Beauty Beyond Skin Deep - Keith Steele Wooden Drift Boats by Glenn Zinkus

wooden drift boat fishing

Keith Steele was a prolific builder of wood drift boats, with a fantastic reputation for quality boats. Keith began his boat building in the 1950s. Keith’s boats were identified by his brass plate. The tradition of installing a nameplate began with another Eugene, OR builder, Tom (Torkel) Kaarhus.

keith steele wooden drift boats

Steve Steele lifting a 16’ x 48” drift boat that he is building. The lightweight wood drift boat dates back to the 1920s when Veltie Pruitt had his wood milled to his thinner specified dimensions to save weight.

driftboat fishing building wooden

The beginnings of an original Keith Steele boat restoration. 

driftboat wooden fishing

The beauty of wood drift boats.

Often these boats are constructed of local northwest wood and exotic woods, producing stunning results.

wooden driftboat

The practical traditional rope seats in drift boats don’t accumulate any water from waves or rain, and make for a comfortable ride.

wooden driftboat fishing

No component of the drift boat, “Out West” went without some western themed detailing

wooden theme driftboat oars

Here is a whimsical wild west themed drift boat that was on display at the McKenzie Wood Drift Boat festival a few years back. Although this is a modern day boat, drift boat construction with side boards was the norm up until 1938 when Tom Kaarhus began working with the newly available plywood manufactured with waterproof adhesives.

wooden drift boat steele

The beauty of wood drift boats.

Often these boats are constructed of local northwest wood and exotic woods, producing stunning results.

driftboat wooden

The McKenzie River drift boats are designed for rapid river water, with a low draft fl at bottom with a continuous rocker.

wooden driftboat mckenzie

This detail on a wood drift boat reminds us that these boats are a vehicle to reach great fishing water.

driftboat wooden detail

A tradition at the annual McKenzie Wood Drift Boat Festival is the parade of drift boats.

Here this team of cocaptains bring in a traditional McKenze drift boat.

driftboat fishing steele mckenzie

Steve Steele still uses patterns and tools from his father's original McKenzie River shop.

wooden driftboat shop tools oars saws

- by Glenn Zinkus


  • What wood works best (easiest to bend) for the chine protector strip. Where do I find the metal protective strip that goes on the chine strip? I have a Steele boat, 1971 on the plate. Thanks!

    Michael White
  • Looking for plans

    Robert Miller
  • What will you sell it for?

    Lee coit
  • Greetings from Corvallis MT, I have an old Tatman boat and am interested in getting a spare, break-down, wood oar, do you folks know of any options? Thanks, Chris

    Chris Clackner
  • I recently restored a 1986 Keith Steele drift boat and original trailer. Considering selling it. Do you have an idea of what I coul sell it for? Where I might find out?
    Thanks, Kelly J

    Kelly Jorgensen

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