A wooden rowing frame and matching oars for a Towee – it can be done, and it works!

Over the weekend I completed a project that took more time than I had anticipated, a wooden rowing frame and matching set of oars for my Towee Calusa.


Todd and the good folks at Towee make the SRO Rowing frame from Aluminum. I love the design. However, I splurged on the boat and spent a little more than I would have liked to get the Calusa model which features more options like bow bulkhead and cap, flat floor, extended back bench, storage under the bench seats etc. All those features are items I need and use. Ad to that the trailer and the motor and I was capped out on the spending. So I opted to forgo the SRO Rowing Frame in favor of rigging up one those myself.

My father-in-law is a dab hand with the welder, as in he used to teach welding classes and build fireplace inserts, so after a quick look over the basic structure of the Aluminum rowing frame he was confident that we could fab one up in his shop.  But after returning home I decided to take a swipe at a wooden version in stead. If the wooden version didn’t work, then we could attempt the Aluminum version. Wood is cheap, aluminum not-so-much.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, like all 12 of you subscribers have, then you  know that I built a wooden canoe a number of years ago. WIth that experience I was confident that I could laminate up the curved armsof the frame from thin strips of western red cedar the same way I did the bow and stern stems on the Wee Lassie.


I took measurements from my Towee and  laid out a simple bending mold with clamping holes to hold the strips while they dried.

I went to the local home center and spent an inordinately large amount of time sorting through the giant stack of cedar boards to find the most clear specimens and set about ripping them into 1/8″ thick strips.


Gluing up the curved arms of the wooden rowing frame

It was a slow process of glue, and let dry, glue and let dry, glue and let dry. You can’t rush it, but it took shape and finally looked a lot like the aluminum frame that I was imitating. But, the arms seemed a just  little too flexible.

Once I had the rest of the frame assembled I started in on the oars. I glued up nine foot long one and a half inch thick shafts from ash that I had cut down in the back yard a few years ago. I added to that a 1/2″ thick blade of alternating sugar maple and cherry strips. Not that you care, but the maple tree grew in my parent’s back yard just outside the Kitchen window and the Cherry had grown in the pasture on my Uncle’s farm in the Youngstown area — the heart of the legendary Allegheny Plateau and home to the most straight grained and desirable cherry wood on the planet. I hand shaped the oar shaft and paddle blade into their final dimensions but it quicly became clear that shafts of the oars as well as the arms of the frame, were a bit too flexible for my taste.  They all would need fiberglass and epoxy, just the Wee Lassie canoe to strengthen and stiffen them.

I went over to my man with the epoxy plan Raka‘s site and ordered up the 1.5 QT UV inhibited kit and some 6″ glass tape.

After a week or two of epoxy, sand, glass, epoxy, sand, epoxy sand, well into the wee hours of the night, I had a stiff and strong rowing frame and a matching pair of hand made wooden oars. I then ordered up a a pair of Sawyer’s Anchor Rite Rubber Stops and a set of Perko Oarlocks and Top Mount Oar Lock sockets. I added some rope to the oars and epoxied over that to make it fast. I installed the sockets and oarlocks. Done and Done.

But what if they didn’t work?

Well, I tested the frame and oars out this Sunday evening on a quiet stretch of the Great Miami River, and I’m happy to report that they all worked like a charm.

Granted the water there is a fairly flat stretch of froggy water that gets hit by the local worm dunkers fairly hard so we got skunked.

But there I was — with my 8 year old son, while the sun was going down,  dry fall breeze  blowing from the west, rowing the Towee down the Great Miami, chucking poppers at the bank, waiting for the gulp of a smallmouth. To say I got choked up, is an understatement, it was truly a wonderful and memorable way to spend a couple hours on a Sunday evening, even if the cold front had turned off the fishing.

I was far from Skunked, I had proven that I could put together a useful piece of art work form otherwise average pieces of wood, that would now help engage in my favorite activities.
It was a gratifying, and humbling experience, now let’s go fish some more!

Cool boat for sale

When I point out a cool boat, my Dad always reminds that there are always LOTS of cool boats for sale, as in move along nothing to see here. But I’m a sucker for good looking wood and this one has it in spades. It might be a bit small for most, but wow it’s a looker and a bargain at $4,000. See the good folks at the Evening Hatch in Elllensburg, WA for more information. Built by Greg Tatman of Tatman Wooden boats.

14’ Greg Tatman, hand-made by Tatman himself.

Terrific small boat for two people, although it can handle three people with two side-by-side in the front (only good in this configuration for pulling plugs, however). It’s a beautiful African mahogany boat with a UHMW skid shoe on the bottom making it slippery over rocks and tough as nails.

It’s for sale because we are just not using it enough. When we get time to go fishing, I seem to use a guide rather than pull the oars myself. It looks like a piece of furniture, and always attracts attention when it’s in the water…and it’s light and easy to use.


