Steve Bunda loves working on wooden boats and has been involved with them his entire life. For Steve, who has lived on Okauchee Lake for more than 30 years, what started out as a passion for wooden boats eventually became his profession, when he opened Bottoms Up Antique Wood Boat Restorations in Crandon, Wisconsin. For many years now, Steve has made a living restoring and preserving antique & classic boats at his 6,000 square foot boat shop in northeastern Wisconsin.
Bottoms Up has worked on many different marques over the years, but specialize primarily in Chris-Craft utilities and runabouts, with a passion for pre-war boats. Steve & Laurie’s personal daily drivers include a 1936 19′ Chris-Craft Custom and 1937 Chris-Craft 22′ Triple Cockpit Runabout.
Steve’s motto: “You are guaranteed a pleasant experience restoring your boat with excellent communication and customer involvement in important decision making.”
Today Steve Bunda offers up his “no-nonsense” take on the wooden boat restoration business, based on his many years of experience and involvement in the hobby. For our viewers who are new to the hobby or considering taking on a wooden boat restoration project of your own, this is valuable information.
It’s All a Matter of Perspective
by Steve Bunda
Now that you have your new project wood boat at home it is time to make some decisions on what is needed to do a proper restoration. A multitude of questions come to mind. What needs to be replaced? What level of restoration do you want to achieve? The first thing I ask my customers is how they plan on using the boat. Will it be used at the family lake cottage? Do they plan to trailer the boat to shows such as the 100 point concours show? Is it meant for pleasure and to become a family heirloom? Will the boat be exclusively for investment purposes?
All these questions preclude the question of boat restoration vs. boat preservation. Do you prefer an old deck and side planks that show their age from pier dings to cracks or do you want perfect decks and planks that are copies of the originals? Do you want an old original bottom that must be soaked up before use or would you prefer a new bottom that requires no soaking? These are all decisions to be made prior to beginning the restoration process.
Most wood boat owners fall into one of the following categories or groups…
Boat Owner 1 – Enjoys sharing his or her boat at concours shows judged by a point system. This boater may pay any expense to achieve factory condition, including matching numbers of all components.
Boat Owner 2 – Becomes actively involved in local boat clubs and attends shows judged by fellow boaters. This owner wants a boat to be as original as possible without breaking his or her pocket book.
Boat Owner 3 – Wants a comfortable, original looking boat. He or she attends few or no shows, as the boat is for personal and family use. With little worry over clubs and shows, this owner will not fret over slight modifications from original equipment.
Boat Owner 4 – Purchases a boat to turn a profit. He or she may or may not choose to restore to any standards.
The Boat Restorers
Boat Restorer 1 – Believes that a boat should leave the factory at 100% authenticity. Every modification other than refinishes will decrease the authenticity percentage. This restorer will replace wood that is structurally deficient but will retain as much original wood to the boat as possible, while maintaining the boat’s presentation. Hardware and gauges may require a little cleaning up, along with puttying of small plank cracks or pier dings. The fewer changes, modifications, or replacement of parts the better. Restorers on the PRESERVATION end of the spectrum are purists.
Boat Restorer 2 – Will take a boat and replace any and all wood that is deficient or has any imperfections. All hardware and equipment is completely rebuilt to the highest and best standards. This restorer can also be a purest and produce what some refer to as museum quality. He is preserving a boat and a piece of history but unlike Restorer 1 the wood on this boat is new and a copy of the original, thus decreasing the factory quality authenticity percentage. Sometimes the hardware and equipment may not be originals from this hull, but are fitting replacements or replicas.
Boat Restorer 3 – Works on a boat for Boat Owner 4. The main goal is to make a sleek looking boat quickly and get it on the road.
Everything is a matter of perspective when it comes to wood boat restoration. But there is one thing that boat owners, restorers, hobbyists, researchers, collectors, and family boaters have in common, the wood boat. To better understand the terms preservation and restoration, they must be defined.
Preservation: to keep in the same state and save from harm or destruction.
Restoration: To bring back to a former, original or normal condition, renew and restore anything taken or lost.
In My Opinion…
There are no absolutes. Every boat is different and will require a different approach and solution. Today we cannot expect to trailer them down the highway at 70mph. Get them wet once a month or so. Keep the boat in dry garages and expect the boat to stay stable and perform like a new fiber glass boat. Not every boat should be restored to exact museum standards, the cost can be excessive and may never be recovered because every time you use the boat it is wearing out all over again. Enhanced traditional bottoms make a wood boat more forgiving and usable for owners, on and off the lake.
