What's a wooden boat worth?

True story: Quite a few years ago, after I built my first two cedar strip Wee Lassies, I had them on top of my car while I was in a seafood restaurant in Maine. I returned to the parking lot to find a man running his hands over the hull of one of them, his mouth literally agape. "I built them," I said, "Can I tell you about them?"  "They're so beautiful," he replied, "Can you build one for me?" "Don't see why not," I said, certain I was seeing the start of a lucrative career in boat-building. "How much?" he asked. I did a quick calculation of labor and material charges, low-balled it because I really wanted to get started in my new business, and said, "Eight thousand dollars." "EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS!?!??" he yelled. "I can get a plastic one for $400!" And so it goes. I still have my day job, and it's not boat-building.

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RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Funny and sad too in a way. Your anecdote reminds me of a profile I just read by Peter Spectre in his collection "Different Waterfronts," about a boat builder who specializes in authentic reproductions of classic designs. The piece, titled "The $15000 Boston Whitehall" is really about the devaluation of craftsmanship in the modern economy. Who wants to pay 15k for a rowboat after all? Interestingly it's modern techniques like stitch and glue and glass epoxy wood composite methods like those being refined by companies like CLC and their customers that bring the cost of diy boatbuilding down from the upper stratosphere, but compared to "shake and bake" molded plastic boats, there's still no real money to be made. While I've been amazed on the river and everywhere I take my kayak at how much attention a nice piece of sapele deck garners, it's a sad truth that 90% of the people out there are perfectly happy to just admire those decks from the hideous dayglo confines of their own $400 plastic conveyances. Be happy you have the pluck to put together something so sweet: I love the Wee Lassies. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

  The sad truth is that you can probably get 10 cents on the dollar for the materials and your labor is thrown in for free. You gotta build boats because you really like doing it, not because there is any money in it and there are far cheaper ways to get wet than building a CLC kit. Like a rotomolded kayak........ 

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

alrotch, thank for your comments....particularly when you remind us to treasure that we 'have the pluck to put together something so sweet'

to think of worth in only monetary terms and the ability to make a living at something....is limiting....and a very incomplete description of our lives.

what is the worth of friendship, family, having children, the joy of painting a picture or participating in a hobby?   if the only measure of worth is that you have to be able generate a rent and making a living at it, we would all be bankrupt.  

many of us have a dream of turning an avocation a vocation.  and thats ok.  and some of the talented, lucky and dedicated few may actually do that.   but if you don't do that, no reason to quit.

what's a worth of a wooden boat.....

- the friendships and people i have met that started from the 'did you build that?';

- being an ambassador for the hobby of building and the sport of kayaking;

- for the relaxation and peace it brings me in the hours i spend in the workshop avoiding the need for therapy, drugs, doritos or channel surfing;

- for the joy of learning and developing skills and the art;

and i suspect others will add more.




RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

The more thought and effort I put into something I care about, the more satisfaction and pleasure I gain from it. That goes for my boats, and just about everything else.

Old Yeller 

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Its simple.


A wooden boat made even moderately well is worth thousands. There's no discounting the value because plastic alternatives abound. A wooden boat is unto itself.  What's at issue here is not at all the question of "worth" - it is a question of how successful a builder needs to be in tapping that eclectic market.  Its not too different from oil painting. What's an painting worth?  If its good and its 36x48" - about $2500 to $10,000.  Because its a tough sell in the face of prints, posters, photos, etc. it isnt devalued one iota. The trouble is you need to tap that clientele.


Its  not a "worth" game its a marketing game.


What a shame it'd be for a craftsman to finish a $10,000 kayak and wave it off as pointless. That's truly a tragic sin of poor perception.






RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

And in order to arrive at a figure break it down hourly.  If its 80 hours for a stitch n glue - and its moderates well done its about $2000-$3000. If its a stripper and made like fine furniture - $8000 to $10,000 or more.  And to anyone who'd be shocked Id say : go build one yourself just like it.



RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

The point I had in mind in my previous post was that, for most people, a wooden boat brings much more pleasure if you have lovingly built it yourself.

CLC and several other kit sellers seem to do a good business, but how often do we hear from someone who wants one of these boats built for them, and is willing to pay a reasonable amount for the labor required?

Old Yeller

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

  As long as CLC's are replicas of traditional craft altered for plywood construction, the big bucks will be spent elsewhere. Why buy a replica when one can have a traditionally constructed traditional boat for not much more than your 2k to 3k finished kit. There are always such boats for sale by good home builder hobbiests who are building for the love of the experience not for profit. 

