Building a wood/ fiberglass kayak

I am about to take the plunge and build a CLC Chesapeake 17 and was just wondering from those members who have made a wood/fiberglass kayak already what am I getting myself into? From most accounts the build process looks pretty straightforward.

I went on a long internet search and came across a few blogs and webpages that contained lots of pics and documented all the major steps to the build process and it looks easy enough.

I plan on having about 10hrs a week to dedicate to the project so given that I can stick with it how long should I expect the project to take?

Are there any special tools I should buy? I already have a good respirator from a recent home project and a few c clamps (though it looks like im gonna need a lot of them).

Advice and experience on this subject would be greatly appreciated!!

Ah’ dragged buildin’…

– Last Updated: Sep-11-10 10:11 PM EST –

me Pygmy Arctic Tern 17 ta almost a year woykin' off (mostly) an' on.

Since ah' woyked alone ah' built a few jigs ta keep everythin' true.

Most valuabool tools...

Low angle hand plane
Plenty o' gloves
Clamps, clamps an' more clamps
Cabinet scrapers
Many bandaids ta soak up de finger-tip blood fro' de stitchin' wires.

Good lighting in your workspace makes a huge difference.

Learn to use cabinet scrapers. They’re much better than sandpaper for cleaning up epoxy drips and errors.

A random-orbital sander with a soft pad and a vacuum connection is a good thing.

White vinegar can be used to clean epoxy off tools.

Don’t count on sticking to schedule

– Last Updated: Sep-11-10 11:23 PM EST –

Mistakes happen, and they all need to be fixed, which takes more time than doing it right on the first round.

Go to's building section and study, study, study the archives. It's a great resource and I wish I had read it BEFORE I started work on my Merganser 16.

There are some people who claim to build boats in what sound like very few hours. Don't use those as your personal estimate, unless you already know you are good with wood, fiberglass, and epoxy.

Did I say don't get your heart set on a rigid schedule? Rushing causes bad things to happen. Seems to be a common affliction.

Make sure your respirator cartridges are good for both dust and VOCs. And even with a respirator, ventilate your workspace as well as you can.

Also, you will need to keep some control over temperature when you get to the epoxy work. Buy an oil-filled radiator with a thermostat if you need to. Maybe a timer, too. Unlike a hot-air blower type of portable heater, the radiator will not stir up dust.

Oh, yeah...keep the place as clean as possible. I vacuumed and wiped dust literally every day and still wasn't satisfied. Varnish is so cruel.

You will need lots of clamps, especially when it comes time to do the coaming rim. But you can make a whole bunch of these el cheapo by cutting PVC pipe into rings, then cutting each ring so that it becomes a split ring. You'll still need C clamps, but some of the intermediate clamps can be the PVC split rings. I think I still have a couple dozen of these things around.

Time and Tools
You’re right - there’s nothing inherently hard in building a S&G kayak. Take your time, and think each step thru carefully before mixing anything, and you’ll do just fine. I’ve found that paying attention to detail as you go, especially in cleaning up runs, drips, etc., pays big dividends later on in the process.

How long will it take? Depends on you and what you’re setting out to accomplish. If you want furniture-quality finish, it’ll take a lot more time; if you want solid and serviceable, it’ll take a lot less. Our VOLKSKAYAKs are in the solid and serviceable class. Working from plans and raw materials, I allow about 80-100 hours to a structurally-complete kayak ready for fitting out and paint.

Tools - you don’t need a lot beyond those mentioned already, but I found a decent light cordless drill very handy. Pintar makes a specialized roller called Fiber Tex that’s the bee’s knees for working with fiberglass tape and cloth. And a cheap spokeshave is a good versatile tool, easy to use and control…

Finally, cutting tools work far, far better when they’re kept sharp. A small sharpening jig lets even folks like me keep a good working edge on planes, chisels and spokeshaves. If you don’t have a good sharpening stone, there are cheap multi-grit diamond stones available now (under $20). If you can’t readily find one, you can make a dandy emery-paper based substitute - just Google “Scary-Sharp”…

some other tips
Good lighting and reasonably controlled temperature have been mentioned. Clamps, orbital sander, maybe a small coping saw to cut out hatch openings and make fine cuts in the plywood. The panels should all be precut and require no sawing, but a few pieces, such as the cockpit side walls, may need to be trimmed to length. In addition to C-clamps, spring clamps are very useful.

