When should you build a kayak?

test paddle
The kit manufacturers will usually give you contact information for owners/builders in your area. Most owners are happy to show off their boat to an interested paddler.

Ask on the kayak builder’s forum – lots of good advice there:


I demoed a strip canoe, and then built a stitch & glue version without having paddled it. It isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but I don’t regret doing it.

only for love
As with most things, you should build a kayak only when you love the process of building a kayak by hand. You should never build one when your objective is to obtain the finished product at lowest possible cost.

There is a great deal of personal contentment and knowledge to be gained by building anything. However, the odds are heavily against you in terms of obtaining the best economic results this way. Too many things come up, too many mistakes are waiting to be made, too many things have to be redone. The first time you do anything is likely to be inefficient.

I know three people who have built
Pygmy S and G. kayaks. The boats are great and if you get some of the abundant free advice along the way,you will do fine.

I have built 2 of JEM Watercraft’s canoe designs and both turned our nicely,but not near as nice as those Pygmys.I cut the wood myself.

Regarding size, call Pygmy or CLC and they will put you in the right boat.

I Built a Pygmy

– Last Updated: Oct-16-09 10:38 AM EST –

It was my very first kayak, really my first time in a kayak, and I did it because I couldn't afford what I wanted in poly or fiberglass. I built the Golden Eye but imagine the kits all go together by similar process/within a mile anyway.

Starting was the hardest part but once I got over my fear and the idea of building a perfect boat, it was on.
It was magical watching the hull take shape and the more I built, the more comfortable I felt with the next step.

I ran into a few hiccups and made a few calls for support but reading and rereading the instruction book got me through it and I was amazed at the results. I have built many things in this life but that kayak was the one thing I that gave me the most pride in my ability. Of course I was later humbled by seeing strip boats but I had my moment in the sun.

To give you an idea of what a dork I am and how pleased I was with it. I would load it on top of the car and drive by big buildings with mirrored windows just to see it. We had to get a room :)

curious to hear how it turns out
After building a few four panel kayaks and attempting my own it became evident that it’s not rocket science but there is some trial and error to getting a design under the bell curve for acceptable handling. Curious to hear how it paddles.

Kit vs. from Plans
I’ve built three S&G kayaks, all to the VOLKSKAYAK design, and have had a finger in the pie in building about a dozen others. There is absolutely nothing difficult about the S&G building process, providing you have a decent set of instructions and are willing to take it slowly and carefully, especially at first. Given this, anyone can build a credible kayak.

If money is a concern, you should consider building from plans rather than a kit. The kit essentially saves you the labour of laying out and cutting out the panels, a process that takes me about a day. Granted, I don’t get the 1/1000 of an inch accuracy that you can get with CNC cut panels, but then again I’m not helping pay for a mega-bucks CNC cutting machine. Reckon that 1/16 to 1/32 of an inch is close enough for my purposes…

As someone else mentioned, the Kayak Building Bulletin Board is a tremendous resource - lots of extremely knowledgeable and helpful builders who readily share their knowledge and techniques. A post there should get you all sorts of replies re the designs you are considering.


Not sure i agree with that
I know lots of people who have built yost boats or skin on frames specifically because of cost variables and the opportunity to get into the sport and possibly have one or more boats with different intent. I know a few more who go the wood route specifically because it is lighter and cheaper and they are perfectly happy with their decision. I build to get a boat to do something that I want if i don’t have the money to buy a fiberglass or kevlar version of what i am looking for. Seems to be a no brainer to me…have no boat with the characteristics you are looking for or have a wood one or a skin on frame that does and fits within your budget.



– Last Updated: Oct-16-09 12:40 PM EST –

@Kudzu - Yeah, I'm a little afraid of that. I'm pretty proficient at the cowboy scramble, but not so much rolling yet, but I guess how it paddles is what I'm really worried about...

cut panels:
@BrazilBrasil - If I had access to the proper tools/resources to cut panels Id probably do the same. Cheaper plywood would work for me, since I plan on painting or tinting the epoxy white anyways. I’m not in love with the wood look. That said, just getting the pre cut panels from the various companies might be the way to go, but obtaining the rest of the parts might add up more than thought and might be confusing for a newbie builder. Maybe on the second boat build…

costs more?
@kobzol - Well I’m actually in the same boat - recently laid off with time and garage space for a project. I’m not worried about my construction abilities, but a few comments about cost overruns worry me (budget is naturally tight right now). While I’m not afraid of the boat building journey, my original aim is to have a light weight boat that is similar, but addresses my perceived shortcomings with the Chatham 17 and for a low price.

