Skip to content

Van Dam Custom Boats

Van Dam Custom Boats Won’t Be Confined to Woodworking

Boyne City, MI – Van Dam Custom Boats has been producing top-of-the-line wooden boats since 1977, when the company was founded by visionary Steve Van Dam. Now his son Ben carries on the tradition, but these days the company has expanded past just woodworking. “We do everything from the actual hull construction to the electrical rigging systems, all the interior cabinets, everything. Metal components too,” Van Dam said.

Quick Facts

  • Product Used: Mill
  • Industry: Transportation, Woodworking

Project Details

  • The Challenge: Designing and machining a wide variety of unique metal fixtures to be installed in wooden boats, without ever sacrificing durability or aesthetics.
  • The Solution: Mastercam, the most widely used CNC software for CAD/CAM operations.
  • Benefits:
    • Mastercam’s Intuitive interface and inherent adaptability allow users to solve a wide range of problems.
    • Dynamic Motion technology toolpaths guard against air cuts and material damage, making higher cutting rates possible.
    • OptiRough removes material quickly and safely to streamline the machining process.
    • Model Prep features let programmers move, delete, and suppress faces and edges without toggling in between screens.

When Van Dam first decided to start manufacturing the boats’ metal parts as well, the shop had the bare minimum. “We had a drill press, a disc sander, an old Atlas lathe, and a crappy old welder,” he recalled. Metal shop foreman, Jesse Brown, was talented enough to create quality parts with these basic tools, but both he and Van Dam knew that the company would quickly outgrow them. The two decided to consider automated machining.

“We talked to a number of different machine shops, and the overwhelming answer we got was, ‘don’t shop around; go buy a Haas, then go buy Mastercam and you’ll be all set’,” Van Dam said. He immediately equipped the metal shop with a Haas VF4 machine and Mastercam CAD/CAM software, and the company’s machining capabilities exploded.

“We’re always trying to gain a time advantage with roughing because the hand work that follows is intensive. That’s where we’re using Dynamic toolpaths. It helps us get rid of material quickly and efficiently,” explained Van Dam. Dynamic OptiRough is vital to removing larger amounts of material in the roughing stage. The high speed toolpaths are safe and fast, and they free up time for the Van Dam team to focus on other aspects of the manufacturing process.

One such area is part design. Sometimes a client may only have a rough idea of the size and shape any given part should be for their custom boat. Brown uses Model Prep to create a model for the part and can adjust every aspect of the part within the software. As he aligns planes or stretches faces, Brown can see how each change affects the final product. Because the model editing process is so seamless with the simulation process, design now takes Brown a fraction of the time it has in the past.

Van Dam is proud of the progress the company has made with metal machining, but he isn’t one to become complacent. He and Brown plan to advance along with the software, continually expanding the shop’s capabilities and the company’s reputation for quality and innovation.