We are laser focused on saving old wood boats and reversing the ravages of time through preservation, not “restoration”. I cringe every time I see a boat for sale ad exclaiming that you should buy her because her transom, bottom, topside and deck planking is new. Such a boat is no longer old; she is little more than a copy of what she once was.
Old boats are old because they retain all the old wood and old components that could be saved. Sometimes, and especially with bottom planking, the original wood is just too far gone to save. That’s why our guiding criterion is, “Replace only what cannot be saved.” The SMB crew knows its way around old wood boats and how to preserve them, and that we uphold the highest standards of craftsmanship in the process.
1938 Chris Craft Runabout preservation: “Flyin’ By”
Flyin’ By won Best of Show in the 2017 Lake Champlain ACBS Antique and Classic Boat Show.
Arriving in 1970 to begin our teaching careers and grow our family, my wife and I bought four acres and a dilapidated circa 1826 house in Addison, Vermont. Putting four sheep on the land offered the “perfect” solution for keeping it open. Well, four soon became 30, trying to eke an existence on way too little land.
The solution was obvious: Buy land and build our own place, which we did, and in October 1976, we moved into our brand new colonial saltbox sitting on 93 acres of land. We cleared the land, built a barn and figured we were all set.
The sheep had other ideas. Those thirty-odd sheep did what comes naturally, and before our eyes, the flock doubled and then doubled again.
In 1979 we built the 42′x80′ barn that now houses Snake Mountain Boatworks. By 1990, with our lives moving in other directions, the flock was sold and those barns stood empty until 2009, when what would become Snake Mountain Boatworks began rising out of the big barn’s dirt floor. The sheep, hay, and all else that farming means have been replaced by 5,000 square feet of superb restoration space… (READ MORE >)
About Michael Claudon
Retiring from teaching at Middlebury College has enabled Claudon to create his latest entrepreneurial endeavor, Snake Mountain Boatworks LLC. SMB preserves, restores and repairs antique and classic wooden powerboats in 5,000 square feet of shop that had previously served as the main barn for the commercial sheep operation that he and Shirley, his wife of 42 years, ran from 1976-1990.
Restoring, preserving and repairing these majestic watercraft is so much like doing the same for clocks, albeit on a footprint that is hundreds of times larger. Blessed with his crew of able experts, Claudon is again feeding his passion for trading, for preserving old things, and for meeting and bringing enjoyment to wonderful people… (READ MORE >)
What We Do
Snake Mountain Boatworks means:
Snake Mountain Boatworks is Michael Claudon, Roger ‘RJ’ Towle, Joe D’Avignon and Anthony Warner. We know our way around, in, under and through wooden boats.
Communicate with you while we work to uphold the highest standards of craftsmanship and return your boat to you when promised and without excuses.
Store your boat inside or outside in our facility that is protected 24/7 by sophisticated security systems. Let us address her issues small and large during the winter so she is ready to go in the spring.
When she left the Chris Craft factory in 1948, the company expected this seemingly beautiful and sound little Chris Craft Utility Deluxe to last 8 to 10 years at most. She was now over 60 years old, and, while her fit and finish were a bit rough here and there, and the hardware was ready for rechroming, she really looked pretty sound.
In fact, having tested the engine and finging that it ran pretty well, after running a hose into her bilge for 10 days to “soak her up,” down to Lake Champlain we went for a test. She did pretty well, and even reached speeds of 40 MPH. But little did we know what lay between us getting back to shore and the water pounding the hull from below. Her bottom planking could not be salvaged. Ninety percent of her ribs were shot. The bottom bow in the transom was mostly dust.
Given her age, she almost surely has gone through several, and maybe as many as six major overhauls. But she was ready again, as is the case for most of the boats that come into the shop. We make every effort to save every stick of original wood that we can, but not at the scrifice of delivering a sound boat back to her owners.
We source our marine hardwoods and plywood from Americas’ Wood Company in Washington, ME, and from the A. Johnson Company of Bristol, VT, and use nothing but FAS Pattern Grade lumber in our restorations.
