Building a Wooden Kayak… Err at Least Assembling It

Building a wooden kayak can an extremely rewarding experience. It is also a tremendous amount of work. If you are thinking about building one yourself, it’s important you are doing it for the right reasons. I’ll provide a brief comparison with other build types, do a high-level description of the process and provide links for further resources.

 Why I built one

When I was younger, I was an avid whitewater kayaker. Here’s a 20-year-old Kyle shredding the Cal-Salmon Nordhimer run.

Cascade falls on the Cal Salmon circa  2004. Photo was taken with one of those single-use waterproof 35mm film cameras. It was the closest we had to gopros then.

As I’ve gotten older, I have become more risk averse. More accurately, I’ve been seeking activities that have a higher fun to danger ratio. Sea kayaking is has a lot of potential for amazing adventures. It’s not a “safe” activity, particularly in the ocean as you can read all about in this book But the fun to danger ratio is pretty high.

Most kayaks are made out of polyethylene which is great for smaller whitewater boats but for larger,  17 or 18 ft touring boats, It gets heavy.  A heavy boat is hard to load by yourself, and it makes it less responsive in the water.  Composite boats can be a good option, they are light and stiff, but they are also really expensive. Wood is a great option too, they are lighter than polyethylene, and if made right, they can be totally beautiful. If you build a wooden kayak yourself, it can be one of the cheapest options. I decided to get a Pygmy Coho kit.

The build

There at a ton of great build resources for these so I won’t go into too much detail. Basically, you wire wooden strips together on a frame, glue it, so it holds shape. When the glue dries, you can cut away the wire and fill the holes.

Building a wooden kayak: Starting the hull
Building a wooden kayak: Starting the hull

Areas between the wooden panels are filled with an epoxy-sawdust mixture, and this makes a paste

Building a wooden kayak: Filling in the seams.
Building a wooden kayak: Filling in the seams.

When the paste hardens, it can be filed and sanded to shape

Building a wooden kayak: Fairing the hull smooth
Building a wooden kayak: Fairing the hull smooth

The deck and the hull are made and glassed separately and then joined

Building a wooden kayak: Deck and hull attached.
Building a wooden kayak: Deck and hull attached.

You’ll need lots of clamps

Building a wooden kayak: Clamping aft hatch supports.
Building a wooden kayak: Clamping aft hatch supports.

The maiden voyage

Just before the boat touched water for the first time. Trinidad Harbor, CA
Just before the boat touched water for the first time. Trinidad Harbor, CA

Although not designed to be a fishing rig, it still works well.

 

2 Black Rock Fish on one cast
2 Black Rock Fish on one cast

 

It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience, and most of all, a lot of sanding. The Pygmy website states that it will take about 80 hours to complete the project. I think that number is optimistic.  Because of the amount of time it takes, you need to like the building process for this to male sense

You can find more detailed build info at Pygmy’s website

Also, check out Chesapeake Light Craft. They have some great kayak and other types of projects.

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