In January and February I will once again be teaching some of the arcane and useless skills involved in building and running wooden boats. For some reason, people seem to want to know this stuff. Beats me. Anyhow, the votes are in and we’ll be running a similar schedule to last year. All the courses will be here in Flagstaff at my big ol’ shop.

We run from 9 until about 6. Don’t be tardy in the mornings, because that’s usually when I’m explaining things and don’t like to do it twice.

We break for lunch mid-day. On weekdays I can usually get the burrito truck to come by. On weekends we’ll have to forage–lots of good food nearby.

I work on a donation system: about $60 a day seems to make it worth our time and cover costs of running the shop. ($70 a day for bronze casting, due to the vast amounts of propane we blast into the stratosphere, and the amount of materials that just seem to evaporate.) I do not have lodging available, so you’ll need to move in with a friend or find accommodation somewhere.

Classes are pretty small and fill quickly. If you want to sign up, send me a $100 deposit to Brad Dimock, 1000 West Grand Canyon Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. Or you can PayPal it to me at braddimock@fretwater.com.

Let me know what you’re wanting to do and learn, and what you hope to go away with. It helps me to plan.

Bronze Casting

4 days. January 19–22. Class limit 8.

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 ($7 a pound.)

Oarmaking/reshaping

Five Days. Two courses. Class limit 8 each.
January 25–29
February 8–12

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. I am on a mission to change that, and to give professional and hobby oarsmen the opportunity to row with superior oars. 

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. Materials for a new oar run just under $100 each including leathers and tips.


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.” 


I picked my set of Smokers out of a shipment of 100 ten-footers made back in the ‘80s when trees were straight. I thought I had the best. What an eye-opener. After the tune up, every stroke feels like snow falling from a bamboo leaf. And my elbow doesn’t hurt.” 


They are not only a work of art but, lightweight, strong and amazing to row!” 


Simply put, the Fretwater oars I built last year with Brad are far and away the best oars I’ve ever used. They’re balanced, they slice effortlessly through the water, have excellent flex, and are beautiful to top it all off. They are the only set of oars I’ve every rowed with that don’t make my hands go numb.”


I was in love from the first stroke! They are perfectly balanced, rigid yet flexible & powerful, a better size (10’ 6” for an 18ft oar boat instead of 11’), and thus easier on my body than any other oar I have ever used… did I also mention how beautiful they are as well?! It’s hard to put into words the joy I receive with every stroke, knowing that I made these useful pieces of art.”


Anyone and everyone who rows needs to experience doing so with a pair of oars that they put some love, sweat and tears into.”


Building the Briggs Grand Canyon Dory

8 days. February 18–25. Class limit 10.

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 will start with lofting out an imperfect set of plans (Guess what: they’re all imperfect.) We will loft the boat full scale, perfect the lines, then begin building. We’ll build the ribs, mill the chines and gunwales, scarf together the huge floor and side panels and assemble the boat. Then we’ll get to work decking her out, learn the art of storyboard spiling, and maybe even slap some paint on her. Some classes move quicker than others.

We certainly won’t get her done, but at the end of the course you’ll have all the skills you need to go home and build the drift boat or dory of your dreams.  On the last day we will raffle her off to anyone who wants her for the cost of materials.