There are many ways to leather oars. We will describe
one that works well for us, and requires no nails.
What you need:
- Leather (see below)
- Container of water
- Ball point pen that shows up on your leather
- Exacto knife
- Steel ruler
- Cutting surface
- Leather punch
- Whipping twine
- Two heavy needles (sail or canvas)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Start with a needle coming up through the first hole
on each side. (See Figure 1.)
The first stitch
(click images for larger views)
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
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.
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
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.
Ready to pull
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
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.
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.
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
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