Our rustic handcrafted cherry wood products are 100% made on Beaver Island, Michigan, USA original products. We pride ourselves on a top-quality product using skills and craftsmanship from an earlier time. Our products are Strip Wood Canoes and Dingys, Longboards, Stand Up Paddle Boards, Paddles, Push Sticks, Treasure Boxes, Buckets, and Bowls. Look at our products if you are looking for a unique and creative gift or decorative item for your home or boat that will last and be a treasure to pass on.
Dan is an already experienced carpenter apprenticed from Bill Freese in the art of boat and bucket building and has since added many other products, such as longboards, paddle boards, and treasure boxes, to name just a few. The boat shop started in 1985 and continues today with Dan at the helm in the old traditions and art of strip wood boat building.
Stop by the St. James Boat Shop, where Bill Freese builds wood-strip canoes and kayaks across from the marina. Thin as a pole with a grizzled gray beard, he and his black lab, Bear Dog, wile away the hours in solitude, sawing, sanding, varnishing. Beaver Island, he says, “is as good a place as any to hide from the world.”
Article courtesy of World Traveler April 1997
The St. James Boat Shop: paddling to serenity
As they say, if a person dedicates twenty-five years of his life to something, he might get pretty good at it. Bill Freese has established himself as one of the country’s leading builders of art canoes. Yet his elegant cherrywood creations are reasonably priced.
Now he has some help with partners/apprentices Dan and Carol Burton in the St. James Boat Shop, located in the old Beaver Island Lumber Company store that served as the first McDonough’s Market, along with master paddle-builder Karen Slanga, another apprentice. Carol braids the bucket handles. It’s easy to find the Boat Shop. Just follow the trail of sawdust.
Creating a canoe takes around 300 hours, including a protective graphite bottom coating. Since there was waiting involved with some of the stages, Bill realized he needed something else to make during the downtime. This gave rise to his own short “bucket list”: four items, four sizes of buckets. He created his style involving thin splines and has made hundreds and hundreds. They’re perfectly water-tight, although most serve as art objects. Hundreds and hundreds have sold at $65 to $120, becoming ambassadors of Beaver Island across the land. Typically they receive four coats of varnish after being stained.
As he did with the buckets, Bill, a former engineer, came up with his design and technique for building the canoes. He started with a typical American model, setting a solid frame for every foot to shape the hull: then he spent years tweaking the edges until he had the final shape just right.
All the wood comes from Beaver Island. Until Bill’s friend Bob Graves left, the wood came from Bob’s mill – unique cuts. Now Dan uses his band-saw mill. They let it slowly air-dry for a year, which minimizes warping. At present, they have a one-year’s supply. This product is Beaver Island through and through.
On a few occasions, Bill has mentored someone who wanted to come into his shop and build his canoe – such as Tim McDonough. He would like to see other boat builders set up in Paradise Bay. “That’s the way it used to be!”
He was asked about racing his canoes. “It”s easy,” he said. “What you do is find yourself a room with a high ceiling. Suspend the canoe at about ten feet, up near the skylight. Get a comfortable chair – I prefer French provincial myself. A glass of aged brandy. Sit back. Imagine yourself climbing in on a sunny day, the wind strong enough to blow the mosquitos back into the woods. Then let your mind take you down the stream.”