Heritage Crafts

Oar, mast, spar and flagpole making

The making of wooden oars, masts, spars and flagpoles.
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Cornwall, Thames Valley
Area practiced currently
Richmond, Windsor, Oxford, Cornwall
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
11-20 There is only one full time wooden flagpole maker
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
Current No. of trainees


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.


Laminating timber into a long rectangular block, then shaping using lathes and hand planers all finished with sanding and then clear varnish or white gloss paint. Flagpoles are made using solid lengths of timber and then joined together using scarfe joints


  • Flagpole making
  • Oar making
  • Mast making
  • Spar making

Issues affecting the viability

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.

Flagpole making:

  • 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.

Support organisations

  • Cornish Pilot Gig Association

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

Crafts businesses that employ two or more maker:

Other information




National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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