Plastic squeegee like devices I find best for wetting out cloth. I would suggest you start saving all the little plastic food containers, like the tubs margarine come in. Wash them and put them away. They are good for mixing up small batches of epoxy and can be thrown away afterward.

I would make a simple work bench. You will need enough 2 x 4" stud and some saw horse braces to make 4 saw horses tall enough to provide a comfortable working height. Get two 4 x 8’ sheets of exterior grade 1/2" plywood. Brace it around the bottom edges by screwing on some furring strips and create 2 slots running crosswise on the bottom of each sheet with furring strips. The tops of the saw horses will fit into these slots and stabilize the table. You can use a couple of C-clamps to clamp the two 4 x 8’ sheets together by the furring strips on the underside. This will give you a relatively inexpensive 4’ x 16’ work table big enough to support the boat with room left over to hold your tools.

A decent block plane will be helpful for shaping the sheer clamp and you will need a simple 9" right angle woodworkers square, and maybe a sliding bevel. When it comes time to nail and epoxy the deck onto the hull and sheer clamps, cam straps are very useful to wrap around the entire deck and hull to get good approximation especially between the copper nails. You could also use bungee cords.

Sanding the boat will generate a lot of epoxy dust. You need a way to get it up, preferably a good shop vac. Don’t neglect the gloves. Even if you don’t think you are allergic to epoxy, you will be soon if you expose your skin to it. It is the hardener that is the allergen.

When it comes time to finish the boat, you will go through quite a few disposable foam brushes. I found the 2" wide ones to be most useful. They can also be used to spread epoxy (although I prefer the plastic spatulas). You might want to buy some foam brushes in bulk as they are usually significantly cheaper than if you get them one or two at a time at the hardware store. If you choose to paint the hull, you will require a roller frame (3" is better than the larger ones) as well as roller cover, a paint tray and liners. You will also need lots of sandpaper from about 120 grit down to about 440 grit or so.

Don’t set a rigid timetable. You will make mistakes. Almost no mistake is irretrievable on a kit boat like this, but if things aren’t going quite as planned, sometimes the best thing to do is to slow down, step back and think.

Here comes the flak
I have built several S&G wood boats and you have already been given some very good advice from the other posters. However I will second the advice on using a good respirator. Work clean and you will work less especially if you are careful about cleaning up epoxy mistakes (sags and drips) as soon as possible. There will be much less sanding if you are careful during the epoxy application.

I am curious about your selection of the Chesapeake 17. I will probably get some flak for saying this but that is a design that is an older design that IMO is not as good as some of CLC’s new designs. I’m not saying it is a bad design just that their newer designs, such as the Shearwater designs, are much better. Again this is just opinion and others may disagree. I have built their Shearwater designs and I would rate them right at the top. I say this from having had experience building several Pygmy and Waters Dancing kayaks. Just some food for thought.


one possible amendment

– Last Updated: Sep-12-10 1:21 PM EST –

I've built one on a 4 ft x 16 ft table.

Next one was built on a 38 inch x 16 ft table.

38 inches was better. Easier access from both sides, without having to slide the boat around, and still enough room for laying tools. That was a 4-panel hull, though. With an 8 panel hull, wider might be better, if you're trying to join all of your panel pieces to full length at one time.

No need for any flak
I did consider the Shearwater 17 but at 195 lbs I am near the top of its weight limit and I like the larger carrying capacity of the Chesapeake 17.

Out of curiosity what makes the Shearwater a better boat?

your previous thread
Did you catch LeeG’s responses in your previous thread? He’s been around and building CLC boats for a long time.

Do your sanding outside.

– Last Updated: Sep-12-10 3:37 PM EST –

Are you planning on painting or going clear ?

If clear skip the varnish and use UV stable Epoxy for the build and finish. The surface is harder and easier to touch up. Hope the makes sense : )

If painting skip all the redundant, heavy resin fills and use a lightweight filler such as West System 410.

edit to add ... Consider using High Density Foam instead of wood for an ultra light, strong boat.

what’s this?
UV stable epoxy?! I didn’t know this existed. Makes sense, but it sure didn’t come with the kits I built. This could change a prospective builder’s approach to buying a kit. Who makes it?

