Boat kits and mechanical morons

Have any of you who may be a mechanical moron attempted or succeeded in constructing a CLC or Pygmy boat?

If so, what were the issues and challenges?

Definition- a mechancal moron has a general understanding of how to use a screw driver, pliers, wrench and hammer but generally ruins most projects that he/she attempts.

I really like the look of those boats but following multiple pages of intricate directions gives me the shakes. When my kids were young I had to read the directions several times to assemble three-piece toy sets. I even tried the German and Japanese directions because the English ones were often Greek to me.

However- It would be nice to build a wooden yak.

It’s really not so hard
I built a CLC kit last Spring.

I read the directions three times before I started anything. You can also get “The Canoe Shop” or “The Kayak Shop.” These books take you through the whole CLC building process. Buy one of these books for $15-20 and you will be much better able to decide if you can do it. The building process breaks down to a series of individual steps. You don’t build the whole boat at once, you just do it one step at a time. Each step, by itself, is relatively simple. I re-read the directions for each step just before starting it. If I had any questions, John at CLC was very good about providing prompt replies to my e-mail questions.

I built the whole boat (canoe in my case) nearly by myself. My wife helped out a little bit with the copper wire stitching, and a friend came by with about 60 or 70 clamps to help secure the gunwales.

You will also need a few tools that you might not have around your garage. These are covered in the books that I mentioned. They include a good block plane, a power sander, clamps, a good wood rasp, a scraper, lots of sandpaper, and two solid saw horses.

Good luck.

BLK (another Bruce)

That’s me
I got a D in 8th grade woodshop. And I built a Pygmy Arctic Tern that draws crowds of admirers everytime I take it to the water. If you really want to do it, you can do it. Take the time to prepare a good work space. Build a primitive 16 x 2 foot table out of some 4 x 8 plywood or OSB, some 2 x 4s for support, and a few saw horses. Cover it with plastic. Take your time and enjoy each step. Read, and re-read the directions, and go online and check out the many web photo diaries of builds before each step. When you make a mistake, post a message on kayakforum’s builder’s bulletin board, and 4-6 experienced builders will tell you how to correct, typically within 12-24 hours of your post. Almost any mistake can be corrected. But read, read, read, and listen to advice from experienced builders. One of the most helpful persons I’ve encountered, who is very generous with useful advice, is LeeG, who posts on this board and B&B frequently.

Building my pygmy was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. 2-3 hours out in the garage after dinner, most weeknights, for 2-3 months. I loved every minute of the build, and have been trying to figure out when I’ll have the money and the time to build another one.

A good place to start is He has a great website, with several photo-diaries of builds. The web photo diaries are amazingly helpful, because the instructions don’t have detailed pics.

If your work sched. & budget allows it,
consider a weeklong workshop class where you build your own boat. This method avoids a great deal of trial and error. It also gives the opportunity to learn by imitation from an experienced instructor, with instant feeback and correction.

Some manufacturers have website communities, perhaps you can meet likeminded folks in your area.

If you have no woodworking experience, first consider a night class offered by a local vo-tech school. These classes are often inexpensive, and will allow you to learn some of the processes that may be used during boat construction.

Many people who think they have two left thumbs don’t realize the number of hours necessary to develop dexterity at ANY craft or skill. You didn’t give up the first time you fell out of your boat, did you?

Don’t think you are clumsy, find a mentor- if you find the right person, they will be eager to pass along their hard won knowledge. Start doing and just keep doing it till you have confidence and skill.

Good luck, Kaps

you found me
I built a Newfound Woodworks Navigator a couple of years ago. It was a gift I gave myself for not smoking for one year. Since I have neither skill, experience, nor talent, it was quite a project. I did it entirely alone and made plenty of mistakes, but the instructions and materials were so well thought out that even I got it done. The result is a boat I love and would never have be able to afford. It looks awesome on the car going down the highway at 60 mph. It looks pretty good to all but experience builders on the lake.

My best advie is to get the right tools, buy plenty of clamps and learn to love sanding. I came up short on all of those. Good luck - it’s worth the effort.


getting started

– Last Updated: Feb-02-09 9:42 PM EST –

My first project:

A big confidence-booster for me was making some test panels. I bought a quarter-sheet of 1/8" plywood at Home Depot and cut it into 1' squares. I bought an epoxy sample kit with a small amount of epoxy, fillers, and cloth.(like the one here, near the bottom I then put together pairs of panels using the stitch & glue techniques I had read about: stitch, epoxy the seam, add a fillet, add the glass, etc. The results convinced me that it was something I could do, and that the joints were stronger than the wood.