D&S Custom Metal Restoration, 102 Cabot St, Holyoke, MA, is our go-to shop for metal restoration and chrome plating. Mickey Dupuis and his incredible crew have earned their nationally-recognized reputation for delivering only show quality work. Mickey can be reached at 413-533-7770, or [email protected]
Following are links to examples or our work that support our contention that we uphold only the highest standards of craftsmenship:
My first encounter with an old wooden boat involved helping a neighbor down at our camp on Lake Champlain “soak in” his beautiful little wood-planked outboard. Soaking it in meant exactly that. We launched it in late May, and Pete stood there watching as his boat quiter literally sank until it was lying on the bottom in about a foot of water at the Lake’s shore. “There. We can come back tomorrow and pump her out and see if she’s ready to float.”
Well, finally she did float, but all summer Pete was plagued by leaks.
There had to be a better way! Fiberglassing the bottom would keep water out, but only at a high cost. Boats are in water and they ship water, or get rained upon. At least some of that water seeps through the bottom planking and sits there between wood and fiberglass. First the planking and then the framework rots from the wet side in.
Ahh…. then how about removing the entire bottom planking and applying copious amounts of West System Epoxy between the frames and bottom planking? Not only does doing so create a variation on the fiberglass problem, wooden boat hulls flex as they race through the water. West System does not flex, however, so the first hard hit translates into failed epoxy and, yes, leaks anew along with the rotting.
While SMB was still in its conceptual/research phase, I Googled “5200 bottom” and found the answer to this quandry in an excellent article titled, “What is a 5200 bottom and why should I have one?” This article in the Antique Boatshop Web site offers a rich historiography along with superb and highly actionable content. The following excerpt describes what it is, and the balance of the piece will tell you why you should have one:
“A ‘5200 bottom’ as it’s known in the wood boating community is where you remove the current bottom, make repairs or replace damaged frames and chines, tighten and/or replace all frame bolts….then use new mahogany planking supported by marine grade plywood as the inner layer sealed in a proper and flexible wood sealer. The new lumber is attached with silicon bronze fasteners and 3M 5200 adhesive in lieu of the lead soaked canvas between the inner and outer layer. The 5200 product comes in a caulk tube which is applied to the inner layer (marine grade plywood) before attaching the outer mahogany planking.”
AT SMB, the 5200 is also applied to the framework to which the plywood is attached, but only after all surfaces of the framework and marine plywood receive two liberal coats of Smith’s Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer.
Chine, Plank & Frame Repair
As with all other aspects of our work, Don Danenberg guides our frame work, planking and cosmetic work.The 1948 Chris Craft Utility Deluxe shown here was in dire straits upon arrival. We replaced the gripe and knew, 90% of the ribs, and the lower transom bow. And then re- installed a “5200 bottom” that included entirely new planking. Two transom planks and the below-water-line port and starboard planks were steam bent and replaced as well. All surfaces were treated with mutliple coats of Smith’s Penetrating Epoxy Sealer, and all joints and planking were secured with Frearson-head silicon bronze fasteners and 3M 5200, as is the case with every boat we work on. Watch keel rabbeting on a 1956 Century Palomino.
Strip & Refinish
We tried all manner of chemical strippers. In a phrase, what we got for our efforts was a big mess every time. And no matter how careful we were, these harsh chemicls either ate whatever we wore for gloves, or, in the case of one water-based “stripper,” failed to burn our skin but also failed to release anything but tired topside paint.
DeWalt offers a great heat gun, and Sandvik sells expensive but highly effective and super-tough scrapers. We now remove all sorts of finishes without the gooey mess, without burning our skin, and without leaving chemical residues in old mahogany and oak.
Interlux is our go-to supplier of bright topside and boot stripe paints, becuase these products set the standard for competitors to equal.
Engine, Mechanical and Electrical
The SMB crew brings a combined 50+ years’ experience building, repairing and upgrading all manner of engines, drivelines, transmissions and the like. Sorting out electrical and wiring issues, from a single circuit to rebuilding entire harnesses sits squarely within our sweet spot as well.
However, when faced with freeing and rebuilding seized engines, machining cylindars and cranks and cams, we turn to one of the country’s foremost outfits, Restoration and Performance Motocars, with whom we have an exclusive relationship. Headquartered a scant 10 miles from our shop, RPM, which built its reputation for restoring classic European motorcars to nothing but the highest standards since it was established in Vergennes, VT, in 1986.