Above responses are all excellent
and I’ll 2nd/3rd/4th etc., the recommendation to have a spare respirator cartridge. I also used what seemed like 100s of disposable gloves to minimize my chances of becoming sensitized to epoxy. I built a Pygmy S&G Arctic Tern 14 a number of years ago. It was my first time doing anything significant with wood, and the reward of not only completing it properly, but enjoying every time I take it for a paddle can’t be emphasized enough. I kept a crude log on time spent, and it took me 120 hours to complete, excluding the varnishing steps. That’s certainly much longer than Pygmy’s claim, but I really took my time since it was my first such project, and probably spent 2 hours or so each day that I worked on it. One thing I found helpful for epoxying: small DIxie or Solo cups. I used a permanent marker to draw fill lines for resin and hardener on each beforehand, using premeasured amounts of water as a guide. I don’t recall ever having had a problem with curing, since I always used one of my premarked cups. I also used webbing straps attached to sawhorses as a sling for the kayak which worked great for times when I needed to work on the sides/hull/deck and could just shift the boat around - really saved wear and tear on my back! Good luck! wd

I went back and looked at what LeeG had to say in the previous thread that EdZep referred you to. LeeG did a good job comparing the two designs. I really don’t think I can add to that. I am of the opinion that the Shearwater designs will allow you to develop your paddling skills better/quicker then the Chesapeake designs. Again just my opinion and I should note that while I have paddled the Chesapeake designs, I have never built one. I will also add that after building several S&G kayaks, I question the need for using shear clamps in S&G designs. To me it seems a unnecessary addition of weight and more work.

Having said all that, the ‘best’ boat will be the one you build and paddle.

Good luck with your build.


Sheer clamps and deck beams

– Last Updated: Sep-13-10 11:49 AM EST –

The curved deck beams that the deck is bent over probably add a lot more weight than the sheer clamps do.

But the multi-panel decks of Pygmy boats weigh more than the decks of most of the CLC boats.

Planing the sheer clamps takes a little time but once that is done the deck goes on pretty quickly. Once the deck plywood is nailed down to the clamps and epoxied to the hull and the deck beams, the excess is trimmed off and basically the deck is done.

With other multi-panel cambered deck design like Pygmys, the deck panels need to be stitched and epoxied together which takes as much time as planing a sheer clamp does. And fiberglassing and epoxying the inside seam between the deck and the hull can be a PITA especially in a boat without hatch cutouts to work through.

CLC 17
I built one about 12 years ago. Still have it, but don’t paddle it that much anymore. I’ve graduated to something longer, faster and handles rougher stuff better.

I loved my CLC 17, but I discovered that it tended to weathercock too much and was a handfull in quartering winds. Mine is a bit front heavy, so carrying it takes more effort than my Artisan which is a little heavier.

The CLC 17 is cavernous. It can carry a lot of stuff, and it’s manners improve when loaded. For every day paddling, I prefer my Artisan, but it too can carry a nice load.

Wooden boats do attract a lot of attention. Mine does!


steady shop temp

– Last Updated: Sep-13-10 5:00 PM EST –

double glove

ten hrs/week you'll have a complete sanded hull in about three months and it'll take another month to have the varnish/paint finished and dry.

re. "twist"

this technique is not effective and will result in one side joint near the bow flattening out while the other bulges out. A tell tale sign on varnished hulls is that the outer veneer is sanded through. The best way to ensure twist doesn't occur is to stop it from occuring to begin with . It comes from the side panels shifting with respect to each other while stitchin and there is no way you will remove it by loosening and "untwisting" the ends without other assymetrical and cosmetic problems showing up. You can split some differences with the technique shown but you're better off simply ensuring the side panels don't shift in the first few stitches. Variations in sheerclamp density and manner of stitching introduce insignificant variations in the final hull shape and bulkhead fit but for beginners they tend to create a cul de sac of problem solving for a construction method that was never meant to be precise to begin with.

btw, if you're going with the Chesapeakes sand the interior of the hull and deck panels lightly with 220 grit before any sealing goes on and whatever sealing coats you're doing that don't involve glass a couple thin coats is better than one thick coat. It's not uncommon for some edge grain to occur on the thin veneers and with sealing you can have that grain fuzz up. It doesn't happen all the time but when it does you'll get a nice rough 120grit surface. The original Chesapeake demo boats were put together in the spirit of the manuals, back yard make do construction where one sealing coat on the underside of the deck and it went on wet. On a couple the underside was as rough as a rasp where some grain of raw unsanded Okoume grain raised up when wet.

