Shinola: Cajune Boats

If you've ever been to Montana, then you’d know that fly-fishing is a very serious matter there. And amidst the legends and lore surrounding this angling mecca, one boat maker has made a name for himself, though decidedly more quietly than others.

Situated in a spartan workshop in Paradise Valley, just a few scenic miles outside of Livingston, Jason Cajune is building boats the way they used to; out of wood. 

Spending much of his childhood in Glacier National Park, Cajune accompanied his step-father as he piloted traditional wooden boats across the various lakes for over 40 years. Originally built in the 1920’s by the Great Northern Railroad, these old-world wooden vessels became his playground, and nautical schoolroom. As a dock boy and “bilge rat,” Jason spent summers painting and varnishing the boats, and by the end of high school, had intimate knowledge of the wooden, plank-and-frame style. 

After acquiring a degree in architecture, Jason migrated to Olympia, Washington to work for a boat maker specializing in fiberglass and epoxy. It didn’t take him long to realize that it wasn’t for him, and he moved back to Montana for good. Specifically targeting the fly-fishing market, Cajune set out to apply his knowledge of traditional boat building to a clustered fly fishing market. To say it worked would be a dramatic understatement. 

“I was guiding fly fishing for awhile, and thought that most of the boats I saw on the rivers were complete junk. So I built my first boat on the porch under a tarp in the rain, and it sold immediately. I built a second one in 1995, which coincided with the start of the internet nicely. I put a website up, and the boat sold before it was even finished.” 

Before you could say “you’ve got mail,” word got out, a burgeoning business was born, and the rest is highly decorated history. Clients from near and far began to line up; traditional boats for traditional fly-fishermen. “I guess I just made the product that people wanted,” Jason humbly stated as his german short haired pointer ambled about the shop. Often starting from napkin sketches, and the occasional model for a new hull design, each boat is built from scratch using a combination of African mahogany, white ash, white oak, and various fir woods.

On average, each boat takes about 300-400 hours of labor. Each boat is unique, shaped to the customer’s taste and needs.

“The boats I’ve been doing lately take close to 400 hours, because I’m doing a lot more customization, and making most of the hardware out of bronze. I’m casting, welding, and really pushing the designs further than I ever have.” 

Where boats used to start around 10k, with a waiting list of about a year, Jason’s new boats start around 40k, and he estimates that he’s about 5 years out on orders. It takes over a year to complete a boat, and he usually works on multiple boats at a time.

“The past few years I’ve done two boats a year, but we did 20 one year when I had help and we were really cranking.” His best guess is that three will launch in 2015, but according to him, it’s really hard to tell a customer a launch date. 

“Everybody wants everything now, and I’m not really into that. If you want a cheap boat, really quickly, that’s what fiberglass is for. But if you want something that’s handmade and is built to last, well that’s why I’m here. For some reason, people think wood is an obsolete material, and I often have to convince customers that it’s not.” Using only the highest quality materials, the finished vessels are fully functional works of art. Having spent a fair amount of time on Montana rivers myself, it’s not hard to spot one of Cajune’s boats, especially one that has been well oiled. They age beautifully. 

Drawing from his architectural background, Jason admits to placing a certain amount of emphasis on a beautiful form and shape, but ultimately, it’s the usability that it boils down to. “In the end, it’s a boat, and has to function in the water. But if you can combine that with beautiful form and style, then it can be really interesting. Sure I’m building boats for clients, but to be honest, I’m really building it for the guy who will be repairing it in 50 years later, and he’s gonna say that it was done correctly.” 

As Cajune enjoys 20 years of boat making business, he’s almost halfway to that mark of approval. It’s rare that an artist can have such security in their craft, but it seems destined that as long as Montana’s rivers flow, Jason Cajune’s business will grow. 

Shinola: Pastrana Studio

For Texas natives Kate & Julian Pastrana, the path that led to designing and shaping works of art from wood had very humble, and homely, beginnings. “When we first got married, we couldn’t afford any quality furniture for our house, so we just decided to start building it ourselves,” Julian told me in his soft spoken, genuine demeanor. And build it they did. 

Part farmhouse, part furniture showroom, their home on the rural outskirts of Denton, Texas is an ever-evolving canvas of the couple’s creativity, and sense of design. Bar stools, serving boards, tables of various sizes, and prototype chairs populate their country home, which acts as both drawing board and proving ground.

 “The advantage of building things for ourselves first is that we get to make sure it works. We sit on the bar stools, eat off the serving boards, and break in the tables. It has to work in our home before it can be in anyone else’s,” Kate told me as we sipped coffee on their screened in porch (which they also built). With hints of improvement projects around every corner, including custom woodwork on the walls, their abode is a testament to a philosophy of function. 

Operating out of their adjacent garage turned workshop, the couple collaborates on the process from start to finish; from home improvement idea, to polished product. This also allows them to spend more time together on Julian’s days off from being a full time firefighter and EMT. And though they both have creative backgrounds, neither of them had any woodworking experience prior to this endeavor.

 “I taught myself to play the guitar years ago, so I figured I could teach myself to run a few saws too,” Julian confidently stated, his shirt and jeans festooned with sawdust from a recent wood cut. “It’s always a learning process…about different types of wood, where to find them, and their individual properties. We use a lot of Texas woods, most of which are sourced locally, and we enjoy educating people about what we discover through the process.” 

In a world dominated by single servings and furniture built by number, the Pastranas are hand making products that will stand the test of time, grow in beauty, and hopefully be passed on as family heirlooms. Though it is their business, the fact that it remains a creative outlet for home improvement, ensures the authenticity and virtue in their aims; they want to create beautiful things that will work, and last. 


“It’s a passion for us, and something we will continue to do regardless of whether people buy anything or not,” Kate remarked, fighting a smile off that revealed just how happy and whole she feels doing this work. “That’s the difference between being JUST a woodworker, or being an artist…it’s not just about function, but about the desire to create something beautiful.” And those creations are being collected left and right by loyal customers, friends, and design aficionados, especially in Texas.  

“We’ve been in business just over a year, and the response has been amazing. There is such a supportive community here in Denton, and the encouragement of other artists and peers has pushed us, and kept us going. Thankfully the growth has been very manageable, as it’s just the two of us filling orders,” Julian was happy to report. 

While most of their business has come from online orders, success at recent pop-up shops has allowed them to branch into some larger, one-of-a-kind pieces for clients who wanted custom work, as well as several concept restaurants in the North Texas. Other times it’s just a friend who needs something specific for their house.

“We let the wood speak for itself, and try not to cover up the natural grains. We also don’t do a lot of raw edge work, so it isn’t very rustic, but can still fit into that aesthetic mix in someone’s home because of the natural woods,” Julian said of their style. 

With the resurgence of the maker movement in recent years, people are once again learning to appreciate quality over quantity, which often requires an investment towards a marginally higher price tag. High caliber is becoming more popular, which is good news for the hard working folks behind Pastrana Studio. But regardless of changing times and trends, Kate & Julian will continue to craft wares that not only suit their lifestyle, but many of the ones yet to come. With a dedication to simple function, quality craftsmanship, and timeless design, this quiet couple behind Pastrana Studio is at the very pulse of what the maker movement is all about.