Replace the entire inner bottom sheathing and unsavable outer bottom planks, as well as the intermediate frames – battens – as needed
Secure the inner sheathing to the bottom and chine framing using 3M 5200 and silicon bronze wood screws
Apply 3M 5200 between the inner sheathing and outer planks and at all joints
Remove chine and bottom transom planks; reattach bedded in 5200
Fasten all sheathing and planking using silicon bronze screws
Seal all wood with Smith’s Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer (CPES)
Paint bilge with correct oil-based bilge paint
Prime bottom with five coats of Interlux 2000E Barrier Coat and painted with the correct color bottom paint
Plywood (3/16”) inner skin followed by 3/8” exterior traditional planking – $1,250 per lineal foot LOA; includes all labor and materials; or
Double plywood application – 3/16” interior and 3/8” exterior skin – $950 per lineal foot LOA; includes all labor and materials
Additional Services Replace
Half frames as needed – $375 each
Full framers as needed — $550 each
Chines as needed – $1,400 each
Chine and bottom transom plank as needed — $375 each
Keel as needed: – $1,900
Bilge stringers as needed – $1,400 each
Gripe & stem, as needed – $1,400
Additional services – varnishing, painting, deck seam work, etc. – billed on a time and materials basis
True 5200 Bottom
Fifty percent of Core Services cost ($1,150 x LOA or $950 x LOA, depending on chosen configuration) due upon drop-off
Balance due upon completion
Additional Service – 25% deposit upon initiation, periodic working capital infusions in response to detailed accounting statements
Vintage Boat Preservation How-To
Introduction to how-to archives
I had just purchased my first wood boat, a 1949 22’ Shepherd utility, as I launched Snake Mountain Boatworks. I knew much about wood from my 30 years restoring antique American clocks. Even tall case clocks are miniscule compared to wood boats in general and the monstrous Shepherd.
Clearly I had much to learn, as did John, an experienced finish carpenter and cabinetmaker, who would be my first employee.
One thing was certain. The challenges and techniques presented by preserving wood clock cases and movements, trimming out interior doors, and building kitchen cabinets paled by comparison to what this hulking beast that stood glowering at us would need.
I made one decision that has guided all that we do. Ours would be a preservation shop, not a “restoration” shop. No piece of wood that could be saved would be replaced. Nor would we “restore” one of these magnificent artifacts of history by replacing topside, transom and deck planking. An old boat is only old once, and that includes the original wood fastened to her as she left her factory.
So… what to do? Given my 41 years as a college teacher, the answer was straightforward. Buy and read books. Until I happened on Don Danenberg, doing so was an exercise in frustration. So many of these books were packed with content that was true, but again and again, I found it wanting. Almost none of it was actionable.
Then Danenberg’s two volume The Complete Wooden Runabout Restoration Guide. Yes, its contents were just as true as other boat books’, but there was a major and material difference. Danenberg’s content is 100% actionable, if not just a bit intimidating to the uninitiated wood boat preservation wannabes like us.
But we preserved and we learned. Each of us had our own copies in addition to the one that, albeit a bit dog-eared by now, lives in the shop as I type.
As we learned and as we first preserved “Class of ’49,” the Shepherd that started it all, and then “Little Chief,” a 1948 18’ Chris-Craft Deluxe Utility who now lives in Salzburg, Austria.
No longer intimidated by Danenberg’s blunt guidance, we also began evolving variations on his themes as we developed sources, methods and materials that delivered the highest standards of craftsmanship in a preservation environment where simply installing a new plank when an original one proves cranky just does not happen.
The teacher in me challenged me. How can we share what we are learning, including our mistakes, with other aspiring wood boat preservationists? I especially wanted to help owners and their families learn and use sources and methods that work for us.
Then one day I happened on a YouTube video offering (incorrect) guidance on bleaching wood hulls. “No! Don’t do that!” And our channel, www.youtube.com/snakemtboatworks, was launched.
Now is the moment to take that sharing process one step further. Navigating YouTube’s search engine is at best challenging, and at worst down right awful.
Following below is a library of our 500+ videos focusing on “how-to…” Our how-to YouTube Channel videos are organized by task.
Be sure not to miss reading the detailed narratives that accompany each clip. Here you learn the why and wherefore of each activity as well as the names and where to buy the materials and tools we use.
Ours is a living library that will grow as we shoot and upload additional how-to videos so please keep coming back to see what we have added.