Skin on frame kayak building

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My finished kayak at home, with paddle.

For an entire week, I was at a class building a kayak, taught by Brian Schultz of Cape Falcon Kayak.

We were all drawn to the challenge of making a boat by hand. The boats are exceptionally light, while being very durable as well. Four of us chose Brians design (the 14 ft long F1) for it’s versatility. It would be a boat suited for surfing, open sea kayaking, and flat water exploring. One student with previous kayaking experience chose to make a reproduction of an 18ft long Greenland kayak. All of us lived within a few hours drive from the site, except for one student who came from the east coast.
We met at the side of a huge red barn, about 10 miles from the coast on an overcast morning.

The cutting and mortising of the gunwales had been done the day before by Brian with a table saw and router. Two students had been present on that day to help and watch.

On the first day, we would set up the gunwales with plywood patterns he had made, and work on the deck beams.
The gunwales are set up. Interior spreaders are seen; the exterior forms have been removed from the bow and stern. They were square plywood forms that set the gunwales up at the proper angle.
The deck beams have been installed. The arched ones towards the front of the boat were premade by Brian; a few layers of red cedar with gorrilla glue, set over a form. We cut the length and tenons for them. Not too difficult, as we were walked thru all the steps.

The property had some nice tent sites in an open, grassy, partly treed areas. Most of us stayed there in a tent, or in a camper parked along a grassy strip off the gravel driveway on site. There was a porta-potty with hand sanatizer, and cold water faucet, a porch with chairs and a kitchen area, a land line telephone (no cell phone coverage at the site) and plenty of electric outlets. There were no showers or plumbed sinks though, so it was a bit like camping in an unimproved forest campground. For showers we could go to the State park 9 miles away and use the ones there for a small fee.

I would ride my folding bike 9 miles each way into Manzanita most evenings to stop by the grocery store, and get something from the Mexican restauraunt or the pizza place.

All the tools we needed were present at the site. However, it made it easier to bring some of my own. Really nice to have was a cordless drill with bits, compression straps, Japanese pull saw, 25 ft tape measure, sharp pruning shears, square, hand planer, large clamps, 3/4 inch chisel, and a hammer. That way, there was no competition for the tools. There were lots of smaller 2″ clamps available for all of us to use. However, we would always wait for everyone to finish a step before we proceeded to the next step. And we would pitch in to help anyone who was slow to finish, if needed.

A couple of nights we had a small campfire using the scraps generated from the boatbuilding.

Here the bow is going to be cut to fit. It’s clamped to the gunwales.

Same setup for the stern.

Forging ahead here; the ribs, keel, and chines are lashed on. The ribs are cut from bamboo sheets. They are steamed for 15 minutes, and bent into position, into the previously cut mortises. We had a process going so that a rib was ready to bend and place, one minute after the previous one. A Wagner wallpaper steamer fed steam into a plywood box. It worked well, and all the boats were ribbed within about 2 hours.

The keel is a piece of red cedar that was cut to fit, and lashed onto the ribs. The chines were carefully placed into position with lashings. They were long rectangular pieces of cedar that had some relief cut along one side, towards the stern. All the measurements were pretty straightforward, with some adjustments that Brian had us incorporate.
The lashing was done with an artificial sinew (waxy nylon I think), and the pattern was not that complex, but took some concentration to get right. There were a handful of knots and lashing patterns that we used.
Here the boat frame is finished, and has just had an application of a tung oil and turpentine mixture.
The bow (front) is to the right, with the arched deck beams that make room for the legs.

Now we are skinning the boats with a sheet of 9 ounce ballistic nylon. The sheet has been thumbtacked along the keel, and the stern area has been sewn into a pocket. Then, the stern area is released; the skin is pulled forward about 2 inches, and the bow area is sewn. Finally, the stern area is pulled back into place, which tightens up the skin along the bottom of the boat.

A temporary wood guide stick has been clamped along the centerline of the boat. This will aid in the cutting of the skin along the top.

The skin is being cut with a hot knife, using the stick as a guide.

Now the edges of the skin are slightly melted to keep them from fraying.

