Kayak Building Questions

As a semi-new (going on 3 years now)paddler, I’ve been kicking around the idea of building a kayak for quite a while. I just completed a 16 x 24 workshop in the backyard and I’m starting to gather information for this project. I realize there’s a wealth of experience and information out there and I’d like to get some advice/opinions from fellow paddlers who have “been there/done that”! I’ve ordered “The Strip Built Sea Kayak” by Nick Schade, and “The New Kayak Shop” by Chris Kulczycki from Amazon to get started.

I’m considering building a strip built kayak from scratch, but I wanted to read up on stitch and glue construction so I’d be familiar with both. I like the look of the strip built kayaks, and hope to eventually learn enough by building one to design my own hull/deck for a truly custom kayak.

I have access, through where I work, to 3mm thick unfinished meranti/luan plywood. I work for a furniture manufacturer, and we use the meranti/luan to make our drawer bottoms. One big question I have is can I use this plywood to build a stitch and glue or a strip built kayak? I know its not made for a marine environment, but if its fully encapsulated in fiberglass and resin, can I get a year or two (or longer) of use out of a kayak made with it before it deteriorates? My hope is to build a kayak out of the inexpensive meranti/luan, make all of my beginner mistakes, get the learning curve out of the way, then later build a custom kayak out of marine okume.

Any opinions or experiences anyone would like to share would be appreciated, especially regarding the use of the meranti/luan plywood I described.



Never don it but…

– Last Updated: Jan-24-05 10:56 PM EST –

most build a stitch and glue first time. Hard to get the epoxy and glass right the first time, first timers boats are often heavy or built badly. and the labor in a stripper is massive. Use the s&G as the first time building laboratory.
Here is the real deal for boatbuilders:


Though there are certainly many accomplished ones here as well>

backyard workshop
I’m interested in what your workshop looks like. Any chance that you could post a picture. I need to build a workshop/kayak storage structure. I like that size.

Thanks Peter

no problem
the standard glass/wood/glass lay up is 6ozglass/4mmokoume/6oz glass. It’s more than tough enough for everyday use. With 3mm for the hull panels I’d put 6oz everywhere with another layer of 4oz glass on the exterior bottom panels. If you wanted the equivalent of the 4mm/6oz layup then extending the 4oz over the 6oz on the exterior over the bottom and side panels plus another layer of 4oz in the cockpit should do it. Pre-glassing the hull panels on the interior side before stitching up will make the interior a LOT neater.

If you use 9oz tape to join panels you don’t have to put cloth over it.

If you’re going from plans and want a fast med/volume four panel hull with a very nice cockpit configuration go for the Shearwater Merganser. I’ve heard very good things about One Ocean Kayaks Cirrus.

Highly recommend:

This is Vaclav’s website…has an extraordinary amount of information about strip and plywood use in kayak building. He goes into detail about your question regarding the use of plywood. As LesG noted, this site is where the Cirrus S&G or Hybrid can be found. Would also suggest Eric Schade’s S&G or Hybrid Merganser

( http://www.shearwater-boats.com/ ).

You might also want to look at Ross Leidy’s site where he offers great pics/suggestions and his own kayak design software.


As suggested…the BEST place to visit and raise these questions will be www.kayakforum.com.

Your workshop has me drooling…



cheap plywood
I built a kayak (spring '04) out of what I could find or had. None of it is marine grade. The deck is door skin (plywood). I was experimenting with my own design and wanted to try several different things. I had built several S&G kayaks from kits so I was familar with the process.

The boat came out better than expected. It is outside (in Florida) for the winter, sitting on the ground. No problems yet.

As long as the plywood is well sealed in fiberglass, I don’t believe there will be a problem for several years.

go S & G first

– Last Updated: Jan-25-05 8:11 AM EST –

Go with a stitch and glue first. Great learning experience and it'll get you on the water faster than a strip built.

Pick a simple design. That way, if you make a mistake, you can easily fix it.

3mm is pretty thin but as stated, you can double up on the glass to get your needed stiffness. Your biggest problem will be getting the wood to behave and not flop around while you're ttrying to stitch it into place.

