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Cedar Strip Boats: Functional Works of Art

Thomas P. Caldwell - July 8, 2013





Newfound Woodworks

Michael Vermouth of Newfound Woodworks shows a cedar strip hull that is being prepared for the addition of a deck. The wooden slats at the right are the strips that are used to create the attractive wooden core that then is covered with fiberglass.

Boat-lovers can appreciate the efficiency of the cedar strip canoe, kayak, and rowboat, while non-boaters will first notice the beauty of those boats. Lightweight and portable, the boats are every bit as durable as their heavier counterparts and they track much better. The blend of western red cedar and northern white cedar provides an attractive appearance that can be customized by the builder so each boat is unique.

The drawback for many is the price of the labor-intensive craft. It can take 150 hours to build a cedar strip canoe and, with materials, the cost to fully compensate the builder runs upwards of $10,000.

That is what prompted Michael Vermouth of Newfound Woodworks to start making cedar strip boat kits. After getting hooked on cedar strip canoes and building a couple of them, Vermouth found it difficult to get the kind of money he needed to reasonably compensate him for the time he put into them. Looking to find a way to make his business feasible, he hit upon the idea of building kits and providing instructional manuals so people could build their own canoes, later expanding into kits for kayaks and rowboats.

A kit to build a cedar strip canoe runs around $2,000 and it includes everything from the forms and cedar strips to fiberglass and epoxy.

Vermouth explains that the cedar strip boats actually are wood-cored fiberglass boats because, while thin strips of wood are edge-glued together around a temporary form to provide the shape and beauty, it is the fiberglass and epoxy that give the boats their strength and protection.

The first question most people ask is whether they have the ability to build their own boats. While Vermouth maintains that “the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’” he acknowledges that people need convincing. For that, his company produces “pre-kits” that include a book specific to the type of boat one is interested in building, as well as two DVDs, one on “Cedar Strip Boatbuilding” and the other on “Applying Epoxy and Fiberglass” where the whole process of building those boats is shown.

“They can pay $95 for the Pre-Kit before putting out $2,000 for the boat kit,” Vermouth said, noting that the buyer then avoids an outlay of money for something that might be too big of a project.

Of course, those who want to avoid the work of building their own boats have the option of purchasing a completed boat, and Newfound Woodworks has several finished boats available, ranging from a Hird Island Skiff with a price of $5,495 to an 18’6” Liz, offered for $8,995. Newfound Woodworks’ fastest kayak, the 17’ Spirit, is offered at a discounted price of $4,995 (regularly $8,995). Finished canoes range from the $1,995 Rob Roy Solo to the $5,995 Kruger (regularly $8,995).

Newfound Woodworks completes three to four boats a year, while focusing on producing the 200 kits which, on average, it sells each year. The company has sold its kits to customers all over the country, as well as Canada, Japan, Australia, and Europe. For those who are too far away to come and pick up the kits, Newfound Woodworks will ship the kits by truck (the box being 18- to 20-feet-long).

For those who find the freight charges to be prohibitive, the company also sells the plans so customers can make their own forms and strips. Newfound Woodworks also can supply the specialty tools and router bits necessary to make the cove and bead strips.

Whether for a boat or a kit, the process starts out with rough, dry cedar boards which Newfound Woodworks planes and mills into quarter-inch strips with the cove and bead edges that allow the builder to piece the strips together over curved surfaces and still maintain a firm seal. The strips are laid over the temporary forms and glued together, overlaid with fiberglass cloth that turns transparent to reveal the beautiful woodwork beneath. The form is then removed and the bottom sealed to complete the hull, the surface sanded, and the deck attached.

Vermouth noted that people can customize their boats by creating patterns with the western red and northern white cedar, and they can add artwork printed on rice paper that, like the fiberglass, becomes invisible under the protective coating.

According to Vermouth, the boats are not fragile, despite their light weight, and they will stand up to normal use very well. Those who intend to use their boats under extreme conditions can add more layers of fiberglass or an abrasive-resistant coating to make them stand up to even that kind of abuse.

For those who want to avoid some of the time involved in building a cedar strip boat, there are plywood kits that make the process much faster, albeit with some loss of beauty. The plywood boats, officially “stitch-and-glue” boats, use panels of marine plywood that is temporarily held together with copper wire until it is glued with epoxy and covered with fiberglass. With fewer parts and pieces, the process goes much more quickly than with the cedar strips.

Newfound Woodworks also offers a hybrid design that combines the stitch-and-glue plywood hull with a cedar strip deck, for a more attractive but still quickly assembled boat. The hybrid stitch-and-glue hull pieces have a locking tab feature that allows for easy assembly with precision.

Having been in business since 1984, Newfound Woodworks offers kits for several models of boat, including Rangeley canoes, Adirondack Guideboats, and Excursion kayaks.

Vermouth, originally a printer who became a foreman and then an estimator for a large company producing annual reports, said his experience as an estimator made it possible for him to avoid a lot of mistakes with Newfound Woodworks. He said he started out making doors, windows, and cabinets before becoming hooked on building boats and making wood go around curved surfaces. “It’s been 30 years, and there’s no other job I would enjoy as much,” he said.

He admits to slowing his pace, now hiring two part-time people to help out where he used to employ five to six full-time employees. While he used to take his boats on the road to shows, he now relies more heavily on the internet. “All of the information is there on the website,” he said. For those who don’t have access to a computer, he prints out and mails the material they are looking for.

Nevertheless, he still gets calls like the one he had recently from a man in Maine looking for a rowboat. The man drove down to take a look at a finished boat at the Bristol shop and he bought it on the spot.

In fact, Vermouth says he has sold his boats and kits to people in all walks of life, noting that the majority of his customers are Baby Boomers who have “gotten over their powerboat phase and now want to do something with their hands.” And, he notes, many of those customers are dentists.

For more information on Newfound Woodwork’s “functional artwork” go to www.newfound.com

 and read about the process, the designs, and the boats for sale. To contact Vermouth, call 603-744-6872 or email info@newfound.com . 

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