After all that cutting, the skin is sewn up on top of the boat in 2 stages. First a thick thread is sewn in a wide pattern which pulls the fabric together on the front and rear of the boat. Then a double layer of unwaxed dental floss is sewn along the center of the boat in an overhand stitch to finish it.
In the above picture, the coaming is placed and centered. Then the fabric is cut so that it can overlap into the coaming. The coaming will be sewn into the fabric using the many holes we have drilled along the inside (every 2 inches).
Brian made the coaming for us; we finished it with nails and then we drilled the holes. It’s 2 thick pieces of white oak, steamed for 15 minutes and bent around a form. A few layers of thinner pieces of some kind of hardwood could be used instead, and glued with gorilla glue. This prep work saves us time, but is not a difficult step that we would have trouble with if we tried to do it on our own.

Here our boats are sewn up. You can see a kayak light fixture above. Brian was talked into creating the light fixture after he indicated he wanted to destroy this old boat.

Coaming is sewn in. It sits above the deck boards but is not attached to them. It is affixed to the fabric only.

Next we took a hot mixture of vinegar, water, and pigment, and made some colors to paint on the boats. Some shade of yellow/brown/red was possible. Brian mixed them and applied them to scrap fabric for each of us to evaluate. We adjusted the pigments to best approximate the colors we wanted. They painted on like watercolors, in one coat.
The previous class had opted to apply no pigment at all. This leaves the boat white, but within a week of exposure, the color becomes yellowish. I adjusted my colors to compensate for the yellow tint that would soon manifest in the boat.

Next we applied 3 coats of a 2 part polyurethane coating. Above is a shiny boat that has the finish coatings, applied over a golden pigment color application. The polyurethane mixture was prepared by Brian, and we flowed it on in ribbons on the boat, while using a spreader (like a squeegee) to apply it to the fabric. It had a working time of about 15 minutes, so we had to work without breaks. This coating makes the fabric extremely strong and waterproof, and it sets up in about a day.

We worked inside the barn when coating the boats with polyurethane. Less chance of bugs getting permanently stuck on the boat.

My boat. I suppose the best line is straight with perfect stitching, but this will work just as well.

The power planer about to be applied to the paddle.

Now on to making the paddles. We made a number of measurements and marks on a long piece of red cedar that Brian had cut for us. Then we went to the bandsaw to make the long, angled cuts. Next a power planer was used to remove a lot of material that was not part of the paddle. The rest of the work we did by hand, with a hand planer, chisel, and sand paper.
The paddles were cut to fit our size, and had a smaller paddling blade surface than typical spoon type paddles one can buy. The design had been lifted from the paddles used by the arctic hunters who used these things for long days in the ocean. When your livelihood is dependent on a successful day hunting seals in a kayak on the ocean, a good paddle design will emerge, and that is what we copied.

Here is a paddle blade ready for some hand planing. You can just see a line made by a Sharpie marker that we will use for a guide.

Still working on the paddle here…

Now the boats are outside again and we are finishing them with lines that cross over the boat to allow gear to be stored and the boat to be pulled. They are leather strips that we cut from a tanned cowhide. We put toggle pieces in line with them as we assembled them on the boats. The toggles were made from white plastic stock that we cut and drilled.

Some tie-downs along the bow…

Here is a leather strip that is useful to drag or lift the boat with.

The boats are finished! It took a week of hard work and was worth it. They are incredibly light (about 28lbs) and are wonderful to paddle. We cruised up an inlet, and Brian taught us the basics of kayak rolling.
They should last for many years of use before needing a new skin. If a tear occurs, it can easily be patched with duct tape, which adheres so well the repair can be considered permanent. At one point Brian dragged the claw part of a claw hammer hard across a boat he had that needed a new skin. It didn’t cut it. The skin was finally cut after repeated blows by the sharp edge of the claw hammer. I am convinced these boats are more durable than any use I will be able to subject them to.

This boat is really for my wife. I had wrecked her whitewater kayak several years ago while trying to go down some tumbling river. She likes her new boat.Mary in her new boat on the Tualatin river.

the end

One thought on “Skin on frame kayak building

  1. quite a sharp kayak, and being so light will make it much easier to use, portage, ect.. likely will not need wheels to troll it by..


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