Hands to Wood. Wood to Water.
There’s a boatload of watercraft resources around the Lakes Region
By Mark Foynes
Although it is not officially summertime yet, it’s never too early to plan excursions to get out on the water. My kayak lays dreaming - and I dream of my kayak.
To be sure, the region boasts high quality pre-built vessels available at reputable boat dealers throughout the region - from Alton and Wolfeboro in the east, through Gilford and Laconia and thence into the Newfound and Squam regions. Meredith, Moultonborough, and Center Harbor also boast quality marinas. Some of these establishments have been serving customers for decades.
But the allure of the lakes induce some to want to construct their own watercraft.
Hands to wood. Wood to water. And from water to heart and soul.
For those who wish to construct their own canoes, kayaks, and rowboats, there are educational, hands-on programs throughout the region. There are also several purveyors of specialty woods ideal for boat builders.
One such resource is Newfound Woodworks in Bristol. The family-owned company offers a wide selection of materials and build kits. Newfound also offers specialty woods for custom builders. Newfound has been serving customers for 35 years, as of 2019.
Their website notes, “We create cedar strip canoe, kayak and rowing boat kits. Our kits are engineered so that you can build these beautiful boats using mostly just hand tools. If you do not want to build your own, we would be happy to build it for you as well."
It continues, “We offer cove & bead strips of Northern White Cedar, Western Red Cedar, and Alaskan Yellow Cedar. These species can be mixed to create a pattern in your canoes or kayaks. Our goal is to help you achieve a successful boat building endeavor.” Their website, listed below, accesses links to some of what their kits look like upon completion.
The late founder, Michael Vermouth, writing about his endeavor recalled, “I started the Newfound Woodworks in October 1984 as a woodworking/cabinet shop. I manufactured custom doors, windows, cabinets and furniture for about three years. Then I found Ted Moore’s’ book “Canoecraft” and built a Prospector and Red Bird canoe…I became fascinated with this process because the boats were lightweight, strong, reasonably maintenance free and incredibly beautiful.”
Michael died in 2016, and the company is now run by his hand-picked successor and long-time associate Alan Mann and his partner, Rose Woodyard. She is a boat builder, as well as an owner. (Yes, she helps run a custom lumber operation and her name is Woodyard; when we chatted by phone, pun making was restrained).
Both are passionate about Newfound. Visitors are welcome to browse and chat at their Bristol facility. "We have finished boats to see, as well as having typically about 4-5 boats in different stages of build in the build room," they say.
“Company here is always welcome,” said Mann. Both he and Woodyard stressed that building relationships with customers and high-quality products are core values of their business.
“If you know exactly what you want or are unsure of what you need, we can help,” Mann said. He added, “If you’re looking for advice, we can also help set you in the direction that’s right.”
Newfound has a robust local business throughout the Lakes Region, but they’ve also shipped to far off locales. These include all 50 states, the UK, Colombia, Australia, Finland, and New Zealand.
Newfound’s canoe kits range in price, starting from $1,500. The website notes that a kit includes a “plan sheet and layout sheet, Stripbuilding Notes, and a CD of Construction Pictures. Coved and Beaded 6-ft. to 10-ft. Northern White Cedar Strips, About 30 percent Full Length Western Red Cedar Strips, Solid, pre-milled Ash Outwales, Scuppered Ash Inwales, Ash Thwart or Yoke, Natural Cane/Ash Seat(s), Ash Seat Hangers, Seat Hardware, Stem Laminations, Deck Material, Fiberglass, Slow Cure, Low Viscosity, Non-Blushing Epoxy, Epoxy Application Supplies, and Varnish.”
Newfound also offers two-day build workshops. While the summer events do generate some revenue, Woodyard noted that the “real value is allowing people to have a hands-on experience with an experienced builder, and get out on the water in ‘A Functional Work of Art’ they made with their own two hands.”
Another supplier that caters to boat builders is Goosebay Lumber in Chichester, about a half-hour’s drive from Alton Bay. It’s a quick scoot down Rte. 28 and just a smidge down the way on Rte 4.
Goosebay is a family business managed by a father and son tandem.
Carl Mahlstead Sr. started his sawmill in 1978. Originally the mill served the construction industry and homeowners with structural and exterior-grade lumber. But as time went on, Goosebay began to specialize in furniture-grade and fine finish lumber. Having a love of boating, an extension of this evolution involved an expansion into provisioning boat builders with specialty lumber needed to construct water-worthy vessels.
Carl said, “For me it was personal - I love boating and we’re proud to supply great materials to people who share my passion.”
When we briefly chatted, Mahlstead was opening for business and he had customers to attend to. So we followed up via phone and got his partner and son - also named Carl.
Carl Jr. recalled jaunting about the lumberyard in the 1980s. During Goosebay’s early years, most of the trees that were milled on-site were native soft and hardwoods like pine and oak.
As the business evolved, the company began to import exotic woods like ebony, mahogany, and teak. This transition attracted a number of furniture craftsmen, as well as local boatbuilders, who prize the resiliency of this tight-grained stock.
The elder Mahlstead was able to develop a niche market based on his own interest in boating, the younger Carl explained. While Goosebay still mills construction-grade wood, the company has established itself as a specialty purveyor that can supply high-end furniture makers and boat builders.
The raw timber is sourced from reputable sources, the younger Mahlstead noted.
“We don’t just buy from someone who says, ‘I know a guy,’” he joked.
