Shaw and Tenney - Maine Crafted Since 1858

Selecting the Best Style of Oar for your Boat

Selecting the Best Style of Oar for your Boat

Selecting the right oar for your particular boat and rowing style will significantly enhance your rowing experience.

Using the correct length oar to provide the proper 7:18 leverage ratio is critical for the optimal rowing experience. Once you have determined the correct length oars for you boat (see our blog post How to properly size rowing oars) the next choice is the best blade style.

The two basic blade configurations are flat blades and spoon blades and there are several variations of each. We will also discuss less common styles including macon and hatchet blades.  Selecting an oar blade type is very subjective and is influenced by many factors including boat hull design and the oar length (as determined by our calculations above).


Boat Hull Shape Influence on Oar Style

Spoon blade oars are approximately 20% more efficient than flat blade oars. That efficiency however is only useful if the hull configuration of the boat will benefit from it. Boats with rounded bottoms and fine entries like whitehall's, wherry's, canoes, and some rowing and sailing dinghies row very well and are better propelled with spoon oars.

Boats with flat or flatter bottoms generally will not row any better with spoons than with flat blades. Examples would include most dories, prams, skiffs, and aluminum fishing boats.


Shaw and Tenney Whitehall boat rowed with Wide Blade Spoon Oars
Shaw & Tenney Whitehall Rowed with S&T Wide Blade Spoon Oars


Many hull shapes, like peapods, fall in between and will benefit somewhat from the improved efficiency of spoon blades. We are always glad to discuss your specific boat with you to determine the best oars.


Flat Blade Oars

Properly made flat blade oars will be about 1/4" thick at the blade end. They will have a prominent rib running from the throat of the shaft about 1/3 down the blade. The rib provides necessary stiffness and strength as well as a graceful transition from the shaft to the blade.

Flat blades are available in spruce or ash. Our clear eastern red spruce oars are extremely light. The species is actually lighter and stronger than sitka spruce, however it is rare. One in every 2000 boards cut at the mill goes into the bunk designated for Shaw & Tenney spruce. A 7' spruce flat blade will weigh approximately 2 – 1/4 pounds +/-.

Ash oars are heavier and best suited if rocks will be encountered, for very hard use, or if they will be used to push off the bottom.


Standard Flat Blade Oars
Shaw & Tenney Traditional Flat Blade Oars


Spoon Blade Oars

We offer two distinctly different traditional spoon blade designs. Each has specific benefits.

The Shaw & Tenney spoons are longer, narrow blades which are slightly wider in the middle of the blade. They are best for casual and recreational rowing. They are also very forgiving in rough water, the curvature on the back of the blade and the narrow profile allow the blade to skip off the top of waves.

Our wide blade spoons have the same blade area as the same length S&T spoon but are proportioned very differently. Blade areas increase proportionally with oar lengths.

They are a shorter blade with the widest portion at the tip. This moves the center of effort father down the blade. Wide blades are a performance oar best for speed and exercising. Not as forgiving in rougher water as S&T spoons but still more so than flat blades.


Shaw and Tenney Spoons and Wide Blade Spoon oars
Shaw & Tenney Wide Blade (top) and Traditional Spoon Blade Oars (bottom)


Shaw & Tenney spoon oars are available with optional inlaid hardwood tips. Made in cherry, walnut, or mahogany they provide protection from damage or spitting to the end of the oar. Interestingly about 75% of our customers selecting tips do so for their stunning appearance.


Oar Tip Options
Shaw & Tenney Spoons with Inlaid Hardwood Tips


Oar Length Influence on Oar Style

Our standard 5 – 3/8" flat blade oars are recommended for lengths from 5'-6" to 8'. Our narrow flat blade design is 4-5/8" wide and proportionally longer than the standard version. We recommend narrow flat blades on oars 8'-6" and longer. They offer less outboard weight, which is important as the oar length increases and they also are more attractive on longer oars.

Shaw & Tenney spoons are offered in lengths from 6'-6" to 8'-6". The long slender blade is well suited to those lengths but becomes disproportionally long on oars over 8'-6".

Our wide blade spoons are available from 6' through 10'-6" lengths

All well - crafted oars, regardless of blade style, will have tapered shafts. They reduce the outboard weight and provide greater flex than straight shafts.

Customers often ask about square loom or Culler style oars. Originally designed to add inboard weight to help balance longer oars they were common on ash oars. We do offer square looms as an option on our oars but generally do not recommend them on spruce oars. Our clear spruce oars are so light there is little benefit in incorporating square looms.


Macon Blade and Hatchet Blade Oars

Macon blade and hatchet blades oars are typically found on rowing shell oars called sculls. The older macon blade is a symmetrical spoon shape that traditional wooden sculls were made with. The newer hatchet blade is common on modern carbon fiber scull. Shaw & Tenney is one of three known remaining makes of traditional wooden sculls in the World today.


Traditional Wooden Sculls
Shaw & Tenney Traditional Wooden Sculls


A longer variation of the macon blade is used on traditional wooden Cornish Gig oars. These oars are still used in competition worldwide.


Shaw and Tenney Cornish Pilot Cig oar
Shaw & Tenney Traditional Wooden Cornish Gig Oars


Whatever you are rowing Shaw & Tenney makes an oar style ideally suited to your boat and rowing style.

We are always glad to assist you in selecting the right oars. Please feel free to call or e-mail us anytime.

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How to Size Your Oars

To determine the correct length oar for your boat measure the distance between the port and starboard oar sockets. Then apply the Shaw and Tenney oar length formula to determine the oar length that will provide the correct 7:18 leverage ratio. This length will provide an oar where 7/25 the length is inboard of the oarlocks and 18/25 of the oar is outboard of the oarlocks. It is the ideal ratio to row almost all boats. Sized correctly, when rowing your hands will be 1 to 3 inches apart and you will be pulling directly towards your abdomen. If you are popping out of your oarlocks when rowing your oars are far too short. If you prefer an overlapping grip, add 6” to the calculated oar length. If you have more than one rowing station in your boat, measure both. Typically they will require two different length oars which is fine if you’re going to be rowing tandem and need two sets. Otherwise you’ll need to compromise the correct length to work properly in both stations. If you are rowing more than 75% in one station size the oar to that length. As always feel free to call us and were happy to help you select the correct oar length and blade style for your boat.

The Original Shaw & Tenney Oar Length Formula

To help our customers size their oars correctly, we’ve been using the same formula since 1858: Measure the distance between the center of the port and starboard oar sockets, which hold the oar locks on each gunnel. This is called the “span” between the oarlocks. Divide the span by 2, and then add 2 to this number. The result is called the “inboard loom length” of the oar. Multiply the loom length by 25, and then divide that number by 7. The result is the proper oar length in inches. Round up or down to the closest 6” increment.

How to Size Your Paddle

For traditional wooden paddles the ideal length for the Stern paddler is the bridge of your nose or 6 inches less than your height. For the bow paddler the paddle reaching the cleft of your chin or 9 inches less than your height is correct.

For our Racine paddle if you are over 5’6” tall select the 63-1/2” length and the shorter paddle if you are under5’-6”tall.

When paddling solo we typically recommend a bow length paddle. For Canadian style solo most paddlers prefer an even shorter paddle.

For paddling canoes when standing (yes our mother let us do this) a 69 inch or 72 inch paddle is usually about right.

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