make a (better) round profile and the blade. Go to a library and find a book on wooden boat craft.....

    the machine

    10 years ago on Introduction

    " this is called "R+D", which stands for "ripoff and duplicate"." hahaha, classic line.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I don't know whether to be disappointed or impressed with the lack of the obvious "Two by Foars" pun. Oh dear, just saw the url :)