Mahlstead said that he wants customers to know they are purchasing the highest quality wood that is responsibly sourced. He said that much of Goosebay’s timber is kiln-dried. This ensures that milled lumber is ready for use, and also free of invasive insects like the Asian longhorn beetle, which hitched a ride on low-grade pallet wood shipped in by other dealers.
Rather, Goosebay diligently researches the reputations of dealers who have contacts in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. “We definitely get lumber from those guys,” Mahlstead said.
Goosebay prides itself on high-quality boat building materials, as well as quality wood for finish carpenters and cabinetmakers. The company can boast a wide range of boat-building materials. These include marine-grade laminates, mahogany, teak, and water-resilient epoxies to keep crafts together.
Carl has noted a shift in inventory. As species such as rosewood are in decreasing supply, Goosebay is always in search of quality substitutes. One such species is Paulownia.
A recent Japanese encyclopedia noted, “Paulownia wood is very light, fine-grained, and warp-resistant.” It’s used in the construction of regional musical instruments and is a suitable boat-building substitute for rosewood or mahogany.
Another new wood that Goosebay offers is Iroko. Its heartwood has a yellowish color, it is very durable, and resistant to both rot and insect attack; it’s sometimes used as a substitute for Teak.
Wood-database.com boasted the lumber’s appeal: “Given the high prices of genuine Teak, Iroko could be considered a low-cost alternative. The wood is stable, durable, and has an overall look that somewhat resembles Teak.”
For hands-on learners of all ages, one of the region’s leading resources for builders of all ages is the N.H. Boat Museum in Wolfeboro. For well over a decade, this non-profit organization has held youth boat building workshops. Their success has resulted in the expansion of the program to include adults and family groups. In the latter category, groups can consist of children and parents or grandkids with their grandparents.
Executive director Martha Cummings said that boat building is “a way to engage kids and bring families together by engaging in a shared project”.
The Adult and Family program will run nine days from July 6 to 14. Sessions take place between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm.
The museum’s website describes the program as a way for “adults or a team of parent(s) or grandparent(s) and child to assemble a selected boat project.”
It continues, “We will provide all the tools, supplies and expertise to help you build your boat.” And, “At the end of the session, a special launching on Lake Wentworth will be held to celebrate the completion of the craft.”
Participants can build a two-person canoe, a one-man kayak, an 11-ft. skiff, a 12.5-ft. paddleboard, or a dinghy.
The Boat Museum also offers a youth-only workshop, which runs from July 29 to August 9. Students can build a two-person canoe, a one-person kayak, or a Bevin’s skiff. The museum offers scholarships to youth demonstrating financial need.
“It’s really a great way for kids to feel a great sense of accomplishment by building something under the oversight of great builders and then go out on the water and enjoy their own creation,” Cummings said.
Boat Museum youth workshop expenses include kit costs, which range between $795 and $1,495, depending on the model a participant wants to make. The canoe kit is the least expensive. There is also a registration fee: $30 for museum members and $60 for non-members.
“It’s really an integral experience,” Cummings explained. “The kids work the materials in a hands-on setting with experienced guidance, and in the end, they have something tangible to show for their work, and it allows them to get outdoors and enjoy our Lakes.”
For Further Investigation - Boatbuilder Resources:
The N.H. Boat Museum: The Wolfeboro-based museum prides itself on advancing a continuum of the state’s boating heritage. To this end, this non-profit, member-supported organization devotes gallery space to display classic water vessels, noting the craftsmanship entailed in each boat. The museum keeps this tradition alive by helping participants of all ages learn the fine craft of boat building. To learn more about Boat Museum programs, visit nhbm.org/boat-building. Additionally, the museum sponsors lakeside boathouse tours and a highly-prestigious regatta, as well as other educational and enrichment programs including a summer lecture series. The N.H. Boat Museum is located at 399 Center Street in Wolfeboro; call 603-569-4554.
Newfound Woodworks: This company can be a one-stop-shop for beginners as well as a resource for the experienced builder. The business offer beginners’ workshops and, with its own woodyard, it can be a perpetual source for new- and long-time builders. The co-owners are almost always on site and willing to talk about how they can help. Newfound.com is where you can find additional information about the products, services, and boat building resources offered. Like the Boat Museum, they offer build workshops. There is also an option to sign up for their e-mail newsletter that can alert you to upcoming events and special deals. Even in the offseason, they take calls; if you go to voicemail, they promptly return messages left at 603-744-6872. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org. At newfound.com you can find a full-color catalog of their offerings.
Goosebay Lumber: Located in Chichester, this family company is a little more than a half-hour away from Alton, Wolfeboro, and New Durham. They specialize in exotic woods, boat building supplies, and pride themselves for service to the traditional watercraft community. They also pride themselves for responsibly sourcing their supplies, considering matters such as resource sustainability, the non-introduction of invasive insects, and labor conditions. Goosebay is open year-round and their friendly staff pick up the phone quickly if you call 603-798-5135. A full description can be found at goosebaylumber.net; the site also includes a surfboard blog and how to build one. Visit goosebaylumber.net to see all their resources, including interactive user blogs.
The Guild of N.H. Woodworkers: This organization has a long list of resources ranging from material suppliers to workshops. Visit gnhw.org/boat-building-links to identify resources and classes. Some of the resources are in N.H., and supplemented by others in Maine and Mass.