All oars need protection, where the oars sit in the oar locks. As you can imagine there is much chaffing and rubbing at this joint and so if you left the wood of the oar exposed it would soon start to splinter. Some people just shove a cloth in the joint to protect the wood and a favorite way of protecting the oar is by wrapping a thin layer of line around the relevant area.
However, the best protection is natural leather, not only does it do the job most effectively it also enhances the look of the oars. Some boat owners take immense pride in how their boat looks, and leathered oars definitely add to the overall look. If you look after it the leather will last for years and will protect the oars totally.
Where to Place the Leather
To take the guesswork out of where you should put the leather you can use a simple formula. Measure the width of your boat where you want the oars to be, and if we take a random width of say 54 inches then you half this. So taking 27 inches, add a further two inches to make it 29 inches. Take this measurement and mark your oars at 29 inches along the shaft away from the handle. This is the spot that you will leather the oars.
Size-up the Leather
An oar can differ in thickness down its length, so it is a good idea to measure the circumference in a couple of places around the 29 inches mark. Nearly any sort of leather will do the job, after all it is being used in a rudimentary way.
But it is no good using old and brittle leather as this will soon split and disintegrate. The leather should also be quite thick but not too thick, so it is not malleable. The best kind of leathers for this job are tanned ones, but it all depends if you are going to leave the oars in damp places (which is never advisable). If you regularly leave the oars in water then you will need to protect not just the leather, but the wood as well against water damage. The best kind of leather to use is vegetable tanned leather, this you can wet then stretch it over the oar. When it dries it will shrink tightly around the wood making a great seal.
Fitting the Leather
Mark the center of the leather so you know where to position it, then place it in water and stretch it out. At one end fasten the leather with small panel pins to the oar and place holes down either side of the leather. These holes are for the stitching (polyester twine), which should not be too thin as it will cut through the leather.
A pair of pliers is a good way to thread the stitching and you can also add some wood glue to ensure the leather sleeve keeps in place. Now leave to dry and you will have a perfectly leathered oar that should last you a good five years depending how much you enjoy rowing.