chatham vs shearwater/merganser
@LeeG - yeah, I’ve heard that the shearwater is the same as the merganser, but the profile line drawing of the shearwater look more pleasing to me - more gentle curves in the right places and I’m leaning toward a 17 foot boat based on garage space available. You’re right, the chatham’s bow is very upturned, but it has much less rocker than the Chatham 16. I guess the flatish bottom and full chines extending forward a lot gives it the rough water surfing stability, but kinda plows on flat water. I suppose I need to find and compare stability graphs for the chatham and shearwater or find a way to test paddle a shearwater. I traded my previous boat (old perception shadow) because it was too tippy in waves and weathercocked badly. I kinda miss the storage and speed that I unknowingly gave up when I got the Chatham.

great forum:
Thanks for all the comments and for suggesting kayakforum.com. On that site I actually came across a person in a similar situation and is also considering the shearwater/merganser vs the arctic tern: http://www.kayakforum.com/cgi-bin/Building/index.cgi/read/186412

I recently contacted someone on craigslist selling an arctic tern kit for cheap, but then decided the shearwater is for me. Since I can’t physically compare the two, I’m relying on online advice. I might have been to hasty in dismissing the AT. Would the AT be as fast and track as well as the Shearwater? Maneuverability and lots of storage isn’t a concern, but decent stability is, and that’s usually related to the chines and maneuverability. I still like the lines of the Shearwater, but a similar looking and heavily discounted AT17 might fit the bill if it paddles as expected…

Don’t DO It!
Don’t build a kayak until you’ve ordered and built and Uncle John’s Pirogue kit. It’ll only take you a weekend or so and you’ll save the cost of the kit on the skills you will learn and mistakes you will not do again on your second boat.

Again I say! Make a cheap easy boat and give it away first. Then if you love the process you’ll love having this new boat building hobby that is an addiction. If you hate it then there are many many great used boats for sale. Post here on this site and these classifieds for help in finding a specific model.

If you cannot find a used boat then you can get a new boat faster than you can build one by working evenings at McDonalds. Builing your own boat costs a lot in time and materials. It is the most expensive way to get a boat unless you don’t have any sellable skills. If you don’t have any skills then you won’t build a worthwhile boat anyway.

There are TWO GREAT REASONS to build a boat. One you love the process and have to do it because it is in your blood. (Unfortunately this hobby does not pay for itself like fixing up old cars does.) The other reason is you want a custom boat like no other boat that you can buy. Skin on frame kayaks are a great example of this.

Good luck!

Re FrankNC’s comments…

What would you expect to pay for a 17’, 40 lb. well- equipped sea kayak???

I allow about $400 Cdn. for top quality materials, and about 60-80 hours of work I enjoy, to do a VK that does everything I want to do and more. I also enjoy building it, a hell of a sight more than I’d enjoy punching in the hours it’d take earn the cost of even a used 40 lb. kevlar sea kayak. And I don’t have to feed the taxman from those scrawny low-paying job paycheques, either…

Have you thought of a doing a SOF? Real cheap and real quick to put together depending on construction method. I started my first one this fall and should be done soon. Frame is together and floor is in. Just some final detail work before skinning. So far it’s been easy and costs should come in right around $200.

If you found a SOF boat design you really like you can search for a similar S&G later.

Check out www.yostwerks.com for some ideas if you’re interested.


yes, I have considered that route since it would be cheaper and even lighter, but I think stiffness and durability would be issue. Besides I want bulkheads, don’t like ocean cockpits, and it would be more complex to a first time builder like myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still confident in my construction abilities. I just want to make sure I invest time and $ into the right kit or plans that would yield the best results for me…

Photo-essays on the S/G process to be found at http://www.westcoastpaddler.com/building/index.php?cat=2 . One can also go into the forums and check out stripper builds and SOF. I built a Coho (my first except for a SOF I did in high school… back in the early 60’s) and will be making a second one (for me… my wife took the first one) next spring.

Pictures of my build can be seen at http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v108/Tootsall/Coho%20Much%20Fun/ . As you’ll see, the wood was really warped due to local low humidity conditions but the boat still came out straight…it is hard to make a mistake if you take your time.

cockpit and difficulty
Yeah, lack of bulkheads is a bit of a bummer but you don’t have to have an ocean cockpit and the build for a first timer is easy.

If you haven’t looked the boats on the Yost site they are not traditional build. No steaming and bending ribs, just cut sections out of plywood and slap the chines, keel, and gunwales to them. The boat I’m building (Sea Tour 17R) has a 16x32" cockpit (larger than I’d like actually) and has more volume than traditional Greenland boats. The sections do take up some room though and cut down on the leg/entry room.

SOF certainly isn’t for everyone, and they might not be for me either, but I wanted to have a whack at building a boat and this was the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to do it. After doing some research I have no worries about the toughness of the boats either.


SOF durability
Here’s some evidence of SOF durability (painful to watch, but makes the point)…



Durability is not really an issue with a ballistic nylon skin and a good coating. I built a Cape Falcon skin boat, and Brian does things to his boats that would snap a composite boat like a twig.

Re: stiffness, the flex an SOF gets reduces impact on both the paddler and the boat, and they are also noticeably quieter on the water. It would be nice to have bulkheads, but dual storage/float bags fill the voids nicely.