  CLC's that are unique and original designs are another story altogether though: the proas, the Faering Cruiser, Peeler and more to come are boats that are not available anywhere except here. If you want one, you have to build it yourself...... Or do you? I could certainly see someone setting up a production line in a small shop building a couple Faering Cruisers a month on spec or by order. The same with the Beach Proa: the actual demand for the boat will be greater than kit sales would indicate due to the obstacle of being a kit only. But a smart builder could buy a set of plans for each Peeler they sell to get the rights, CNC their own parts in house and go into limited production. I am not sure why CLC hasn't set up an arms length subsidiary to do just that themselves. Do it in China and you could lower costs enough to compete with the plastic boats too.  

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Many people who admire wooden boast are also afraid to own one because of the perceived maintenance issue, I think. They often don't know what is actually required, or how the work will get done.

After you have built an epoxy encapsulated wood composite boat, however, you understand that they don't really need much more maintenance than a fiberglass boat does, and building it gives you the skills and confidence to keep it in top condition.

Old Yeller

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

>>Do it in China and you could lower costs enough to compete with the plastic boats too.

Doubt that. A plastic boat built in the US will be cheaper overall than a wooden boat built in and exported from China.

Even if Chinese labor stayed cheap relative to the rest of the world (which it's not, its price is rising), the cost of transport from China is going up, too. And the cost of shipping a boat would be higher than normal.

A hypothetical Chinese boat would have to be built to a finish at least as good as a plastic boat's. Probably substantially better to overcome the ad campaign that will be unleashed by the plastic boat manufaturers (ROT! MAINTENANCE! SPLINTERS IN YOUR BUTT! UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED!)

With that amount of labor, plus the cost of getting across an ocean, possibly through a canal and definitely through customs, all before you hit the US freight distribution systems, it's going to be tough to pay the Chinese little enough to cover costs with a plastic boat price.

Plus, the cost of shipping the boats will be relatively high compared to other products. Boats are already inherently high volume/low weight product. Then, they'd have to be packed such that they will not be crushed nor the finish damaged by the freight handlers. The packing density will be very low compared to electronics and what-not. Most of what you would be paying to ship is Chinese air.

This would be another case of making a small fortune by starting with a large one.



RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

wow...didn't think the conversation was going to go this way....

but if it's economics we're steering too....than i think it's pretty straightforward.

to have a viable business you have got to be able to make money at it.....not a lot....but at least enough for a business owner to to cover all their costs including some kind of return to invested capital and/or their own labor.

so as the folks have pointed out in various notes, there are components to this.

there is the product itself which people have to want and are willing to pay something for and there is the manufacturing and all the other things required to get the product into the buyer's hands and all of their associated costs.

and this all exists in an ecosystem of competition  - competition for buyers and their time and their money which tends to set prices....and competition for all the components of production which sets the prices on the expense side of the ledger. 

so the question we seem to be discussing is, why hasn't somebody come up with a scheme to sell high quality hand-built wooden boats?   is it becuase somebody hasn't figured out this scheme?, is it becuase people 'have devalued' fine craftsamanship?, is it that the current configuration of supply and demand just creates a very tough market?

i think fwiw.....that we have a lot of bright, motivated, crafty folks out there that would love to turn this avocation into a vocation (this is the USA afte all) and so if there was a large sweet spot for handcrafted wooden boats built to order....we would see it.    but we don't.   and i don't think it's becuase of 'marketing'.

the number of professional builders who can sustain themselves (rather modestly i suppose), is very small.   the prices they need to charge (easily confirmed) are in the 5 to 10K range per boat to the person commissioning their work.    that said, however, this niche exists.....but is it rarified and the work needs to be exquisite and the folks doing it are also more often than not enhancing the return to their labor by selling or licensing kits, advice, lessons, designs.  

and i don't think becuase somebody doesn't want to pay for the price required to support a handcrafted boat doesn't mean that 'craftsmanship is devalued'.  

i think to suggest that becuase the world has evolved such that handcrafted items are less prevalent and many of us are happy to select 'manufactured' goods over handbuilt ones is too easy an excuse.  handbuilding as a technology does not create a lot of leverage and opportunity to drive prices down.  so i think it is too simple to say that a buyer who has some budget they need to stay within (e.g, their own income) should part with a good chunk of it to buy a wooden boat given all the great options unless it is something that they really really care deeply about it and it brings them great joy.

i, for one, am really happy that there are inexpensive 'manufactured' plastic boats. 

when i started in this sport, there wasn't really a low end to this market.  and the ability to get people out on the water inexpesively has brought a lot of people into the sport who never would have in the past.  and as they fall in love with kayaking they become great advocates for the resources (e.g., access points) and other amenities that benefit all of us.  and, in my experience, they also become the introductory base for builders, buyers of hi-end manufactured composite boats, and i suspect the rare person who is actually prepared to commission a high-end custom built wooden boat to support that sector of the market.   they occassional even buy well built wooden boats from skilled 'amateurs' who are looking to avoid becoming boat collectors.   and all of these sectors interact and compete through the mechanism of the market which, with the advent of market places like the internet, e-bay, craigslist, is incredibly efficient.