If all the various epoxy mixing seems intimidating, you can use the System Three Silvertip products. The appropriate fillers are already added.

Another good build site:

The best place for building advice:

boat building
The main question you must answer for yourself is:

Do you have the time, and are you willing to invest the time, that’s necessary to build a nice kayak?

Thank you for all the encouragement
and advice. It’s also comforting to know that there are others like me (although I suspect with much stronger craft skills).

BTW- it took me nearly one year to install an alternative backband in my yak. The directions only had eight steps and my final installation doesn’t look anything like the pictures in the instructions.

I would have been grateful for D grades in my shop classes.

In woodworking shop, I made a serving tray where one edge was twice as thick as the other (poor planing) and this was not nouveau carpentry.

In metal shop I made calipers whose points did not touch by a significant degree.

In ceramics shop, my ash trays either cracked or had bubbles.

Nevertheless- I am a good reader and would really like to build a boat and I am trying to build up a modicum of courage.

I do not have many phobias and am generally a very confident person in many aspects of life; but craftsmanship intiidates me.

At Canoecopia last year, I read an instruction manual at the CLC booth and nearly left a puddle on the floor; so did my wife because she has seen so many of my well-intentioned projects end in disastrous states.

I’m not exaggerating any of the above. A person’s skill set may be strong in some venues and horrifically lacking in others.

I will read your responses again and check the links provided in order to develop sufficient confidence to embark on such an endeavor.

There is a young man in my neighborhood who built a CLC rowboat that is almost a work of art. People marvel at it when he unloads it at the launch. In all seriousness, that would be my goal.

Ditto much of the above
I noticed that so far only guys have posted, so I felt compelled to add a thread to represent the opposite gender. I built my Arctic Tern 14 in 2003, with my only prior woodworking project being a bluebird house. The Tern took me 120 hours to complete (I kept a log book) and the sanding seemed to take the most time and was certainly the most tedious. As with the prior threads, I practically wore the instruction booklet out from reading each step so many times, but the time spent doing so really paid off. Paddling the Tern for the first time was and is one of the high points of my life and since then we’ve had some wonderful paddling trips “together.” I guess my only advice is: don’t rush through any of the steps, walk away for a few minutes if you get angry, and always believe you can do it! Good luck! w.d.

Sure You Can…

– Last Updated: Feb-02-09 11:15 PM EST –

...if you really want to!

I built my first VOLKSKAYAK in 2001, spending a week working under the guidance of the designer in his Nova Scotia boatshop. Throughout the process, he just kept telling me to take it one simple step at a time; don't think "...I'm building a kayak", but rather "...I'm marking a panel, I'm cutting a panel out, drilling some holes, attaching a shear clamp, lacing panels together, filleting seams" small, bite-sized job after another, each leading to the next and eventually to a finished boat. While I had done some previous woodworking, I was amazed by how little that knowledge came into play; there was simply nothing in the building process that demanded much in the way woodworking skills at all.

The VK, after all, was designed to be built by people who, like me, have limited skills, tools, time and money. Most of the S&G designs follow a similar straightforward approach, precisely because they are intended to be built by amateurs. The original RightWind has been joined in our family's VK fleet by Fairwind and GladWind, and I've had the opportunity to get a finger in the pie on perhaps another dozen VKs.

From what I've seen, by far the biggest obstacle facing first-time builders has nothing to do with a shortage of tools or skills or basic aptitude, but rather the lack of confidence in the face of inexperience. Having Gerry there to advise me while building RightWind was great, of course, but by the end of that week I knew he'd spoken the absolute truth on Day 1 when he said that I didn't really need him at all. Just take it a single step at a time, don't sweat the little things too much, take your time...and suddenly, there's a hull, and then a deck, and then a kayak that you've actually built yourself...

"Experience starts when you begin."
Pete Culler

Ditto to what Puddlefish said . . .
every detail, and all the other good advice here. This little cluster of posts is some of the finest advice I’ve seen on this topic on pnet. I built two Pygmy Arctic Tern 14s and I can say that the company is available for giving support and advice every step of the way.

Your statements indicate that you clearly appreciate beautiful woodwork. Plenty of patience and confidence will reward you with a beautiful boat! I cannot share any advice better than what has been shared here already. Go for it - we believe in you!

You’re me… I’m you… or something.
I’m a mechanical dunce. My attempts at hanging pictures, shelfs, you name it have always failed miserably. On top of that, I’ve got the world’s handiest father-in-law (who gratefully is willing to pickup the pieces that I make; OR- just do the project before I take an attempt at messing it up).

