advice on wood kayak building, please :)

-- Last Updated: Apr-30-06 12:19 PM EST --

ok, it's official; i'm *totally* serious about building myself a sea kayak (from a kit).

i have a pygmy catalog, a CLC catalog on the way, and ton of questions, including questions i don't even know i have...yet.

here are some i *do* know i have:

1. are there any other companies or catalogs i should look into?

2. in the back of the pygmy catalog they have a list of books...any book recomendations?

3. i have a fairly comprehensive collection of tools from furninture refinishing, woodturning, and general DIY hobbies, but, will i need any tools specifically related to boatbuilding?

contextual comment: i have no experience with fiberglass or marine finishing. ventilation requirements and proximity to pilot lights (see question 4) come to mind.

4. plan A is to build it next winter in a friend's basement--if his basement window is high enough to get the boat through once it is complete. plan B is to do it this (or next) summer in my backyard. any comments on that?

5. any other general comments, advice, suggestions, directin, etc. anyone can give?

6. what other questions should i be asking?

i want to make sure i do my homework before getting into this and ending up in trouble. (how's that for a sentence with a beginning, middle and end--oops, is my inner nerd showing?)



here you go
There is an excellent web forum for kayak builders here:

If you are doing a stitch and glue, very few tools are needed. A good block plane is really all you’ll need. And clamps. Lots of clamps.

The fiber glass and epoxy stuff is ridiculously easy. I’ve been using epoxy in my basement near the gas fired water heater and heating boiler. I haven’t exploded yet. Wear a respirator, vinyl gloves and long sleeves. Varnish outside.

It sounds like you have pleanty of experience working with wood. It is not hard to do. It’s hard to screw up too badly and even if you do you just cut out your mistake and glue in a new piece.

My worthless opinion

The stitch-and-glue kit manufactuers want you to be successful. I know CLC will work with you towards that success (I suspect Pygmy will also).

I suspect that many problems are the result of rushing to complete the boat. Be patient.

Check out
Shearwater Boats.

I built the Merganser 17W. I love it. I’ve used it on several multi-day trips and day trip all over the Great Lakes area. I even passed through your area on the way to Myrtle Beach last week. Played in the surf with the yak…even got to paddle with the dolphins.

There are a lot of similarities between the different S&G companies. All the ones mentioned so far are reputable.

I don’t recommend doing the epoxy work outside. Too much airborne crap will be sticking to it.

I didn’t have any prior experience in this either, but somehow managed. I can’t speak for Pygmy or CLC, but Eric Schrade at Shearwater was a great resource when I ran into questions. That meant a lot to me.

If you’re tempted to paddle on the wild side, consider making you own SOF or folding SOF. Check out Tom Yost’s site at

Have fun!



– Last Updated: Apr-21-06 2:55 PM EST –

1. One Ocean Kayaks, Shearwater, Newfound (Nick Schades s&g Night Heron)

2. Eric Schades Strip Built Kayak and Ted Moores book on three s&g kayaks

3. gloves,gloves,gloves

4. get a thermometer and familiarize yourself with cold/hot spots in the place. Get a long vac. hose and connect it to an EXTERIOR shop vac. This is absolutely necessary for sanding epoxy in a closed space. GET a box of small disposable respirators and a good respirator with replacable filters. When it comes to painting/varnishing you have to have a good respirator, a small exhaust fan running 24/7 pulling warm house air down and out ,and no open pilot lights down there for paint products,,doesn't matter for epoxy cuz there's nothing volatile.

5. familiarize yourself with RAKA and JohnRSweet for epoxy/materials/cloth/etc. Look up Jamestown Distributing for deals and ideas.

6. what boat do you have,,what would you like that's different?

7. get a small trial kit of epoxy from RAKA and play with the goop. $18 epoxy sample kit.

Very handy and useful thing to have in addition to the above recommendations are a couple of MicroPlanes - look like very, very sharp flexible cheese graters. Lee Valley has them among other places. Great for shaping down the epoxy fillets. Don’t let the ‘glassing’ scare you, it’s easier than you think, but alot messier than you think. Gloves, clamps and more clamps.

Fat Elmo

epoxy fillets…
would be?

(guess: the beads of glue that ooze out from between the pieces?)

Ya gots that right…

Building my first boat
so my knowledge is just a few more weeks than yours. Here’s what I’ve been using lots of:

yogurt/sour cream/margarine containers–make all your friends save them for you. You will use them as fast as you can get them.

Latex or vinyl gloves. I’ve already gone through a box of 50 pairs, and I’m just finishing up the hull.

Also, take the time to build a good work table. You really don’t want to do any of this work on the ground–even doing the joints. I started on the ground while gluing the joints, because I noticed a few of the web diaries did this. Thinking there must be a good reason to start on the floor, I did. It really sucks working on the floor.

Books. I bought two. Ted Moores’ Kayaks You Can Build has been pretty useful. Lots of full color pictures that help explain processes. Some of his short cut/ innovations, however, have not worked out as well for me, so I’m sticking to the directions the rest of the way.