Safety modifications are smart. Lots of varnish is overkill by 1930s and 40s standards but really protect your investment and allow the boat to show nice. Every single board, screw, hardware, equipment, interior, and so on will always be a matter of perspective. This is the fun part of our hobby. Discuss it, scrutinize it, compare it, but please always keep an open mind and look at it from other’s perspective and then make up your own mind. Based on the above outline, you need to develop a realistic set of objectives for your wooden boat restoration / preservation project, which fit both your personal use and budget. Those objectives need to be carefully conveyed to your restorer for a successful outcome.
Possible categories on boat judging.
• General levels of work done on a restored boat
• Boats operate and float
• Boats restored to authentic factory quality
• Refinishing of wood boats (as general maintenance)
• Boats have factory hull numbers.
Level 1 – boat has refinish, boat retains original engine, interior, unrestored gauges, hardware, etc.
Level 2 – boat has some wood replacement from accidents or light rot, less than 10% wood plank replacement, refinished, original restored equipment.
RESTORED TO ORIGINAL BOATS: With New Bottoms
Level 1 – less than 50% plank replacement, refinished, original restored, rebuilt, engine gauges, rechromed hardware, new interior, etc.
Level 2 – More than 50% plank replacement, refinished, original type restored equipment.
RESTORED REBUILT TO ORIGINAL: Boats with Much Wood Replacement.
Boat started as grey
Level 1 – new bottom, substantial replacement of frames, keel, planks, all parts and equipment were original to the boat or original type replacements, engine, gauges, etc.
Level 2 – complete wood replacement, boat may or may not retain a couple of wood parts. Everything is brought back to new as it left the factory. May have mostly original type replacements, engine, gauges, hardware , etc.
In conclusion: The boat owner should seek out all the information possible in order to decide the best plan of restoration for their individual needs. There is loads of print and picture documentation available from books, magazines, researchers and internet sites.
The Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club and The Antique and Classic Boat Society (ACBS) send out an excellent magazine to all members and have fine web sites. Classic Boating Magazine is published bimonthly (they don’t offer a website) and is also an excellent resource for all wood boating enthusiasts. Many hard cover and soft cover books are available, some dedicated to a specific model and type while others are more general covering many types of wood boats, one of my favorites is the Bob Speltz – The Real Runabouts series.
Internet sites cover the complete spectrum including, boats for sale, boat restorers, boat clubs, boat forums, eBay just to name a few. Try to attend a wood boat show, look at the wood boat types and models, talk with boat owners, I have found that they are very willing to share their stories. Visit a few boat restoration shops and see wood boats in various stages of restoration and repair.
Bottom line – “Do your home work and know what is involved to be a wooden boat owner and a member of a very limited and special club.”
I Quote one of my mentors Jim Andersen of Pine lake Wisconsin, who said – “What would you rather do, see the entire lake in two minutes while driving a high powered fiberglass speed boat, or take your time and spend all day enjoying the summer day and lake in your wood boat?”
In a recent e-mail Steve noted: “You should see the blond Chris-Craft boats we are currently working on all at once, hope to have them all lined up and refinished at once in the next few weeks. A 1955 CC Capri, 1955 CC Continental, 1959 CC Capri, 1959 CC Continental, and a 1959 or 60 CC Sportsman.”
“Any way, here are some picks of what is a good example of a boat that is excellent for preservation. This boat is from it’s original owner, a 1936 Chris-Craft 18 foot runabout, with original H, we will make the necessary corrections to include installing a correct steering wheel, remove extra key switch and the boat will keep her original bottom, and we will not re-chrome the hardware.”
“This preserved boat will be used and not sent to a museum. Preserved boats with original bottoms must live in a humidified environment such as a wet boat house, on a boat lift, or near he waters edge.” – Steve
On the other end of the wooden boat restoration spectrum, here are a few examples of what we have experienced over the years which is also important to share with folks new to the hobby.
Steve Bunda – Bottoms Up Antique Wood Boat Restoration
Thanks for sharing this story with us today Steve. All valuable information that we can all leran from for sure. For our viewers out there – Agree? or Disagree? Let us know with your comments, that’s what we are here for.
It’s a small hobby and we can all learn together, and never stop learning. I can say from first hand experience, what you learn (or don’t learn) now, will pay big dividends later if you are considering a wooden boat restoration project, big or small.