i think alrotch (above) demonstrate tremendous insight into the build market by noting that what companies like CLC have done is creatively used technology to  lower the cost to the market that wants a high quality custom built wooden boat but can't or doesn't desire to swap their scarce paid hour for paid labor hour of a skilled builder, to use their spare unpaid time and 'pluck' (and kit technology) to build their own boat.  fwiw....it describes my last 20 years to a tea...

i started paddling at corporate retreat some 20+   years ago.  i was too clumsy and didn't know how to golf, so i joined the 'alternate' activity at Hilton Head and spent a couple hours in a cheap plastic sea kayak exploring some of the coast.  I was hooked.

while i recognized i wanted to get into the sport, i also decided i wanted a really nice boat (i appreciate craftsmanship and design) and plastic wan't going to do it for me.   so i began to look at high-end composites and i also happened to live not far from the Schade brothers and saw some of their work as well as some of the early kit purveyors. 

well, i can tell you that, even at that time,  a high end composite boat or commissioned boat was out of my league.  i had three kids under five, a new mortgage, and while i like to think i was doing well, given all the other things i needed to do, telling my spouse that i was going to lay out over a thousand bucks on a new "one person" kayak was not going to play well. 

i can't remember the costs back  then....but i seem to remember around $600 to $700.   i had some 'pluck' and even though this was not cheapest option by far, in terms of quality of boat and total budget i was prepared to work with at the time, combining my own unpaid labor with the kit technology bought me a much nicer boat at a much better price point than any of the options i can remember ....and i have been playing that spot ever since.   and, i suspect, a lot of others are playing in that spot as well.

on a final note, just came back from pool practice in a northern virginia rec center.  about 50 boats showed up and i would say about a full 15 % (8 boats) were exceptional quality kits builts.   i can assure you that many of those in the remaining 85% noticed and have planted a seed asking how they can join that club. 



RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

last post was by me.


RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

  By competitive price from China, I meant that the price was more than plastic boats but close enough to make it a reasonable choice given the aesthetic differences. I am assuming that plastic will always be cheaper than wood but that people are willing to pay a bit more for a wooden object. For example, one can buy a plastic iPhone 5 cover for $5 and up, but lots of people are willing to pay $250 for one made of sustainable hardwoods with a laser cut logo or picture engraved on it. So it is not always a matter of purely price, folks are more than willing to pay extra, sometimes a lot extra for  an attractive wooden item, just because it IS wood. 

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Well, since I started this thread and seem to have stirred up a hornets' nest, let me just say for clarification:

I have no regrets whatsoever for having built those two strippers, which now are 17 and 18 years old and which I still use regularly, and which still get tons of oohs and ahhs. I continue to love building wooden boats. The family fleet is now up to seven, and it's likely to grow from there. I greatly enjoy helping others get started in this insane craft.

Sure, it would have been nice to make a living doing this, but that has not been my path, any more than it has been my path to sell my art work, some of which (shameless plug that is) can be seen at www.jimnormanart.com. So what? Consider that the root for the word "amateur" is the word for "love." No regrets!

Happy building, and to hell with the money!


RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

I think there's another value in a wooden boat, too -- the heirloom value. As I've built mine -- and labored over the tiniest little details that probably no one else will ever notice -- I've wondered what will become of the boat after I'm gone. 75 years from now will it be a piece of family history, with yet unborn relatives recalling my name when telling of where the boat came from? Or will it hang forlornly in a garage or shed, forgotten until someone gets sick of it being in the way and then takes it to the trash? Either way, I can assure you that no $400 plastic boat will ever hold a place like that in a persons life. 

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Mark it "Rosebud"



RE: What's a wooden boat worth?


What I like about CLC kits so far, as a first-timer:

The slow pace.  In this rushed world, it almost seems like a kind of meditation. 

Problem solving / planning / decision-making.  And living with the consequences of my own decisions.  It’s the best anti-Alzheimer’s medicine going.

Developing new skills.  Being able to do things I would not have imagined were in me.

Gaining new friends / communities.  And going to events that have a very personal connection.  I had the good luck to be in Washington State during the wonderful Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, where I watched one of the Schade brothers fiberglassing a Chesapeake, and tried out the SW17 before I ordered the kit.  Chatted with someone from Canada on the ferry over, just because he had a wooden kayak strapped to the top of his van.

Satisfaction of doing excellent work.  Working with top-quality tools, materials and kits.

