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Van Dam - The World's Finest Wooden Boats

Ben Van Dam, owner and president of Van Dam Custom Boats in Boyne City, Michigan has spent his life in the pursuit of perfection. Ben is the son of Steve and Jean Van Dam who founded Van Dam Custom Boats in 1977. Van Dam Custom Boats humbly states that they make the “World’s Finest Wooden Boats”. To look at any of the 62 boats that they have produced in the last 45 years, it is hard to disagree. From the start, it was always about building hand-made custom wooden boats of the utmost quality. This is the environment that Ben grew up in. The fact that his best boat will never be “perfect” is more about personal drive for continuous improvement than the unique characteristics of the material itself.

Van Dam Custom Boats uses mahogany to build their extraordinary one-of-a-kind, privately commissioned, boats. When asked the reason behind the use of this rare wood, you can see the passion in his eyes as Ben starts speaking about his lifelong friend:

“Mahogany is a very dynamic wood in terms of its appearance. That comes from hundreds of years of growth. Where the piece of wood grew makes a huge impact on the grain structure. Did it grow on flat land? Did it grow on a hillside? Did it grow in a period of history where there were droughts or a lot of rain? A lot of warm weather? Were there things that happened in that period of time that stressed the tree? All of those things show up in the grain. Was somebody out shooting target practice with that particular tree? There was a time that we cut into a log, we found a bullet that was buried deep into the tree! It could have been from a war for all we know. These trees see so much history. You never really know the answer to those questions and so, there is a story that is told inside of that wood. There is character inside of mahogany. I think it is that character that makes the wood beautiful. We go to great lengths to showcase that character and use it in very particular ways so that you see it and you see that replicated and mirrored and in line. We don’t use oil-based stains or things that cloud the ability to see the grain. We want to showcase the grain. When you move a finished piece of mahogany from one side to the other, it is a very dynamic experience. The color changes. The reflection of the light changes. The grain changes with the reflection of the light. It just changes when it moves past you and you move past it. Different lighting conditions make it continue to constantly change. That is one of those things that a man-made product just cannot replicate. That comes from hundreds of years of growth. It is full of nuances. Beauty is in even what a lot of people would consider imperfections. I wouldn’t necessarily consider them imperfections. All of us have scars, all of us have weathered bits and pieces. That is part of what, I think, makes us beautiful as humans. And I think the same is true for wood.”

Passion, hard work, and the excitement of creating something completely new reverberates from the President of Van Dam through to every member of the team. The opportunity to create, the opportunity to execute, and the opportunity to constantly improve are a few of the focal points within the team’s culture and fundamentals.

Van Dam Custom Boats builds the world’s finest wooden boats that are privately commissioned for a single owner. Concept, creation, materials, style, plan, layout, amenities, and function are all discussed with the owner and incorporated into the boat. The boats are designed, handcrafted, built, and detailed to the highest level in the world. The dynamic relationship between the team, the raw materials, and the enthusiasm of the owners who are willing to create something one of a kind, is truly a thing of beauty.


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