My $.02 is don't bother with 1" #10 bronze wood screws for attaching deck hardware into the sheerclamp. It places the deck rigging loops far outboard to snag on things and if you don't angle the screws right they can split through the sheerclamp. Part of the entire reason for the oversized (to accomplish the goal of glueing the deck on) sheerclamps is the provide an anchor for those big screws. The Arctic Hawk has a sheer clamp made of two 4mm strips of plywood. That's a clue that the 3/4" wide Chesapeake sheer clamp is wider than needed to hold the deck on. Go for machine screws and set them just inboard of the sheer clamp through the 4mm deck with a little under deck glass or big washers. Oh, and round over the sheerclamp a LOT and don't bother anchoring your back band into it with a short 3/4" wood screw. Put in the hip plates with fillet and glass on both sides where it anchors to the deck/hull and anchor the back band to it. I've seen a few Chesapeakes where insufficient sealing in the sheerclamp or deck beam/sheerclamp joint,or back band anchor resulted in water intrusion into the sheerclamp which later showed up in black ick(mildew) under the varnish on the outside. Another thought, put in hip plates that are rectangular pieces of 6mm ply or glassed 4mm ply about 5" wide. The trapezoidal shape of the CLC hip plates where it narrow at the top meets no functional need whereas a basic rectangle conforms to aftermarket hip pads like Salamander. Your hips don't form a trapezoid near the top so neither should the hip braces.

"The curved deck beams that the deck is bent over probably add a lot more weight than the sheer clamps do."

Only one deck beam needed to form deck, it’s a 2’ long arc and the sheerclamps are 32’ of 3/4"x 1 1/4" cypress, even with lots of rounding over on the inside of the sheerclamp that’s a lot of wood.

“But the multi-panal decks of Pygmy boats weigh more than the decks of most of the CLC boats.”

And paneled decks glassed with 6oz glass and under deck tape or glass is stronger. Before 2000 the standard Chesapeake deck didn’t have deck glass or sufficient hatch and hatch ring reinforcement resulting in guranteed rear hatch/deck failure if the “sea kayak” was used as intended where rescues occur in waves or the paddler used the kayak in basic rescue practice. This was driven home when I took CLCs employees out for basic lessons in 1999 which resulted in one total aft deck/hatch failure, one partial hatch failure and all the decks and aft hatches cracked.

Addition of 4oz deck glass, under hatch glass tape and substantial hatch ring reinforcement eliminated this failure mode but it’s telling that the designer of the Chesapeake thought of basic rescues as “expedition use”. The improvements helped a lot but the deck is still not as strong as a basic paneled deck with 6oz glass. This is something a big 250lb person will realize if they build a Ch17 or Ch18 and sit/lay on the aft deck as will occur in any basic rescue. Ironically at the time CLC released the “LT” series there was no deck glass and the aft deck had LESS camber. ChrisK was touting deck glass as unnecessary for “cambered” decks while making the aft decks weaker for a kayak marketed to beginners and paddling enthusiasts. I know this is going over old stuff but it’s to highlight that the designer was operating from a construction technique guiding the design and not end user needs. Which is reflected in the Chesapeaks handling for anyone who can manage to paddle a weatheroccking kayak in a straight line with a 15mph breeze off the beam. Which is why the skeg kit was introduced in 1999, CLC was still learning about kayak design and it wasn’t until the introduction of the Arctic Hawk kit and addition of Schade designs that the company could provide designs by paddlers of …sea kayaks.

“Planing the sheer clamps takes a little time but once that is done the deck goes on pretty quickly.”

Agreed, bending the oversized ply on a deck beam then trimming the excess like a pie crust is conceptually appealing and understandable. There’s some legacy aspects to that construction that are limited in that the manual recommends (or it did) putting the deck on while the underside sealing is wet or it won’t bend well. That isn’t true as the Arctic Hawk has cured 2oz glass on the underside before bending. I would suggest anyone who wants a nice varnished cambered deck to stay looking that way will need at least two thin sealing coats before the deck goes on. If you do put on the deck wet don’t turn the kayak over as whatever loose items, shavings, sawdust will now be pernantly glued on the underside. For big heavy guys pre-glassing the underside of the aft deck will substantially increase it’s durability with little weight addition.

“With other multi-panel cambered deck design like Pygmys, the deck panels need to be stitched and epoxied together which takes as much time as planing a sheer clamp does. And fiberglassing and epoxying the inside seam between the deck and the hull can be a PITA especially in a boat without hatch cutouts to work through.”

