Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Brian’s Boat

The reason I decided to write my book “Tale of an Historic Adirondack Guideboat and How to Build One” was because of someone like Brian.  I volunteer in the boat shop at the Adirondack Museum.  While Allison builds boats I answer questions posed by the visitors.  They are fascinated by the process of building a wooden boat that goes beyond description.  It is a marvelous piece of art.

Some visitors decide that they would like to build such a craft.  They often ask me how I learned to build a guideboat and if there are any books on how to do it.  The answer to that question 10 years ago was no, there was no book on building such a craft except for the Durant’s book on guideboats.  That boat gives plans and a general outline of how they are constructed but does not give the step-by-step instructions that these folks were looking for.

I decided that as I built my second guideboat I would document each step with the intent of writing a how-to manual for building one.  In the course of writing the book I learned of the romance that revolved around my friend’s boat the Queen Anne, the boat that I had reproduced.  So my book contains not only how to build such an extraordinary small craft but a bit of Adirondack lore as well.

This writing adventure was entirely audacious of me.  At the time I reproduced the Queen Anne guideboat I was a rank novice when it came to guideboats.  I had never ridden in one (and wouldn’t until I launched my first boat).  Fortunately I had some previous experience building wooden boats and had the advice of some old-time Adirondack guideboat builders.

Writing the book took an immense amount of effort.  When I finished the book I always had nagging doubts.  Was what I had written not useful?  Did I leave out some important part of construction?  So when I got the following email from Brian I felt that all the effort was more than worthwhile.  I had enabled someone with little or no prior woodworking experience, but with an overwhelming desire to build a guideboat, to do so.  Here is what Brian had to say:

“Maybe ten or more years ago I spoke to you at the Adirondack Museum about my desire to build a guideboat.  You were holding a beautiful paddle in your hand, which I could not help but admire.  As it turns out, with a few encouraging words from you, I am building my second boat now.  I would like to thank you for those words and your book on construction.  My path towards completing number one sounds a lot like yours.  It’s even named for my wife Jacqueline.

Hope to meet you again.”


So I asked Brian to share some of his background with me and photos of his boat.  Here is some more about him.

“I am a retired Master Plumber from the Albany NY local #7.  I have no woodworking experience but I’ve done many multi-year construction projects and used this experience to break down projects into many individual jobs.  I set up to build this boat after retiring (buying tools and making plans and patterns and a builder’s jig).

So here are some views of Brian’s boat under construction.

Brian’s boat under construction.
Brian’s boat under construction looking into the hull.

Brian’s boat is of a Grant design.  He laminated the ribs but otherwise the boat is traditionally built.  The planking is of eastern white pine with cherry trim.  He made the floorboard of ash and the oars of maple.  Brian says that it took him six years to build his boat from start to finish.  Now that is perseverance!

Here he is in his shop.

Brian with his boat.

Brian’s shop intrigues me.  It brings back memories of the shop where I built my first boat.  We had moved from Northern New Jersey to a town west of Boston, Sudbury.  We moved into an old farmhouse built in 1895.  The basement, where the shop was to be located, had a dirt floor when we moved in.  My son Rob removed load after wheel barrow load of dirt from the basement so that we could pour a cement floor.

The shop had a low ceiling, so low that my youngest daughter’s friend Big Mike’s head extended up into the rafters.  The lighting was poor and the heating non-existent.  I envy Brian’s spacious and well lit shop.

View of Brian’s boat shop.


Brian is apologetic about his first boat saying that his boat is not for show but for use.  It looks mighty good to me.  Here is a photo of construction at one end of the hull.  Notice the reverse curve of the ribs.  Now that is something I would hesitate to attempt. Planking a hull with this sort of rib construction looks exceedingly difficult.

Hull construction near the stem.

Brian took an adult course in caning so he could cane his seats.  Here are the seats while he canes them.  I have always admired the “snowshoe” design of the Grant stern seat rest.

Seats for Brian’s Grant guideboat while caning.

I caned my seats the first time around.  I found that I was not destined to be a caner.  Maybe it is just because my fingers are too big or some mental lapse thing but I just am not cut out for it.  It’s too bad because most lay people, when admiring one of my boats, will ask if I did the caning.  If I say yes they are greatly impressed.  I feel like telling them that caning has to be one of the simplest tasks in building a guideboat.

Finally, here is Brian out on the water enjoying his creation.  Being out in any boat you have built yourself gives profound joy.  After nearly twenty years out and about in my first guideboat I never grow tired of the bond between me, my boat, and what the old-timers called that beautiful sheet of water.

Brian out for a row in his creation.

Next time: we start planking.


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