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!