Today, Shaw & Tenney still make wooden oars and paddles on the same machinery they did in the early days of the business. These photos date back to 1890!
 
Small team of craftsman in Orono, Maine continue to make heirloom products trusted by the US Coast Guard, Carnival Cruises and canoers alike
 

The year is 1858. Minnesota has just been admitted as the 32nd U.S. state and we’re only two years away from Abraham Lincoln being sworn into office. Since it will still be another decade before Edison introduces us to the first electric light bulb, the craftsmen of Shaw & Tenney work in the dark shaping and sanding oars and paddles on machinery powered by the river flowing outside the workshop in the two lane town of Orono, Maine.

More than 160 years later, many of those same machines are used today by the next generation of woodworkers producing one Maine’s best exports other than lobsters and blueberries.

Shaw & Tenney has called Orono home since opening day 1858. Inside their workshop, their hand-crafted oars and paddles come to life—the old-fashioned way, from their hands for yours.

In this small community just two hours northeast of Portland, the talk of the town is Shaw & Tenney and their large, but quiet, reputation for high-quality and traditionally built marine products in the United States. (In fact, they’re the second oldest company in the country doing this!)  Steven Holt, his wife Nancy, along with their team have wisely chosen not to make any modifications to the way things are done —  to stay on course with the company’s legacy.

Shaw & Tenney craftsmen inside their workshop in Orono, Maine.

“In 2003, Nancy and I became the third family to own the Shaw & Tenney brand,” explains Steven. “As avid lovers of boating and all facets of water recreation, this was a company we already admired and believed in so much. It’s our honor to carry the torch today and maintaining a reputation to high quality, trusted products worldwide.” 

Every aspect of building these wooden oars and paddled is done in house by a team of fewer than 10 talented craftsmen. These guys sketch, sand, paint, and varnish each product by hand. They even know their way around a sewing needle as they personally stitch oar leathers too!

Sewing oar leathers by hand for an extra special touch.
Spotted! Where You’ve Seen A Shaw & Tenney Product:
  • They created a wooden flagpole used in the movie Lincoln
  • Their oars are trusted by Carnival Cruise Liner lifeboats
  • The gondoliers at The Venetian in Las Vegas use Shaw & Tenney’s longer oars to guide through the canals of their hotel
  • The United States Coast Guard is a fan too!
While technically founded in 1858, this hand-painted sign dug up from the archives shows that the company was actually doing business two years before that!

Local Lumber

If you have a reputation for being the best, the wood had better be good. At Shaw & Tenney, each oar or paddle begins and ends as one solid piece of lumber. While you’re able to customize what type of wood you’d like: curly maple, ash, or cherry, the crew here prefers to work with native-grown, clear Eastern spruce. No knots. No defects. Once sanded, shaped, and varnished, the spruce produces a lightweight product.

“It can take about a year to learn how to use our equipment and that’s why I value our craftsman so much. I love that they enjoy being here and are proud of their work,” explains Steven. “The level of hand-eye coordination they have on the drum sander is like a performance all its own. They move and rotate the wood like a dance pausing at every third motion to review their work.”

Custom paddles and oars are available in an array of wood types too!

After the finish is applied and the seal of approval is wood-burned on the blade, the product is almost ready to be presented to the customer. There’s one more requirement to pass inspection, by Shaw & Tenney’s level of standards.

“The final test is to ask the craftsman if they’d use the product in front of them. If so, then the product is complete,” says Steven. “Our crew is not working to meet a deadline or units per day — it’s all about making sure the quality of the piece is so great that it’s something that they’d be proud to own themselves. These guys work incredibly hard to create products that are matched with performance on the water and beauty in your hand. We’re proud of them.”

Every blade is wood-burned with the company’s name.

Sustainability 

Another great thing about Staw & Tenney is not only their consideration for detail, but also their consideration for the planet! Everything in their workshop gets a second life — right down to the sawdust! Any leftover wood under 12 inches is sold as kindling for firewood, and the sawdust is donated to a nearby university to bed horses. 

Casting Beyond Paddles

With their product line casting beyond wooden oars and paddles, Shaw & Tenney is also proud to offer handmade boat hooks, masts, spars, wooden flagpoles, and full complement of marine hardware. — All made in America. Additionally, they also offer a collection of American-made products and gear like tees and hats.  

“Shaw & Tenney is a nugget of American manufacturing genius,” says Steven. “We make our products just as we did in 1858 – that’s why they last a lifetime. That will forever be our legacy.”

 

The Legacy Lives

The Two Lanes way of life is about respecting the past and not discarding it. It’s about putting in the time to master something of real value that contributes to your community and the world. True quality will always out-live the next hot trend. The longevity of companies like Shaw & Tenney, remind us that we dont always have to be chasing what’s new — we can simply look back to the time-tested roots of heritage craftsmanship.

“These products will last generations,” explains Steven. “Not only that, they feel good in your hands and perform well in the water. You can see it in a person’s eye when they hold an oar or paddle, it’s clear they can feel that they’re holding more than 160 years of techniques and history in their grasp. It’s a purchase that requires a shift from the perspective of disposable consumerism to investing in heirloom pieces that will last a lifetime and beyond. Shaw & Tenney creates products that carry you to your destinations and lead you through the adventures that become the best days of your life. If we’ve done our job right, we’ll be in Maine doing this for another 160 years.”

 

 
 

We love a good piece of leather too! These are hand-made by a family business in Franklin, Tennessee. SHOP NOW

 
 
 
 
1 Comment

One thought on “160 YEARS OF TRADITIONAL WOODEN OAR AND PADDLE MAKING: SHAW & TENNEY”

  1. David Pokrywka

    Great! Here is something else. There is only one man in the United States who makes wagon wheels. Most of his tools self made. He steams wood into an arc then places two arcs together for a circle, adds hub , spokes, and iron rim.

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