Restoration hobby floats his boat

  • Article by: TONY POTTER , The Daily Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2014 - 9:47 PM

Working outside on boats is stress-free retirement for former dentist.


David Gunelson, of Pengilly, Minn., has built and restored about 10 wooden boats. Here, he worked on a birch bark canoe that has cedar rails and is tied together with spruce roots.

Photo: Tony Potter • The Daily Tribune,

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– A retired dentist has turned his attention from preserving smiles to restoring wooden boats.

“They’re both passions of mine,” said David Gunelson of Pengilly. “Being a dentist was good. I really enjoyed seeing all of the people, but working on boats is pleasant and stress free.”

Having taken an interest in boats at a young age, he said he really started working on boats after he and his wife moved to Swan Lake years ago.

Gunelson said his beloved hobby kicked off after he found some good deals on a used boat at a rummage sale.

“I thought it’d be a nice project to fix up,” he said, noting he has restored about 10 boats. “So I gave it a shot and had a lot of fun doing it. Now I could sit outside and work on boats all day.”

Gunelson is currently nearing the completion of his most recent project, a birch-bark canoe.

The birch-bark covered canoe is being built with birch support, cedar rails and is sewed or tied together using spruce roots. All that is left to do is finish some sewing and then bend the roots, Gunelson explained.

Like most boat-restoration projects, he estimated he will have put nearly 1,000 hours of labor into the project by the time it is completed.

Gunelson noted each project begins with stripping down the damaged panels, then constructing a strong mold, sanding down the mold, applying three coats of fiberglass and completing the project by attaching the panels and seats.

“It’s quite labor intensive, but so relaxing,” he added. “There is not an ounce of stress when I’m out here working on a boat.”

Once a project is completed, Gunelson said he usually gives them to his children after he takes them out for a test on the lake.

“Being on the water and working with wood is a good combo. They are both so peaceful,” he opined. “And this is such a pretty spot. We’ve always got ducks and eagles going by that it’s such a pleasure to be working outside.”

Gunelson said he also enjoys talking to people about his projects, especially with other woodworkers and boat enthusiasts.

“It’s a good conversation starter and people like to talk about [the boats],” he said. “Everyone enjoys hearing about all of the hard work and detail that goes into making the finished product.”

Gunelson said he already has several future projects lined up. Although he mostly works on row boats and canoes, he has acquired both a sailboat and a 14-foot runabout to restore.

“I was looking for something a little different, and I’m excited for the challenge,” Gunelson said.

And he said he would like to try and best the birch-bark canoe he is currently finishing.

“This one is kind of bulky, but was good for practice,” Gunelson admitted. “I’d like to build a nicer one. That’s what keeps me going — I like to learn from my experiences and use them to build nice boats.”

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