My fascination with oar-making got another infusion in New Zealand last fall. We made a short stop, on my way to build dories, at the Gull oar factory in Palmerston North. Gull oars are known for being are light, straight, and affordable–three things that are hard to find in a wood oar. We met Bruce Woodfield (on the right) who runs the company and carved his first oar by hand back in 1967. At that time they were making ladders, cabinetry, and some small wood boats, and needed to make oars for the boats. Bruce soon began devising the machinery to make them en masse.
Peter (on the left), who had been running the machinery for about three decades, walked us through the factory. The first giant gizmo takes a piece of square stock and rounds in into a giant dowel. Really fast.
This gizmo makes the blades out of flat boards, onto which it cuts a perfect concave edge which fits perfectly against the dowel shaft.
The oars are then dip-varnished and allowed to drip dry.
After which they are pushed into the handle-cutter.
And there you have it. A really straight, light oar. Peter said that when everything is running properly, he can produce 600-700 oars a day. Which makes them affordable. That’s even better than my shop.