Build A Boat For Pleasure Or Profit – Are Those Days Long Gone?

1941 Magazine Copy

TODAY’S STORY BEGAN with a simple e-mail we received a few months ago from fellow Woody Boater Bill DeGlopper.

“Texx – I found this book while cleaning out my Dad’s stuff. He was a founding member of the Niagara Frontier Chapter ACBS. This 1941 Popular Mechanics book was in the family forever. Journalist Alan Fredericks knew Dad well.” – Bill

The first thing that comes to mind when you read the title on the cover of the vintage Popular Mechanics magazine – Build a Boat for Pleasure or Profit – is “Things have sure changed since the good-old-days when people simply went out and bought a kit or a set of plans and a truckload of lumber and built the boat of their dreams in their garage… Those days are long gone!”

But wait – IS the idea of building a wooden boat long gone today?

Not according to fellow Woody Boater Matt Byrne and the guys at The Wooden Runabout Company. (Matt & Lisa Byrne from Aurora, IL won the coveted “Best Restored” award at the 2012 ACBS International Meetings and Boat Show in Table Rock, Missouri for “Miss Lisa” their stunning 1939 19′ Gar Wood Custom Runabout)

But first – Some brief history.

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1936 Chris-Craft Full Line Brochure featuring the new 19-Ft. Special Race Boat. – Photo courtesy Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club Archive / Don Ayers

1936 Chris-Craft Full Line Brochure
New Chris-Craft 19-Ft. Special Race Boat

New to the Chris-Craft fleet is this advanced 19-ft. Special Race Boat. Already proud possessor of the official world’s mile speed record in the 225-E class (47.619 m.p.h.) it is a revelation in design and appointments from the flare of its streamlined, rakish bow to the aft cockpit which is entirely concealed by a removable hatch cover when not in use. Finished in beautiful Yale blue and white exactly as illustrated-or, in any combination of colors you desire, with genuine leather upholstery to match, at no extra cost. Power is furnished by 155 h.p. motor; with a speed rating of 45-47 m.p.h.

Noted Chris-Craft historian (and long-time fellow Woody Boater) Don Ayers wrote an outstanding Retrospective about the 1936-37 19′ Special Race Boat in the Spring 2006 Brass Bell (the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club’s quarterly publication). The comprehensive piece included detailed production information and history of this now – iconic wooden boat.

Don began his Retrospective as follows:

Collectible: An asset of limited supply that is sought for a variety of reasons, including, it is hoped, an increase in value. This word is certainly an understatement when applied to the pre-World War II 19-foot Special Race Boat. Nearly all of the myriad Chris-Craft models have a special place in the heart of someone – often many someones – but few are in the category of the 19-foot Special Race Boat. It is one thing to have a low production run, but quite another for that run to be so unusual in scope. The “19-foot Racer,” to which the boat is commonly referred, has no equal with respect to an odd production record, especially for a “stock” boat. – Don Ayers


1936-37 Chris-Craft 19′ Special Race Boat – Photo courtesy Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club archive / Don Ayers.

Chris-Craft only produced 51 (fifty-one) of these 19′ Special Race Boats in 1936-37 (Hull # 19000 to 19050). They were offered with three different engine configurations – Chris-Craft KA; Lycoming UHE; Grey Phantom 6; – and even today are considered by many to be one of the best performing 19′ boats produced due to their light-weight design and construction.

Although most of the 51 mahogany hulls were painted when they left the Chris-Craft plant in Algonac, less than 10 left as varnished hulls. As noted in the Chris-Craft Archives, the popular post-war 19′ Racing Runabout was evolved from the pre-war 1936-37 19′ Special Race Boat.

As you can imagine – today these 19′ Special Race Boats are very rare and sought-after by collectors. The fact that they were designed and built as light-weight hulls from the factory also means that they may not have had the same life span as some other pre-war wooden Chris-Crafts.

So if you have an original one – congratulations. For those of you who are interested in owning an original 19′ Special Race Boat – good luck finding one! However – depending on what you’re objectives are, our friends Mike Teusink & Kirk Wingard at The Wooden Runabout Company in Holland, Michigan may have another option for you to consider. A 1936 Chris-Craft Special Race Boat Replica.

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CNC – CAD designed 19′ Special Race Boat – The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

From their website – At The Wooden Runabout Co. we combine old-world craftsmanship with modern technology to produce boats for a new generation of boat owner.  We have CNC design (Computer Numerical Control) and production capability in-house.  On the design end, this enables us to show you exactly what your new boat will look like before a single piece of wood is cut.

It also allows us to customize our existing designs to your preferences. On the production front, CNC machining allows us to produce parts with a degree of precision and repeat-ability previously unheard of in wooden boat building.  Perhaps most importantly, the labor–and cost–involved with constructing the boat is reduced dramatically due to the perfect fit of each part.

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CNC router cut wooden components. – The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

Our CNC router is capable of cutting at speeds up to 1500 inches per minute. We utilize a vacuum hold-down system to keep parts secure while milling, and the spindle is capable of turning the cutting bit at 21,000 rpm. With this tool we are able to mill parts quickly and accurately, thereby reducing costs and increasing quality for our clients. In the good old days boats were literally built to the “rule of thumb” meaning that if it was within a half inch tolerance it was close enough. With this tool we can dial in tolerances to within a few thousandths of an inch.

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Completed wooden hull structure – The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

Contact us or visit our website to find out what we can build for you. – Mike & Kirk

This is a relatively new venture for the guys at The Wooden Runabout Company. Currently they offer a number of options depending on how much work you are interesting in doing yourself, based on your skill level and budget. They can provide you with the CNC wooden components similar to what Matt Byrne decided to do, which is assemble the frames and structure at their workshop and then complete the balance of the woodwork and assembly in your garage or workshop.  Or Mike & Kirk can build the boat to various levels of completion at their workshop – right up to a turn-key water tested craft. They would be happy to provide further information on request.

