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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am embarrassed and depressed to be driving my Avon Scout with Carlisle oars. It needs to be seen with sticks of ash or Sitka spruce. The classic old oar artisans are dropping out of business one by one. I had a set of 10' Swansons with my Domar for 30+ years, they never wore out or got shark bites in the blades. They sold with the boat and are still going strong. Swanson went out of business awhile back. Gull is still making oars in New Zealand, but I can't find any in North America anymore. Barkley Sound closed its doors a few months ago. Smoker and Sawyer have merged and the current inventory is dismal. The only way for me to get ash Smokers at the moment is to order from the factory, wait several months, pay a huge shipping fee or drive to Oregon to pick them up. None of the river equipment stores in Colorado are stocking them.
I'm aware that I sound like a geezer that clings to nostalgia rather than embracing new technology. Maybe so, but I do embrace self-bailing floors and aluminum frames, so I am not hopeless.
But I digress. The closest oar artist to me is Songbird in Moab. I have been in touch with him, but haven't brought myself to spending between 400-500 per oar for a work of art. I just want a utilitarian set of wooden oars to row my well-worn boat. I like the prices and look of the oars at Shaw and Tenney, but the shipping costs from Maine are astronomical. I have been rowing the 12' Avon Scout for a couple of years with 8 foot Carlisles that I also use with my Hyside Mini-Max. I am thinking that I would be happier with 8 and a half foot oars on the Scout. With river equipment inventory very low, I haven't seen much availability of 8.5 oars or shafts of any brand. Anyway, if any of you Buzzards know of any deals on 8.5 foot oars, preferably wood, let me know.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hey Randy, yeah I know you are getting the creme de la creme from Levi. I am jealous, but not ready to spend that much just yet. Seems like you are the guy that used to have a line on the old Gull oars. Did they quit exporting to the US permanently?
 

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Thanks Zach. Will have to call them. The online inventory shows most all oars backordered.
I had ordered a pair of 10’ Squaretops with shoal cut blades but decided to go composite. I believe DRE ordered them anyway and they might have them. Dunno if that helps you out or if they’re too long.
 

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Hey Randy, yeah I know you are getting the creme de la creme from Levi. I am jealous, but not ready to spend that much just yet. Seems like you are the guy that used to have a line on the old Gull oars. Did they quit exporting to the US permanently?
I tried to find more Gulls for years and gave up. I really wanted to keep my last set, but the guy who bought the whole setup wanted them and offered more money than I had paid, so I let them go.

I agree that $600 is a lot of money. As a super poor river guide the past couple decades, my biggest spend most years was an artisan wooden paddle. I'm glad that I invested then, as the paddle maker is now five years back ordered (I'm still on the list for another raft paddle and another duckie paddle).

I'm just a lumber addict!
 

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$600/oar for handmade custom wood oars seems like a screaming deal. He is clearly an accomplished craftsman. At $600 he’s certainly not getting rich off of them.
Yep, people want cheap, and that's why the builders are disappearing. I like that Dave here recognizes the style and quality! Good wooden paddles and oars last a lifetime. Production gear does not.

Sawyers are not worth their retail price. Square tops are dumb and cost almost as much as these, but are half the quality, and made cheap to leave room for retail margin.

Someone at Sawyer deleted my pro account recently. I was going to buy some locks. I guess they don't like me mentioning how many oars I've seen break over the years. No offense to an old school whitewater brand, I'm just stating my opinion and experience. It's the people who spend $400 an oar on something that takes a couple hours to make from less-than-select woods that I think are making the mistake. Good wood doesn't need wrapped in carbon...
 

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I made these several years ago for my drift boat with the idea that I’d make a few sets a year. I can’t see anyone paying what they’d cost to make, though. They have a great flex and are incredibly strong. The day I took these photos we had to slide the boat down a long snowball to launch. At one point it got hung up and one of the oars caught and bent way beyond what I would have thought was the breaking point, but held up fine. These would be way too soft for a loaded raft, though. I’d like to make some ash ones for my rafts, but will have to wait for another recession for the shop to slow down a bit.
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Yep, people want cheap, and that's why the builders are disappearing. I like that Dave here recognizes the style and quality! Good wooden paddles and oars last a lifetime. Production gear does not.

Sawyers are not worth their retail price. Square tops are dumb and cost almost as much as these, but are half the quality, and made cheap to leave room for retail margin.

Someone at Sawyer deleted my pro account recently. I was going to buy some locks. I guess they don't like me mentioning how many oars I've seen break over the years. No offense to an old school whitewater brand, I'm just stating my opinion and experience. It's the people who spend $400 an oar on something that takes a couple hours to make from less-than-select woods that I think are making the mistake. Good wood doesn't need wrapped in carbon...
You're tirade against Sawyer is frankly pretty tired at this point. Even when people express their own personal preference for them, you yet seem compulsively motivated to chime in to disparage, so would say the loss of whatever Pro discount you were luck enough to enjoy is certainly well earned. Congrats! Custom oars are sweet and all, as well as easy on the eyes, but Squaretops for example sure seem pretty damn popular on the river and count myself among a very satisfied customer. Seems dumb to me to make some false equivalences in quality or cost between a custom product and one that is widely manufactured, but hey good for you in still thinking your "expert" opinion somehow changes the experiences of others.
 

