Mostly he uses spruce. The local lumbermen all know him and deliver their best clear spruce to him whenever it looks like stock is getting low. He’s also got quite a bit of ash. He starts out by cutting rough blanks.
Then he traces a closer but still somewhat oversized pattern and trims to down with the band saw.
Then the fun begins, free-handing the majority of the cuts on a 24″ high-powered table saw. Yikes.
First he cuts the square-sided, then trims down the blade and cuts the shaft to octagonal. All by eye.
Then it goes into the lathe to round the shaft and handle.
A spinning multi-bladed cutter moves up the oar on a track, cutting the perfect taper.
Van does a final shaping of the handle with a chisel.
And cleans up the shaft with a plane.
Next he checks for straightness and trims off the fat side. Then he free-hands the shape of the blade.
He cleans the blade up with a few passes on the jointer.
And (this is wild to watch) sands the shaft on a gigantic belt sander. The oar spins like crazy during this process.
A quick clean-up of the blades follows. Lastly, he changes to a finer grit sandpaper and does it again. Voila. A few swipes with hand sandpaper and it is ready for the varnish shed.
Here Van is showing off a few specialty paddles. The one in his hand is a combination paddle/boat hook–the perfect thing to have in a small motorboat. Behind him is a combination paddle/snowshovel he made for an old native fellow way up in the northern provinces. He wanted a green one for summer and a white one for winter, so he could stash them at the portage without anyone finding them.
If you’re looking for a good straight oar or paddle, you might want to get in touch with Van. His prices, even with shipping to the states, are more than reasonable.
Of all the cool tools Van runs, I think the hardest one to duplicate would be the most valuable one he’s got: his eye.