One Classic at a Time


Twelve years ago, David Higby was presented with a new challenge. The carpenter and owner of D&H Finish Carpentry was on a job when his client offered him a surprise. “They had an old, rundown wooden boat out back,” he remembers. “They offered it to me and I was interested, so I took it. That’s what started it all.” He took the boat home and started the process of refurbishment (a process still ongoing and finally nearing completion). Intrigued and wanting more, he began researching the history of wooden boats, found a culture he identified with and fell in love with the hobby. That love led to the establishment of Maiden Michigan – an extension of his current business that offers restoration of and/or building of classic and new wooden boats. Today, Higby has restored and rebuilt several historic wooden boats for clients, finished multiple projects of his own, won multiple awards for his work and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. “I guess it all ends when I do,” he says with a chuckle.

By his estimation, Higby owns eight classic wooden boats and is a frequent participant in boat shows and competitions. Of all his work, his Maiden III two-seater has stood out above the rest, winning “Best Contemporary Small Craft” at Traverse City’s Boats on the Boardwalk event, the Port Huron Squadron Commander Award in 2016, and being named Gold Winner at the ACBS International Boat Show in Port Huron in 2018. Regardless of model, his boats are always the stars of the show, drawing large crowds and the admiration of boat enthusiasts across the country.


At any point in time, Higby is working on three or more Chris-Crafts in his shop either owned by his clients or himself.


What sets his work apart from the rest is the attention to detail and care Higby puts into each model and commission he undertakes. “Depending upon the initial condition of the boat,” he explains, “it could take up to two-years to finish. I wish I could spend all my time working on just the boats, but it’s just part of a larger business that I operate.” In his Gaines workshop, visitors should not be surprised to see six or more boats in varying stages in the process. Some are nearing completion, others just getting started and no refurbishing job seems to be too big for Higby. Each boat presents a unique challenge from motors to body to upholstery. Some boats need a little TLC here and there, others come in needing a rebuild from stem to stern. “I just completed and built a whole new motor for a customer,” he adds. When dealing with a historic model, Higby does his due diligence to restore its original look as much as possible. “I find old pictures of each model and do my best to get the look of the original upholstery and more.” Sometimes his clients will have a hand in the rebuild, working with Higby in his workshop to expedite and experience the complicated process.



These old boats are handmade works of art and belong in a museum – they are history and should be saved.

David Higby


Higby has experience working on numerous makes and models, but his main interest lies in the Michigan-made Chris-Craft boats of the 1920s and ‘30s. Started in Detroit by Christopher Smith and his brothers, Chris-Craft boats became known for their sleek wooden racing boats in the early 1900s, selling boats to the well-to-do elite such as Henry Ford and William Randolph Hearst. In the 1920s, the company established a production plant in Algonac, MI and began selling models to the middle class. It’s these models that Higby has been searching for and surprisingly, seems to have no trouble finding. “They seem to come to me,” he says. “The boats in the 20s and 30s are of a style that stands apart. Those made in the 30s are a little harder to come by due to the (Great) Depression and then, there is a difference in pre-war and post-war boats.” At any point in time, Higby is working on three or more Chris-Crafts in his shop either owned by his clients or himself. “These are handmade works of art and belong in a museum,” he states. “These old boats are history and should be saved.”

After each boat is finished, Higby lives for the test run on a local or northern lake. In his opinion, nothing runs on water like a wooden boat. “Wooden boats ride differently,” he says. “Everyone I take for a ride cannot believe how smooth they move. There’s no other way to capture or describe the feel.” Higby states that another novelty of wooden boats is that they can be designed the way the individual wants it to be, unlike the pre-molded fiberglass boats seen everywhere today.


Depending upon the initial condition of the boat, it could take up to two-years to finish.


In every wooden boat, Higby sees potential. He sees beauty, style, sophistication and a great ride and no matter the work required, he’s willing to put in the effort to make it reality. “I just take it one boat at a time,” he says with a smile.

If you own a historic wooden boat that you would like to get into shape or sell, Higby would be interested. He also specializes in ornate wooden staircases at D&H Finish Carpentry and is available for your future in-home needs.

For more information and examples of Higby’s work, visit You can reach him at 810.287.0745 or email


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