Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Visit to Blue Line Hardwoods

While I am in the North Country I want to drop in on Keith Austin, owner of Blue Line Hardwoods in Long Lake.  I am hoping to pick up some figured maple for guideboat decks and floorboards.

Blue Line hardwoods
Blue Line hardwoods

So what is the significance of the name “Blue Line”?  The Adirondack Park was created in 1892 over concerns that the area was being plundered by timber barons who were clear cutting and leaving the slash ripe for forest fires.  Mud slides and silt runoff from this depredation posed a threat not only to the Erie Canal but also to the Hudson River, a main source of drinking water for New York City.  So in 1892 the New York legislature set aside an area larger than the national parks of Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies to become the Adirondack Park.  The protection of this vast area was strengthened even further by passage of the “forever wild” act in 1895.  This act prevents any logging, mining or other development of any land owned by the State in the Park.  The State owns about 40% of the Park’s land, or 2.4 million acres of the 6 million acre total.  The boundary of the Park is designated by a blue line on maps, hence the name Blue line Hardwoods.

Keith is a 6th generation guideboat builder, having learned the craft from his uncle Bunny. I have known Bunny for some time having spent many enjoyable hours with him on his front porch chatting about guideboats and his family’s history.  According to Bunny, the first of the Austins came to Long Lake from Ferrisburg, VT sometime around 1850.  William Austin set up shop building boats and the craft was passed down from generation to generation to the present time.

Keith's Uncle Bunny
Keith’s Uncle Bunny

Keith’s shop is equipped with up-to-date milling machinery and he has a nice selection of native hardwoods  He also carries some non-native species as well.  As I will explain below, he is starting a line of materials for guideboat construction.

Keith shows me the latest guideboat he is building.  This is boat is being built from patterns used by his great uncle Merlie.  It shows what a fine craftsman Keith is.  The talent for building these boats has indeed been passed down to the latest generation.

Keith Austin with his latest guideboat under construction.
Keith Austin shows his latest guideboat under construction.

This boat is being planked with very fine grained northern white cedar.  When I ask Keith if he has any trouble with it splitting, he says that “yes, that happens sometimes especially when I am backing out a plank”.  He says that Uncle Bunny tells him he needs a “crying chair” so that when something like that happens he can sit in it and weep.

Keith shows me the patterns he is using.  These were passed down from his great uncle Merlie, and probably from even further back.  They are labelled “Merlie Chase” indicating that the master boat builders willingly share their patterns and expertise.

Keith with rib pattrns handed down from his Great Uncle Merlie.
Keith with rib patterns handed down from his Great Uncle Merlie.

Keith tells me he is beginning to carry a line of materials needed for building a traditional guideboat. These include bottom board stock and flitches, or roots, for making ribs and stems.  I tell him that I need bottom board stock or my next boat.  He finds me a clear piece of quarter sawn white pine 15 feet long and 10″ wide that is perfect a guideboat bottom board.

We then search for through some of his figured maple for something that will make my decks really stand out.  We find a piece of highly figured maple that is striking in appearance.

Figured maple for decks.
Figured maple for decks.

The next thing I am looking for is some curly, or tiger maple, for floor boards.  We find a nice piece of that too.

Tiger maple stock for floor boards.
Tiger maple stock for floor boards.

The really great thing about purchasing wood from Blue Line is that you can have it in the final milled condition.  I needed the deck stock as 3/16″ material and the floorboards 1/4″ thick.  Keith resawed the four and five quarter stock and then milled it down to the final thickness.  This saved me not only much time but a job I don’t particularly relish.  I felt that the Blue Line charges are very reasonable, especially compared with the prices I pay here in the Delaware-Pennsylvania area.

You can get a hold of Keith at (518) 624-3131 or at his website


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