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Seems like ur just getting a SAWYER Utility Oar Copy
Its def the Same shape / copy
i love my Sawyers old and new ....they make an Xlnt Oars always Have !!!
They have proven to Love this Sport thru 3 diff owners and Always Been a Solid Company
I have 3 Sawyer Wood Guide Stick 2 that have 24,000 river miles on Each over 20yrs and still use everyday all summer
Sawyer Rules .....
 

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You're tirade against Sawyer is frankly pretty tired at this point. Even when people express their own personal preference for them, you yet seem compulsively motivated to chime in to disparage, so would say the loss of whatever Pro discount you were luck enough to enjoy is certainly well earned. Congrats! Custom oars are sweet and all, as well as easy on the eyes, but Squaretops for example sure seem pretty damn popular on the river and count myself among a very satisfied customer. Seems dumb to me to make some false equivalences in quality or cost between a custom product and one that is widely manufactured, but hey good for you in still thinking your "expert" opinion somehow changes the experiences of others.
It's cost me, and my friends money when they break. So yes, I think they're over priced for their durability. You don't have to like my opinion, but it is born from experience.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Montet, I totally agree with you that Levi's oars are worth every penny for the amount of skill and effort he puts into them. I need three of them, preferably four, to balance out the oar parking. Then I would have a set of oars that are worth more than the raft. I would avoid low rocky rivers that would scratch them up. I would worry about them being stolen. But mostly I live on a park ranger pension that is marginal at best. I am not going for cheap, but I have to live within my budget. By the way, the oars you made for your drift boat are incredibly beautiful. I can only imagine how many hours you have in a project like that. I commend you for having the skill and tools to do that.

Randy, thanks for the pic of the oar drawn out on the wood. Very cool. Is that ash? I believe my set of four old Swansons were ash. They were incredibly durable for decades in spite of many rocky rivers and bouncing around in 4-wheel drive trucks, etc. I just varnished them every year or so. I learned to row on wood oars while working at the Grand Canyon early 80's. The old guides and river rangers really scoffed when the synthetic oars started showing up on the river. Plastic/aluminum oars have greatly improved from the original Carlisles, but to me, wood looks right, feels right and keeps going and going.

I saw on the Sawyer website that they are offering a "Smoker" utility oar made of ash. The Sawyer utility oar is made of Douglas Fir. Cocktail Dave, have you used the Smoker ash version? If anyone else has experience with these let me know.
 

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Seems like ur just getting a SAWYER Utility Oar Copy
Its def the Same shape / copy
i love my Sawyers old and new ....they make an Xlnt Oars always Have !!!
They have proven to Love this Sport thru 3 diff owners and Always Been a Solid Company
I have 3 Sawyer Wood Guide Stick 2 that have 24,000 river miles on Each over 20yrs and still use everyday all summer
Sawyer Rules .....
I dig Sawyer. They make a decent product. I own Sawyer products and will buy more. But, it is a manufactured product. And like anything manufactured, quality goes down as production goes up. To say that Randaddy is getting a ‘copy’ of a Sawyer oar is pretty ridiculous. (I suspect you’re just trying to get a rise.). Sawyer is using a shape that has been used for, quite literally, thousands of years. The shape Randaddy is getting is certainly similar, but it IS different. I don’t know the guy making those oars, but will assume he is hand picking his lumber to maximize strength/weight/flex and beauty. I guarantee Sawyer gets full units of fir and ash and it all gets milled regardless of knots, checks, grain, or color. Other care goes into handmade wood products. I would imagine those custom oars are using higher quality adhesives and far more care is going into ensuring better adhesion and more uniform and exact clamping of material; something that goes unseen, but effects the longevity a lot. I’m curious to know what he uses for finish, but it can’t be worse than what Sawyer uses. Every guide I know, with square top Sawyers has finish chipping off after a few seasons. I don’t know the method they use, but imagine those oars go through a CNC Spray unit. They certainly aren’t oiled, or flow coated with epoxy followed by 12-15 coats of brushed marine varnish. I’ve made one set of oars. Being my first set, they have plenty of improvements to be made in my next set. They are, though, far better than any Sawyer oar I’ve pulled on. And stronger. (And far more beautiful, if I may say so myself.)
Sawyer makes a great product, but let’s not pretend we’re comparing apples to apples.
 

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I can only imagine how many hours you have in a project like that. I commend you for having the skill and tools to do that.
I didn’t track my time, but it wasn’t substantial. The wenge/cherry/wenge wrap on the blade took the most time. Probably wouldn’t do that again, but it was fun. Oars are quite simple and rather easy to make. You could make a set with a jig saw, a well tuned hand plane, a spare guage (easy to make) and a grinder with flap or carving discs (a coping plane is super helpful for shaping the blade, if you know how to use one). A jointer and planer and a ton of clamps would be nice if you’re laminating it. Obviously a well equipped shop makes things easier, but how many oars did Powell and hang make on the banks of the Green and Colorado? I’d encourage anyone to give it a go. It’s an incredibly satisfying project.
 
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