A first!

I’ve been painting oars for almost 20 years and in that time I have never painted one for myself. I have a lot of wins but not anything I had really thought justified a painted blade (no disrespect to coxed pairs, the Hong Kong Championships, or even to the Dimboola Regatta, of course).

Now I realise that I’ve finally achieved something for the first time. On a blade for a friend, celebrating a fairly recent win, my name will appear on the front for the first time – rather than on the back as a maker’s mark.

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One for over the pond

I’ve recently completed a high school championship blade for a coach in the USA. We are both pleased with how it turned out, but I was surprised at how much work was involved!

My initial thought was that the US ‘collegiate’ style letter would be quite simple to paint – it’s all straight lines after all. Lay down some tape and off you go…

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Well, the first part in white was simple enough, but I soon realised that it was nigh on impossible to easily mask all sides of the black lines at once. It is difficult to trim the tape once on the oar, so I had to work in simpler mask ups that at times were only one side of the required line!

In the end it took five separate mask ups to do the black inline on the letter. I hope you enjoy the finished result.

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Busy times

Things have been very busy here with the last of the big batch of Cambridge oars being completed and the setting up of the much larger new workshop. I’m also trying to renovate a house at the same time, so I’m going a bit bonkers.

The building is long and narrow – ideal for repairing sculls – and now has 7.5m of work benches along one side. So that I can tackle more jobs in a more efficient way, each bench has had a few features built in. The dust extraction system is next, but for now I just need the new window for the end of the building to arrive so that I can actually get something like a single scull inside!

On the completed job front, here are two recently finished oars. Each was painted to match the style of other existing oars, and as a consequence they were each a bit of a challenge. Imagine trying to copy another person’s handwriting.

Preparing old oars

I’ve just finished the repairs and preparation on another batch of old oars.

This group of oars are by Collars of Oxford and have a few interesting features showing the changes of design over time. There are three different blade shapes. Two have stroke/bow pitch built in. Two have zero pitch.

There was a lot of old paint to strip, and being red a thorough job needed to be done to prevent any bleed through later on.

The first step was a chemical stripper, followed by a scrape with metal cabinet scrapers. This cleared the bulk of the paint and allowed for a much quicker and easier sanding back.

The small repairs were next to be done. Luckily these oars were in quite good condition. Two tips needed to be glued down, two large cracks needed to be fixed, and there was a delamination of the timber pieces on the back of one blade.

Once the epoxy repairs were cured, the minor filling jobs were done. These are small areas, usually along the edges and tip, that really don’t justify the time to do a timber repair (i.e. scarf in new timber).

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The repairs were sanded back to a fair surface and the blades were coated with a thinned epoxy. This helps to seal the timber and seal the old red paint. When dried this was sanded smooth. At the same time the oar shafts were given a light sand in preparation for a coat of varnish. The shafts are not stripped back completely, so the patina of age and use still remains. Two thin coats of spar varnish help bring up a consistent shine along these old and well used oars.

The final step is a primer undercoat. I use a high-build primer that helps fill in some of the smaller imperfections in the blade so that the top coat can look very smooth. In case you are wondering why one oar is slightly green, it is earmarked to be a Cambridge blade and I have discovered that this specially mixed primer works best under the pale blue.

 

UPDATE:
Someone asked how much time has been spent so far to do this work. Ignoring drying and curing times, there is about 10 hours of work so far. Not too bad, but these were in quite good condition.

Green on green

Ensuring that there is always good coverage with a coat of a pale colour is always difficult. I do try to get the blade base colour right in one coat if I can manage it.

Cambridge green blue is one of the more difficult colours I’ve been working with. A white undercoat can be too light. A grey undercoat can be too dark. Careful brushstrokes are needed to ensure even colour and that the undercoat doesn’t show through.

To help solve this, I asked my specialist paint supplier if they could make up a pale green undercoat for me. The primer/filler range was a little limited for tints, but they were certain that the green undercoat they mixed up for me would be perfect.

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I admit that I was a little worried when these bright turquoise blades appeared.

However, now that I’ve applied the top coat of Cambridge blue I am very satisfied. It was very easy to see any areas I’d missed, but there is no show through of the underlying colour that was sometimes apparent with the white or grey undercoats.

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It’s not cheap, but I think I’ll be doing more custom tints for undercoats in the future.

The colour purple

Sometimes you know that you’ll probably only ever paint one oar in a particular colour, despite now owning an expensive tin of the stuff.

I present one such example:

Wesley College in Melbourne, Australia is a very distinct colour. Unless there is a university college somewhere in the UK that needs purple I suspect that this paint tin might not get opened again for a long time!

Brothers and duplicates

Brothers can be fiercely competitive at the best of times, but when both are talented oarsmen things can often get too hot to handle.

“We’re not competitive at all”, he said with a grin as I delivered an oar this afternoon.

For many years both brothers have coveted their father’s Boat Race blade. Each has also had a good rowing career with many wins, Henley appearances, and notable roles such as club Captain or committee member, but from childhood there was always something special about the oar that had pride of place in the family home.

To solve this sibling rivalry, the younger brother came up with a bold plan – making a duplicate so that everyone could have the cherished family memory on the wall.

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Armed with a handful of photos, I set out to recreate this blade.

First stop was a boatman in Oxford with a handy stash of old oars. He was able to provide an oar of a suitable vintage. A copper tipped, girder shaft Aylings was purchased and prepared.

Then on to the painting via a few stops. The custom mix of paint to create a convincing blackish-navy blue (as mentioned in previous posts), followed by a lot of care to try to layout the construction lines as close as possible to the original using only photos.

The painting had a few challenges and surprises. The five legged lion was amusing, while trying to copy another painter’s handwriting style was less fun. The steep ridge up the centre of these old oars is always a challenge to work around.

 

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Bottom right: a para-rowing lion?

However, in the end it all came together to produce a finished oar that was as close to the original as I could make it (or at least without going barmy!). Yes, I did paint the extra leg.

We have a happy customer and two happy brothers.

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