Prospect of a beautiful addition to life, and of getting in the water on something I have built.  

A non-fattening or brain-numbing (i.e., TV) way to spend free time, and a satisfactory hole to pour my spare cash into.  We all spend money; this is much more satisfying than most ways to do that. 

Looking forward to a fun future.  Like everyone else, I have a long list of boats to build for myself and loved ones, some of which don’t even exist yet -- like the outrigger canoe that is “coming soon.”  What a joy it will be when it finally arrives!

And I haven’t even gotten to the place where everyone oohs and aahs over my work when I am launching or paddling the kayak. 

I can’t even remember what life was like, pre-CLC.  Thanks everyone!!

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Rich, I think you're bang on with your thoughts on what will happen with these boats after we're gone.

I have in my possession a small dinghy rowboat that my grandfather built.  He was quite the accomplished hobbyist boat builder - my uncle has his 23 foot cabin sailboat.

Every time I see that little dinghy, I think of the story he told me about building it - it's name is "Pootsie 2", 2 since the original Pootsie flew off his car when a large semi passed him, and was smashed into bits on the road behind him.  My grandfather pulled over, got out, and proceeded to remove every single brass screw from the wreckage on the road, because brass screws were expensive!  He took them home and used them to build up Pootsie 2.

Good stories to go along with good memories, all tied to a good old wooden boat :)

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

It's ingenious to me that CLC in effect outsourced their labor to their own customers, who not only will build the boats but often pay to learn how to do it! In return, the customers are empowered, experience the rush, satisfaction and ownership of the creative process, and end with a unique, beautiful and singular boat that they can call their own in a very special way. Another benefit of this transaction is that CLC retains the economic freedom to keep a stable of top notch designers at work and in close contact with a huge pool of builder/users in a creative feedback loop in which everyone seems to win.

I'm running out of garage space. At this stage I only just feel like I'm getting the hang of the techniques I set out to learn. There's a lot to all this. Just setting up a workable shop is a process of investment (modest enough, but in my position still significant), work and problem solving. I intend to keep building: once the sailing canoe is complete the Petrel will take its place on the stands. I never anticipated becoming hooked on such a messy, demanding and time consuming hobby, but I absolutely have. Part of it is the delight of learning, refining, and developing a whole range of abilities, and part of it is what Jim Brown, trimaran designer, writes about as the satisfaction of giving life to a living thing. "It's the closest a man can get to having a baby." I wrote a bit in college, and to me boatbuilding has the same heartening effect on my psyche as working on a long piece of writing: in either case the sensation of a project underway lends a warm glow to everyday life. You can crunch the numbers and attach a figure of worth on that feeling, but I think that's kind of absurd: feeling good, learning new things, growing as a person, finding confidence and seeing things through are the real result of what we as amateur builders do, the finished projects are just wonderful byproducts. The most interesting thing to me about building is the way that the previsualization of the finished boat has such a strong motivating power day after day, one suffers through so much drudgery entranced by those visualizations; then when the time comes it almost seems that the reality of the finished project is entirely unanticipated. 

I guess what I'm saying is that these experiences are what do-it-yourself boatbuilding, or anything else, is really worth. Those distracted by money can debate forever about whether the endeavor will or won't pay. There will always be people who want to pay to have other people do work they don't want to do...but for me, the whims of the marketplace are an unhappy diversion from what I love.   If I can no longer fit the fleet into the garage, I'm going to have to start giving boats away or selling them. If I got enough money out of a boat to pay for the materials to build another boat, I'd be happy. Does that mean my labor is "worthless?" What is love worth?

Happy Valentine's Day!

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Wooden boat or not I'm not going to make a hobby a vocation. Once you do that it becomes a four letter word, "work".  I find that carpenters houses fall down and electricians lights go out. Once you do it all week you look for something else to do in free time.

Plastic has it's place. My plastic kayak has been hit by a light pole at 60mph and knocked off the camper roof onto/into the bay boat being towed behind. The force ripped off the, still attached to the boat, rear rack from the roof of the camper. The boat still is water tight and tracks well.  I'm not sure my wood composite boat would fare as well. I purchased the plastic 14ft sea kayak from a friend that had it three years and used it three times. It cost me $250. The accessories (covers, skirt, packs, spare paddle)  cost more than that.

Perhaps American Express has a way that says it best. 

1. Boat kit .............$1,000

2. Boat accessories .... $1,600

3. Pretty boat you built.......Price less.



RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

Just to digress - - - What in the H E double tooth picks was the light pole doing going 60mph!?!

Makes for an interesting picture.

RE: What's a wooden boat worth?

 Grumpy, I learned the same lesson: if you make your hobby your job, you suck all the fun right out of it. It stops being relaxation and becomes work. Never again.......

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