Oar, mast, spar and flagpole making
The making of wooden oars, masts, spars and flagpoles.
|Historic area of significance
|Cornwall, Thames Valley
|Area currently practised
|Richmond, Windsor, Oxford, Cornwall
|Origin in the UK
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
There is only one full time wooden flagpole maker
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required
The crafts of making oars, masts and spars go hand in hand in terms of skills and techniques. While there is only one dedicated flagpole making firm (the Wooden Flagpole Company Ltd) some spar makers might produce the occasional flagpole as a sideline, as the skills are complementary.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Oar, mast and spar making:
Market issues: There is still a demand for hand made wooden oars – either for new boats or to replace existing hand-made oars. While some companies machine-make oars, the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) still teaches the craft of making oars by hand.
Market issues: There are still people willing to pay for good workmanship, but profit needs to be less if final price does not frighten people off. Firms which make machine made oars, spars and masts can absorb some costs in the handmade sector, but overheads are generally high. Individuals can make oars in their sheds in Cornwall, but they will not be able to charge labour rates that would make a living. A hand crafted Cornish gig oar will retail at £350, whereas a pair of machine made, hand finished, straight oars will cost about £70.
Market issues: The restoration side of the craft is dependent on the continuing interest in classic boats, both from individuals and groups.
Training issues: Trainees, including apprentices are being taken on, but skills are not always good enough from college outputs, and there is often a lack of business awareness, including the need for work to be completed quickly to make a profit. It is difficult to find the right partner course – one firm has taken on an apprentice via a cabinet making course.
Supply of raw materials: Most materials are imported from British Columbia in Canada, where the slow growing sitka spruce is ideal for the work. There is no threat to this source at present.
Market issues: Whilst ‘hobbyist’ oar makers do not seem under threat, the danger is that small and medium sized firms will, in the future, not be able to keep handmade prices within reason and the buyers will only be the very wealthy.
There is only one dedicated maker (The Wooden Flagpole Company Ltd), producing 10-20 flagpoles a year, although some spar makers might produce the odd one or two as a sideline.
Training issues: Individuals may do a short course and make their own flagpole, but then would not make any more. Serious training would not be relevant due to the very small market.
Market issues: Although they do not last as long, aluminium and fibreglass poles are much cheaper to produce.
Market issues: The market is 50 per cent historic buildings/restoration and 50 per cent for individuals’ houses. The future market will depend on the degree of authenticity seen to be important in historic buildings, and whether individuals will continue to pay high prices for traditional materials and craftsmanship.
- Cornish Pilot Gig Association
Craftspeople currently known
Crafts businesses that employ two or more maker:
- J Sutton Traditional Oar & Scull Makers
- Freeland Yacht Spars Ltd trading as Collars
- The Wooden Flagpole Company Ltd has two part-time helpers learning the trade
- Bristol Wooden Flagpoles