Another book titled The New Kayak Shop was a waste of money. Small black and white pictures and plans too tiny to be useful. It is written by the founder of CLC and he takes every opportunity he can to trash the boats and consturction methods of his major competitor, Pygmy. I’m not experienced enough to have a credible opinion on the pros and cons of each, but this book is certainly not an objective source.

Finally, the assorted web photo journals of boat builds and the bulletin board of have been far more useful than the books. The web journals give you lots of pics to help you understand, and the folks on kayakforum are amazing. Ask a stupid beginner question and you will have several very helpful answers within two hours.

Go for it!!!
I have built two boats from CLC and would highly recommend them. The kits are very complete, with very detailed easy to follow instructions. I only had moderate woodworking skills and no fiberglass exp. Don’t think I would do it outside, and yes you do need lots of clamps! good luck!

Kayakforum and all dem tools
I second (or third or fourth)mintjulips suggestion regarding kayakforums.

That said: Unless you’re building from scratch (plans only,no kit)or getting into a serious strip build, you won’t need a ton of tools.

Pygmy and CLC do all the hard work for ya.

Best tool I can suggest is Patience. Rush the job and it’s gonna look just that way.

You might also want to look at Nickel Kayaks site for something different.

Take a look at…
Take a look at Waters Dancing Kayaks. I am currently building the Solistas XL16. I also looked at Pygmy and CLC. I bought the Waters Dancing because of the “puzzle Piece” assembly. I was set on the Chesapeake 17LT before discovering the Solstace. I am building mine in one of those 10’ x 20’ portable garages you can buy at Pep Boys or from “insert your favorite here” cheap chinese tools company. I payed about 80 bucks for the canopy and anouther 60 for the side walls. So I have a 10 x 20 temporary shop in my back yard. Hung 2 flourecent shop lights from the top rail so I could work after dark. Serves very well and will be the temp spray booth for the car when I’m finished.


Bogalusa, LA

Keep it light…
The main reason to have a wooden boat is it’s light weight. Work neat and don’t overbuild it. There is no market or advantage to a 50lb. wooden boat.

ChrisK has an enthusiastic writing style but when it comes to kayak design and details of construction there are many quirks and some glaring failings that come from the designs never being tested in the conditions for which kayaks are meant to be paddled.

Go for it!!!
I continue to thoroughly enjoy building my kayaks. My first was Nick Schade’s Night Heron. I am currently working on a SOF…and have plans for the next. I would say that I enjoy building as much as paddling.

Regarding recommendations:

  1. Read on a daily basis, and use the search option to explore topics. Also, explore the Profiles section as there are MANY incredibly talented builders who will share great tips/experiences.
  2. Refer to and read through the site. They sell some excellent dvd’s to guide you through building…sell many kits, and provide EXCELLENT support.
  3. Demo as many wooden kayaks as possible. There are many opportunities to do this, depending upon where you live.
  4. Buy Nick Schade’s book.
  5. Consider building in a class…as there are many opportunities to do such if interested.

    Go for it and enjoy!


Why not copy turkeybacons idea and build a skin on frame?. First start out with a dead walrus…

Seriously, I loved building my Canoe. Love paddling it. If you can sit in a kayak and want to build one go for it!

lol, i am a sissy…

– Last Updated: Apr-21-06 8:50 PM EST –

the whole idea of a skin boat gives me the heebie-jeebies.

it took me long enough to stop jumping out of my own skin everytime i hit something in my rotoboat.

leave me with a mere sheet of fabric between me and the murky depths, and i'd be a nervous wreck.

heebie-jeebies aside, the truth is i adore everything about wood. looking at it, the way it smells, working with it...and living with it.

if it weren't for that, i'd just go *buy* myself a sea kayak.


if you truly lust after wood Then just contact canoenut and build a stripper! If I could do it andy one can!

Respirator and snug gloves
If you don’t already have one, buy a good cartridge respirator, with cartridges for epoxy and varnish vapors. Also, get something for dust protection (you probably already have that).

I started becoming sensitized to epoxy. Even though I used gloves, they were too large for me and didn’t work well; seemed like I always got some on my skin. Then I found some true Small latex gloves at my supermarket–Home Depot etc. only sold “one size fits all” or Medium and Large gloves. Late in the game, I bought the respirator. It makes working around both epoxy and varnish much easier on the body.

Buy some cheap poly translucent cups and carefully measure and mark lines on the sides in small increments. My Shearwater kit came with a bunch of these but I needed more.

Fiberglass cloth is a PITA. Expect to get the itchies, no matter how careful you are.

If you build in winter, make sure your heating source is reliable. A couple of portable oil-filled electric radiators (very inexpensive) are helpful.


– Last Updated: Apr-22-06 6:36 AM EST –

I think your top priority should be the dimensions of the boat. How long, wide, deck height, etc. How will it track, how will it turn, how will it roll, how much can it carry?

I met a guy who built himself a boat he doesn't like. He built it as a beginner and now he's 'outgrown' it. That's gotta hurt.

I would suggest you rent / borrow / demo lots of boats and try not to build something you'll 'outgrow' soon.