Lots a tutorials out there on stitch and glue. Here's a free one: http://www.jemwatercraft.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=6

Idea: You could cut your panels, then glass one side while it's still flat. That will help stiffen up the panels some and get you some practice on how to do it. It'll be much easier to try laminating fiberglass for the first time on a flat panel.

But again, go with a simpler design at first. Well worth the investment.


Since you’ll have the opportunity…
…inspect the plywood carefully. Backlight it and look for internal voids in the panels. That’s the biggest concern with plywood that’s not rated for marine construction. As you surmised, the glue won’t matter as long as the plywood is fully encapsulated.

get this book
Between it and Nick Schades book you’re getting a lot of building experience. While ChrisK books have been out longer and have a wonderful sense of “you can do it” there’s some significant self-promotion skewing his opinion of what’s optimal in construction and design of sea kayaks. ChrisK designs promote more of a value of “quick, let’s get it on the water”,which is how most of the CLC kayak designs got marketed, quickly, and not always to the water before showing up in the catalog and customers hands. For a builder committing $1000 to a kit or $500 to construction from plans and 100-200hrs away from income producing labor they really aren’t going to be throwing stuff together in a slap dash devil may care manner.

Check out RAKA epoxy and definately check out Vaclavs One Ocean kayaks site.


ChrisK book review
Did you see ChrisK’s review of the book? I think it was in Wooden Boat. He really trashed it. I was quite disappointed, as I had looked at the book and thought it was quite good, plus Chris’s review sounded very self-serving.

Go for it
Plenty of folks have built strippers as their first boats, and plenty have started with S&G. I’ve stuck with S&G because I’m not sure I have the patience to do a full stripper. You could always consider doing a hybrid (S&G hull, stripped deck) if you want to learn a little bit about both methods.

Here are photos of three that I’ve done:




How did you get
such a good finish? Is it epoxy?



I’m doing my first stripper right now
as my first build.

Not difficult. Just takes paitence and care.


Luaan is all we use, $7 at Home Depot. It won’t rot anytime soon 'cause it’s encapsulated in epoxy. www.riverratkayaks.com for plans.

The review kind of pissed me off given the glaring handling deficits in a few of the kayaks he’s designed and the attitude that customers suggestions are gilding the lily. Ted Moores book is good and the MillCreek manual is too skimpy.

Would that someone used the WoodenBoat pages for reviewing the construction details and handling characteristics of the NorthBay XL.

Daves Cirrus
I saw it a few weeks ago,it’s a cool boat.

Many thanks to all who replied…
For What Its Worth, I visit Paddling.net daily, but rarely post. As I’ve said in some emailed replys, I am amazed and humbled at the quality and quantity of information other people have given me, both in posts on this board and the many emails I’ve received. Some of the replys, both here and in my email were very detailed, and its obvious that a lot of time and thought went into the replys. Many thanks to all!!

A few pointed replys back…

PGevanthor- I emailed you that I would be happy to email you some pics of my shop, both inside and out. And if you’re interested, I can mail you a copy of the plans I had drawn to build it. Send me an email so I can get your email address. P.net won’t let me email pics using the “blind box” setup it uses to email posters.

LeeG- I will order the book you suggested from Amazon. Question…Are you the person that emailed me about the CLC kayaks. If you are, I sent you a reply and would like to discuss some more.

Singalong2- Some great links…the Shearwater I had but not the OneOceanKayak and BlueHeron.

PeterK- I had the kayakforum bookmarked but had forgotten I had it.

MintJulip- absolutly awesome!! I glanced over your three pages of pics, but need to go back and study!!

Everyone else…thanks for your input and information. Ya’ll are what makes this website such a great place.

Tripp Stanley

Haven’t seen this book. Will look forward it. I have Chris K’s book. Pretty much an “ad” for CLC boats. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I am not really satisfy with the book. I find I get more detailed info just reading some of the posts at kayakforums.


little things
like the description of the WestRiver kayaks having parallel planks like a Herschoff design?

Or the justification for scarf joints that are necessary for a one piece deck but have no advantage elsewhere and the image of two planks, one with a butt block joing and one with a scarf joint being bent has no correlation in a kayak at all. In fact you can identify the scarf joint on the bottom of a painted Chesapeake kayak visually before seeing it in a butt block jointed kayak.