Julia Belle Swain

Ok so maybe I spoke too soon when complaining about Lala being shut down by Apple. (hold tongue while saying the name of said company for a decoded super secret message) I discovered Grooveshark the other day as a pretty good replacement for Lala. It seems like Grooveshark actually has a bunch more stuff available for your listening pleasure.

The interface leaves a bit to be desired, but it seems that users have the ability to upload their own content which leads to some interesting live shows being available. They also give the user the opportunity to make a “widget” and hopefully sooner or later I will figure out how to embed that over here. For the time being I’ll have to live with the link above, a good old John Hartford tune, Julia Belle Swain.

A few tips for gluing the inner rails on a Wee Lassie Cedar Strip canoe

Gluing the Inner Rail On A Wee Lassie Cedar Strip Canoe

Gluing the Inner Rail On A Wee Lassie Cedar Strip Canoe

My only complaint about Mac Mcarthy’s book Featherweight Boatbuilding is that he covers some very complicated tasks very quickly with little fanfare. Sometimes tasks that take an entire afternoon are covered in one sentence.One such instance goes something like, “Install the inner and outer rails.”

One of the things he says to do is glue the outside rail and inner rail at the same time. While this would be faster, I find messing with two items at once, both slippery with glue, can be a nightmare. So if you have the time, just glue them one at a time. I also don’t have enough clamps to do both the port and starboard sides so I’m doing them one at a time. At this rate it will take me about four days what he could get done in one. But in a project as long and drawn out as this, does a few extra days really matter.

Secondly I discovered why he says to round over the rails after you install them. I rounded my rails over before I installed them. I thought I could get more consistent results with the table vs. hand held router. But now the rails under the for and aft decks will have a radius where they contact the decks, and thus a slightly diminshed gluing surface. Probably not a big deal, but still something to think about.

5 secrets to fibergalssing a Wee Lassie cedar strip canoe

Still on the building board, the wee lassie Nelda Ruth is being glassed.

Still on the building board, the wee lassie Nelda Ruth is being glassed.

I’ve been building the Wee Lassie, a cedar strip canoe designed by Mac Macrthy at Feather Canoes. I’ve discovered a few things that might be helpful to the firstime builder, like myself that were left out of his definitive book on the subject, Featherweight Boatbuilding A Woodenboat Book.

1. Seal the Outside and the Inside before you put your glass cloth on. In the book he says to seal the outside with epoxy before you put your first layer of glass on. However if you seal the inside as well you minimize the risk of the wood pulling air through the inside and turning into air bubbles on the outside. Also make sure the initial sealer coat of epoxy is done during a falling temperature, this will tend to suck the epoxy into the wood instead of outgassing air and causing bubbles. (This tip came to me via Larry at Raka, where I got my Epoxy)

2. Sand it smooth, extra smooth. I sanded through 220 on the outside of the hull before I put any epoxy or glass on. On the inside I didn’t sand quite as much. Consequently, the inside had a few more issues with air bubbles that I had to work extra hard to smooth them out. Had I sanded a little more on the inside it would have been as easy as it was on the outside.

3. Don’t cut the overhanging extra glass until it dries. Perhaps I misinterpreted it, but in the book it says to cut the excess cloth with a razor knife and it sounded like it said to do it before the epoxy dried. I tried this on the first go-round and it turned into a royal mess! So when it came time to glass the inside I waited for the cloth to dry and it cut like butter with a fresh Stanley knife. So wait for it to dry before you trim off the excess glass cloth.

4. Thinner is better! Don’t over do it on the epoxy. Multiple thin coats are better than a few thick ones, you will sand your ass off if you end up with runs like I had. The funny thing about epoxy is that it acts like a twerpy teenager.Everything looks cool when you are around, but the minute you turn your back, BAM trouble. You can tip it off with a brush all you want and get it looking really nice, but the minute you leave the room it starts to sag and run. If you come back in an hour, it looks like one of those wine bottles my roommate in college had with all that wax all over it, not good. So thinner is better, this may seem obvious to some, but some of us are a little slower than others. You can see in the photo above, the runs paid me a visit.

5. Be neat, have everything you will need laid out before you start mixing and wear double rubber gloves. This is really like three tips in one, but hey this is a Top 5 list so I had to mash em all togther to fit them in. Be neat and careful not to get epoxy on you. This is bad stuff and you don’t want it on your skin if you can ovide it, pretty obvious but worth pointing out. Also you don’t want to be rooting around in your workbench or digging through drawers with your hands covered in epoxy, so make sure everything is laid out in plain sight. Third, wear DOUBLE gloves. One set just won’t do. If you snag one on something or it breaks for some reason, and they will, you want that extra layer of protection there just in case.

So there you have it my top 5 secrects to glassing a Wee Lassie from the perspective of a first time boat builder.