They have recently completed a “barrel-stern” version of the same basic hull design which looks very impressive.

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The barrel-stern 19′ Special Race Boat – The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

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The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

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The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

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The Wooden Runabout Company photo.

Matt Byrne decided to work with Mike & Kirk at their shop in Holland, Michigan to assist with the initial assembly and structural work on his new 19′ Special Race Boat Replica. He also acted as the official shop “gopher” that weekend, which comes with the territory. Matt Byrne has actually worked with Mike & Kirk on other projects in the past, so this wasn’t a difficult transition.

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Early component assembly overseen by The Wooden Runabout Company.

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The completed CNC wooden hull leaves the Wooden Runabout Company for Matt Byrne’s garage in Illinois. At a distance this is almost reminiscent of an old barn find that you see going down the highway on a trailer to a new home. – Texx

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Assembly continues at Matt’s garage / workshop in Illinois.

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Bottom work begins.

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Fast forward to last night – as Matt Byrne applies the first coat of bottom color.

Matt has also developed a fun website detailing his progress as he moves along with his 19′ Special Race Boat Replica project. His plan is to install a marinized Chrysler 318 V-8 that he found for a reasonable price. He plans to have the boat completed some time in 2016. You can check out his website by Clicking Here.

Special thanks to fellow Woody Boater Matt Byrne for sharing this exciting and innovative project with us today. Also to Mike and Kirk at The Wooden Runabout Company for opening up their photo gallery for us today. There are more photos and information on their website. These guys have a solid reputation throughout the classic boat hobby and are very committed to their craft, and bring some state-of-the-art technology forward.

This is proof positive that you can still build a wooden boat in your garage.


32 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Thanks Texx (and Matt and Matt) for bringing us this update!

    I have been following Matt B’s progress since I first heard about this project. It is great to see this kind of innovation in our hobby.

    On a side note I was blessed with a wonderful sunrise ride in Miss Lisa at the Dora show this spring. Thanks for that treat Matt B.

  2. Greg Lewandowskk
    Greg Lewandowskk says:

    I recently found out that Ramsey Bros. has programmed the frames for their Dart gentleman’s racer on CNC, and heard that Van Dam may also be doing the same. I think we may be seeing a trend among the reproduction classic boat builders.

  3. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Thanks again Matt for the ride in Miss Lisa thru the Dora canal to the picnic at Tavares this year. It is a gorgeous boat and rides like a champ.

  4. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Those are great looking boats and between the CNC and the care going in to them, they should be straighter and better built than the factory originals.

  5. Doug Pope
    Doug Pope says:

    The boat I built was computer designed and I got full sized mylar patterns for the frames and gussets. I suspect a CNC machine could cut it all out.

    • Wannabe Builder
      Wannabe Builder says:

      This is absolutely beautiful and almost exactly what I would like to build. Was is done from plans, and if so, where did you get them. Is it built on the frame shown in the picture above? The bow looks different.

  6. Jimmy
    Jimmy says:

    Building your own boat won’t die any time soon. Building your boat doesn’t mean your building a huge planked mahogany runabout. You can build a simple plywood boat or an easily built glen-l boat maybe go all out and build a very nice planked runabout the options are endless for your ability. We need to promote building your own boat more.

  7. Nikolay
    Nikolay says:

    Hello! I sent a message to Facebook/love Barrelbask-19 or Riviera 18 1952. but they are great for my garage! now I am looking for a 16-foot boat project Custom speedster 1936 PDF plan and table of offsets. buy a ready project for me very expensive such projects in Ukraine No. Thanks for the reply!

  8. Bjorn B.
    Bjorn B. says:

    “Restoring” my boat in my garage. A gray boat with mainly new wood is like building a new boat.

  9. reddog
    reddog says:

    I was a little disappointed with to days story. What happened to the story of the P.M. build a boat? I thought you would have shown a couple pages from the magazine. You switched right to the CNC and antique boat centers boats,and then never mentioned the magazine.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Sorry to disappoint you. We only received a photo of the cover of the 1941 Popular Mechanics magazine – not the actual magazine.

      But I will contact Bill DeGlopper (the fellow who sent us the photo) to see if he can scan the article from the PM magazine for a future story. – Texx

  10. charley quimby
    charley quimby says:

    Just finished up a 26-foot APBA. Cut my own patterns from full-size prints. This thing is a monster in more ways than just length. Learned a lot building the boat. I would pick a 19 if I thought I had enough time left. My one-man build took six years. I’m afraid to add up the bills of material and actual hours… CQ

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Congratulations Charley – Sounds like a great project. We enjoy hearing about stories like this. – Texx

    • Keith
      Keith says:

      I too just finished up a Miss APBA. All vacuum bagged/cold molded. Took me six years as well. Next one will be faster and a helper will be a must. Go and enjoy it.

      • charley quimby
        charley quimby says:

        Keith… Would like to compare notes sometime. I am in the ACBS directory. CQ

    • Tuobanur
      Tuobanur says:

      Don’t feel bad guys, I bought my gray boat in 1998, started on it in 2000 and i’m just finishing. 😀

  11. reddog
    reddog says:

    Matt and texx. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Hope mr deGlopper sends in some photos. Im sure alot of readers would like to see the old designs. Both of you with help from the readers write some really good stories Keep up the great work

  12. Jeffrey J.
    Jeffrey J. says:

    Sorry for the late post, amateur (I prefer home built) one-off boat building is still alive and well….you just need the ambition to start and see it through….

  13. Jeffrey J.
    Jeffrey J. says:

    Set the power plant in a few weeks back, starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and it’s on to deck and interior.

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