Putting together a paneled deck takes more time than a one piece deck but a paneled deck serves the same purpose as a paneled hull, it shapes the deck in a way that fits the paddler and paddling better than a one piece deck. Installing a paneled deck is like installing a strip deck, you do it.

here is what makes it a better kayak

– Last Updated: Sep-13-10 2:30 PM EST –

The Shearwater 17 paneled deck is narrower where your blade comes forward past the sheer for an efficient forward stroke. The foreddeck of the Ch17 is much higher and wider so your ability to plant the blade forward is limited for a powerful forward stroke. More deck whacking with the Ch17 for a given degree of effective forward stroke. Deck whacking on the Shearwater will occur on a more glancing blow against the side deck panel.
For a given amount of footroom the bent one piece deck results in bigger kayak with more windage. It's something CLC went back and forth on with each new design raising the sheer panel, tightening the deck beam radius, finding out how much you could bend a deck before something wouldn't bend anymore(Pax18). With a paneled deck you can shape the deck to fit your feet instead of shaping the hull to fit the deck.

There's a reason paneled decks make sense.

The total windage of the Chesapeake is signficantly greater, which is a consequence of it's volume AND design. This will be something you'll notice in 10mph breeze and curse in 20mph breeze without a rudder.

The total height of the coaming in the Shearwater is lower but more importantly in the aft section of the coaming it's lower. A lot of your boat control in waves and turning comes from being able to plant your blade ANYWHERE around you. If your torso is surrounded by a high coaming there's a limit on how far you can bend your torso. Now this is not an issue if you don't lean the kayak, roll or practice rescues. But it is really noticable during basic rescues if you have to climb 3" higher on the aft deck compared to the Shearwater. I don't think a low aft deck is a necessity for rolling but it's nice for rescues and putting your blade into the water behind you.

Regarding handling the Chesapeake is very hard to correct for weathercocking in wind beyond 15mph. If you throw a rudder on it's a moot issue but rudders are one more thing that get in the way during rescues.

I'm guessing the following description doesn't connect with you but I'll repeat it anyway. Any decent handling kayak is easier to turn when you lean it. Besides blade placement in the water to compensate for weathercocking or increase turning effectiveness there's leaning the kayak to increase turning effectiveness. Not all kayaks respond the same, some production kayaks need rudders but if you're making a simple kayak out of four pieces of plywood and a rudder isn't an integral part of the design it should respond to a lean. The Cheapeaks do up to a certain point and then nothing. Which means when you want to turn hard with a lean, or more importantly when the wind picks up and you need to correct for weathercocking the combination of leaning and blade placement should keep you on course. You'll find with the Chesapeake, especially a high volume, high windage boat like the 17 even with your 200lbs that in wind above 15mph you'll be wasting a lot of energy trying to stay on course without a rudder. With a rudder and high winds you'll still have a harder time controlling the kayak compared to the Shearwater simply because there's less windage on the Shearwater.

This is something CLC addressed in fall '99 with the skeg kit. A funny design with a lever sticking high out of the deck.

With a lower windage/volume kayak that responds normally to a lean like the Shearwater 17 you can paddle in higher winds with skill, not horsepower, being the limiting factor.

But, if you want a big kayak to carry another 100lbs the Ch17 is a better choice. If you build it with the intention of carrying that much weight I'd suggest glassing the bottom panels in the aft compartment for at least 18" behind the bulkhead.

regarding kayak size and your height/weight. I'd suggest making the LT or a modified LT version if you're set on the Ch17. When I worked there I took an experienced paddler out on demo in the 17, he was 235lbs and 6'2". He said the 17 was just too big. IIRC you said you're 5'9"? Unless you wear galoshes in your kayak you really don't need such a deep boat. I'd suggest the LT version which is the exact same boat with 1" lower side panel.

All good points
I did indeed glass the outside of my Patuxant deck with 4 oz cloth and reinforced the perimeter of the hatch cutouts fore and aft with thin strips of wood as well as added some additional strip as “fan bracing” on the underside of the rear deck from the aft cockpit cutout to the side braces around the perimeter of the aft hatch cutout.

Never had occasion to do a rescue over the rear deck, but I think it would have been strong enough with those modifications. I have no doubt that the Pygmy deck is stronger, especially without additional reinforcement of the CLC deck.

And if I were building another solo kayak from CLC it would be the Arctic Hawk, without question. If I were building a solo Pygmy, it would be the Arctic Tern.