Or the rational that “cambered decks are better” when the aft decks have less camber and were breaking before the present reinforcements. Unglassed shallow arced aft deck won’t hold up compared to a paneled deck. It’s the aft deck that gets stressed, not the foredeck that’s got the bend. I took the entire CLC staff in spring 2000,except for the owners,and did two three hour basic ACA courses with stroke technique and basic solo/assisted rescues like paddle float/cowbow/T/all in. We used the original Chesapeaks and WestRiver180. These were the ones without deck glass and hatch reinforcements, the ones in the old photos with colored deck rigging. Two aft decks broke completely, four aft hatches broke, all the decks were cracking. And this was flat water and no one over 200lbs.

Of course the decks and hatches are reinforced now,but at the time no one except a few customers thought the decks were really inadequately reinforced for basic rescues…because most folks don’t practice rescues and even fewer first time builders with little kayak exerience would do that with their new wood boat.

Here are a couple of screamers,screwin Beckson hatches were standard in the Northbay bulkheads for a few years, because hatches weren’t standard (underdeck carlins in the aft deck made hatches an afterthought),when the the bow bulkhead Beckson is totally inacessible,and if stuck with sand (if you’ve made the 3’ key like tool to remove it)is permanently installed. You don’t do stuff like that if you’ve actually paddle and used the kayak. It is physically impossible to reach into a 20" wide Northbay kayak and untwist a 4" Beckson hatch with your hand. Cannot be done. Was in production for two years that way.

The other one was the wood footbraces that came with the kits up until four years ago with the Keeper braces and optional Yakimas. The earlier wood/yakima installation instructions recommended epoxying the footbraces permanently to the hull with the explanation that a lot of force is applied to the footbraces that could rip them out. Of course that was changed but why permantly install wood footbraces that will fit only one person and require cutting out if you want to install adjustable ones? or in the case of gluing in the aluminum ones that would require cutting out a 14"x2" rectangle in the hull to install adjustable ones? Well,the Yare/Severn were made out of 3mm Okoume,if you only glass the outside of the hull and it’s a tortured ply hull made out of two pieces of 3mm Okoume a couple of screws will not hold it in well. So as the designs grew up to the unstressed 4mm hulls it 6oz glass on the outside the instructions still said “lay two layers of 3” tape the length of the footbraces(yakima)"…I managed to get them to say one layer of tape,when in fact it’s not really necessary at all with 6oz glass on both sides. Or at the very least a piece only 1" in diameter is needed. All the glass tape inbetween the two holes is totally wasted. If there was any stress at the 1/4" holes it’s solved by ensuring the cut grain is soaked with epoxy and re-drilled. This may seem minor but at the time,pre-2000 the unreinforced and unglassed aft decks were breaking,and there was four feet of 3’ 9oz tape under the aluminum footbraces doing nothing.

It’s all been updated since then but the fact people were buying $750kits with goofs like that is a bit telling.

The other screaming goof was the Sassafras14 Canoe,it’s actually a nice paddling solo canoe,but it was marketed as a tandem,for two 100lb paddlers,you don’t see very many 14’ double canoes that only fit 100lb paddlers,actually you won’t find any. Right before production the panels were switched from 6mm to 4mm because 6mm was “too heavy”. So customers were building a kit that didn’t exist in the demo fleet for a year. Turns out that in 4mm the bottom is shaped differently, it flexed noticable and the first side joints were significantly stressed to cracking because glass wasn’t extended above the joint. Then it was discontinued,which is a real shame because it’s a better paddling canoe than the Sass12 or 16 if only it was marketed as a solo and not double. And in 4mm it could have worked with another prototype/changes for the thinner ply.

…and then the NBxl,which has more v in the bow than the stern,nice secondary but if you wanted to make a 20" wide Northbay weathercock even more that’s exactly what you’d do,make the bow more v than the stern. Resulting in a traditional hard-chine kayak that is almost impossible to control in winds above 20mph and irritating in winds from 10-15. Sure there are a lot of plastic kayaks that have to have a rudder,but this aint that.

What he said…
grin… I’ve built a few boats, all S & G and agree with Lee.

Have fun!