Many of you have been asking what Fretwater Boatworks is teaching this winter and when. I want to check in with all y’all and see what you are looking for. Here are three courses I am contemplating between now and April. They will all be here in Flagstaff at my big ol’ shop.

If you are interested in one (or more), drop me a line at info@fretwater.com and let me know. Tell me when you can or cannot attend. And let me know what you are hoping to learn or accomplish.

I have several immediate shop projects to get done so will not be able to pull anything off before Christmas. I am looking at January and February.

I work on a donation system: about $60 a day seems to make it worth our time and cover costs of running the shop. I do not have lodging available, so you’ll need to move in with a friend or find accommodation somewhere.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Building the Briggs Grand Canyon Dory

An eight day course, from lofting to beginning to deck her out. This is the classic Grand Canyon boat, but equally lovely for many rivers of the West: Green, San Juan, Yampa, Upper Colorado, Salmon, Snake, Rogue, and so forth. It’s a big boat–nearly 17′, and accommodates a boatman, four passengers, and a lot of gear below decks. We certainly won’t get her done, but you’ll have learned all you need to know to build and complete one at home. On the last day we will raffle her off to anyone who wants her for the cost of materials.

Bronze Casting

Four-day course. We will be making patterns, pounding sand molds, pouring bronze, trimming and polishing. We mostly make oarlocks, deck hardware, bow-eyes and stern-eyes, but the possibilities are endless. It is loud, smelly, smoky, filthy, scary, wildly fiery work. Oh yeah–all those fun things at once. You will also learn how to make your own low-cost foundry at home. Additional cost will be the poundage of castings you take home.

Oarmaking/reshaping


Five days. To my knowledge the perfect workingman’s oar is no longer being built, and has not for many decades. Just about any oar you can buy is ergonomically awful, destined to bring tendonitis, golfer’s elbow, bad shoulders, and carpal tunnel syndrome. We ran two courses last winter and the oars that came out of those are bringing huge smiles to faces down in the Canyon. “I didn’t know oars could feel like this. I thought they were supposed to hurt.” 

We will be making some oars from scratch and reshaping others to make kinder, gentler oars for the working boatman. We’ll work on shaft shaping, blade carving, leather wraps, mild counterweighting, and oar tips. If you already have oars but they seem heavy and clunky, we may be able to fix that. Or you can start from scratch.