However, I’ve had a boat building bug itch that just couldn’t be ignored. Add in a little of, “I want an appropriately sized kayak for my daughter” and I settled on building a skin-on-frame kayak for her. While drawing out the forms, my youthful exuberance made me draw out forms for a kayak for me.

So far, I’ve drawn and cut out the forms and have built a strongback (for building the kayak on top of). For now, it’s been a positive experience.

We’ll see how it goes and if I ever get finished. But this far, I’ve been extremely happy with the project.

skin on frame
I had noted your conversion from thinking, to doing. My first boat was skin on frame from 1963 Mechanix Illustrated plans. My #4 will likely be a Yost boat, after I finish my current CLC.

To the OP, it should be noted that the money involved with a Yost boat is much less than for a CLC or Pygmy kit, which might ease your mind about the potential cost of a worst case scenario. On the other hand, the wood kits get you more complete instructions in one place, and probably more builder blogs to study over.

you can do it
it’s an adventure in your garage.

challenges: getting familiar with cure rate of epoxy, it doesn’t dry, it cures. Anything you can do to get a steady shop temp the better. Experiment with a few oz of epoxy before building. Adding heat after applying epoxy is a bad idea, if you want to accelerate curing of part gluing or glassing heat BEFORE application of epoxy and then do it as temps are falling. A steady 65 degrees is much better than bouncing from 60-70.

Keeping wet epoxy from spreading around onto tools and open skin,be VIGILANT on this issue as sensitization is NON-REVERSIBLE. Get two boxes of gloves. Double glove, taking off a wet glove before picking up a tool or opening a door will reduce exposure. Keep two squeeze bottle containers nearby, alcohol in one to wipe off tools, vinegar in another to clearn off epoxy that has landed on your skin. The trash can will fill the paper towels but you’ll keep wet epoxy from traveling into the house. all over tools or your body.

Reducing the application of excess epoxy and having to sand excess cured epoxy. The neater you are in application the smoother the fill coats and less sanding required. Use scrapers where possible when epoxy is at the “green” stage. Reducing epoxy dust is a good idea. If you can build in mild weather and sand outside you’ll reduce the dust in the garage. EVEN BETTER attach a shop vac to your ROS(random orbital sander).

Research around, lots of online help available. is the best.

You are all so kind

– Last Updated: Feb-03-09 9:52 AM EST –

I haven't heard anyone say to forget it yet.

Interesting that so many can identify with my issue.

Next month at Canoecopia I'll spend more time with the CLC representatives. I wish Pygmy would be there because they have some interesting designs.

The only comment in this thread that I would dispute is that James Joyce was successful.
Reading "Ulysses" may be analogous to building a boat. I've started that book three times and just can't make it through. Joyce is very obtuse.

Thanks for the valuable input.

Seeing boats
Call Pygmy – they can give you contact information for owners/builders in your area. Most builders are happy to show off their work.

Might be worth checking with these folks:

Other useful sites:

If you go it alone…
…you’ll also need some woodworking tools. Probably the most important consideration is that you’ll need edged tools like a block plane a chisel or two AND THE MEANS TO SHARPEN THEM. I’m emphasizing this because one of the problems I’ve seen in my paddle making classes is that people show up with junky and/or abused tools that couldn’t cut cheese, let alone wood. Most new edged tools are nowhere near sharp when they come out of the package. Building a boat is not difficult, but inadequate tools and sharpening skills can make it so. You don’t need to spend a lot, but you MUST know how to maintain edged tools. A sharp, $10, flea market plane is far more useful than a dull $100 plane.

I used to think that planes and chisels were terrible tools. All I could do was hack, gouge, and cuss. The first time I used a properly sharpened and adjusted plane was astonishing. There was a lovely smooth sound and long translucent ribbons of wood came curling off, leaving a smooth even surface. It seemed miraculous.

A few minutes with a waterstone – or whatever method you prefer – can save a lot of frustration.

Good lighting also makes a difference. If I build another boat in the garage I’ll hang a couple of inexpensive 4’ flourescent fixtures so I can see what I’m doing.

Bruce, you are the best
maybe not the best handy man but surely the best comedian. I had a good chuckle reading your reply.

Nearly “left a puddle” myself.

Go build that thing and PLEASE let us know how you go coz I think it be could hilarious

I thought you…
were talking to me. I’ve been thinking of building the CLC Millcreek 16 with a sail rig, so I can have more ways to enjoy the water. But, like you I was a little apprehensive because, well I’m not the most talented guy with my hands.

Thanks for posting all the responses not only encouraged you, they encouraged me too.