A lot of folks have asked me about the leather oar wraps I have been running for about a decade. I love them—they outlast P-Tex plastic and, if you wax them before each trip, they are the smoothest wraps going. Them northern guys like rope wraps, but, well, I hate rope wraps. Too sticky-jerky-clunky. I like them really smooth and greasy, effortless to feather even under stress. After a bit of use they take on the metallic bronze sheen of the locks.
The old traditonal method was to tack on the leather with copper tacks, which was pretty easy and self-explanitory. That worked fine on lakes and oceans, where you take consistent, measured strokes. But in whitewater, where you get sudden, violent stresses, oars tend to snap right where you put the darned tacks. Bruce Bergstrom at Smoker Oar explained to me how the tack lets in just the teeniest bit of moisture but it’s enough to significantly weaken the oar. And he refused to sell me oars unless I promised not to drive tacks into them. I promised, but then had to come up with a better way. I did, and ten years later all my original wraps are still good as new, and not one broken oar.
Here’s how it works, using Edith’s new oars as guinea pigs.
1) Go to the leather store and gitcherself some thick saddle leather. Three-sixteenths to quarter-inch thick is excellent if you can find it. Get some one-inch belting of the same leather for the stops. Buy a good curved sewing needle and some sinew for sewing (or waxed linen) (sinew is more fun to say). Also get a good leather punch. The guy at my leather store, when I told him how many holes I was going to punch, refused to sell me the cheap punch. He made me get the $30 one. That was ten years ago. It rocks.
2) Measure out your wraps (including stops, which will glue on top of your wraps) on your oars, and mark the oars top and bottom. Measure circumference of oars. Cut a leather a bit larger than the diameter to be safe, then trim down to where you have about a quarter-inch gap. (This gap came out a little too big, but it still worked.) Cut the edge closest to the oar blade at a bevel, so it will slide into the oarlock smoothly.
4) Put two coats of contact cement on the leather and allow to dry.