How To Build A Kayak Using Cedar Strips
In this article, you’ll learn how to build a beautiful cedar strip kayak at home step by step.
Kayaks are ancient water vessels that were first used by native Inuit Eskimos living in the Arctic Circle thousands of years ago. They were mostly used for hunting seals and fishing. In fact, the name Kayak loosely translates to “hunter’s boat” in Inuit language.
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Kayaks were very practical for hunting sea prey due to their stealthy movement in water, easy maneuverability and low-lying nature. The primitive kayaks of the time were constructed by stretching animal skins over wooden frames or whale bones. Modern kayaks are constructed with more durable yet lightweight material including fiberglass, polythene composites and wood strips.
Nowadays, kayaks are mostly used for sport and recreation. Besides a surfboard, a kayak is another must-have watercraft for anyone who has a liking for extreme water sports. Kayaking not only gives you a chance to experience thrilling marine adventures but also offers a full body workout.
Kayak racing was made an Olympic event in 1936 and there are several surfing and whitewater kayaking tournaments hosted all over the world. Another interesting fact about kayaks is they are frequently used during wars to discretely deploy troops to launch surprise attacks and for reconnaissance missions.
Military kayaks are specially designed for increased speed, portability and stealth. They were most notably British Commandos during World War 2 and are currently still employed by the US Navy Seals.
Before I get to the actual building process, I want to talk a little bit about kayak design and structure, and how it compares to canoes:
Kayak Structure and Design
Kayaks have a small, slim design with both the front and the back ends having a pointed shape. They have a limited carrying capacity due to their small size – the longest ones can carry a maximum of only three passengers.
From a distance, a kayak looks almost similar to a canoe. However, the two have considerable differences in both design and size:
- Kayaks have a completely sealed deck while canoes have an open deck.
- Kayaks are typically shorter and slimmer as compared to canoes.
- Kayaks are propelled by double-sided paddles while canoes use single-sided paddles.
Kayaks are designed with a sealed deck to ensure that no water gets into the vessel when sailing. Even the person using the kayak is required to have a waterproof jacket that is usually wrapped round the deck to make sure that it remains impervious to water.
The watertight property of kayaks enables them to remain afloat even after capsizing. Since they were historically used in the Arctic Circle where water temperatures are constantly below freezing, keeping the occupants dry was crucial in preventing hypothermia.
In terms of kayak construction, there exist some variables related to shape and size that determine how it will perform in water. These include:
Longer kayaks tend to be faster and are easier to guide along a straight course. They are ideal for sailing on lengthy trips and on calm water bodies.
Shorter kayaks are easier to maneuver on turbulent water, making them perfect for surfing and whitewater kayaking.
The wideness of the kayak’s hull is also known as its beam profile. A narrow beam profile will give the kayak more speed on water and make it easier to control.
A wider kayak is more stable on water and will be easier to board, but it’s also harder to control in choppy waters and is considerably slower.
3. Hull Shape
This refers to the profile of the hull at the bottom. Kayaks with a U-shaped hull are easier to maneuver on water and are unlikely to capsize when sailing. They are however wobbly when not in motion, making them difficult to board.
V-shaped hulls are faster and easy to guide along a straight course, but maintaining their stability on turbulent water is extremely difficult.
Because of their small and uncomplicated design, kayaks require very little skill to build. All you need are the right building materials and an accurate plan.
Building a kayak will also give you sufficient experience that can enable you to construct more complex vessels like boats and canoes.
This article will provide you with easy-to-follow instructions on how to build a kayak at home. Onto the steps…
Here’s What You’ll Need…
Tools You Will Need
- Measuring tape
- Jig saw
- Staple gun
- Electric drill
- Split-level indicator (1)
- Two chip brushes for application of wood glue and epoxy resin
- A kayak building plan. This will provide you with the exact shapes and sizes for the forms and how to space them on the construction jig. You can find high-quality, reliable boat building plans here.
- Four 4mm-thick plywood sheets (preferably 8 ft long each)
- Epoxy resin
- Woven fiberglass cloth with a minimum density of 6 ounces per square foot
- Wood glue
- A dust mask and latex gloves for safety
- 20mm-thick laminated cedar planks
- Plastic tape
- Wood varnish
A flat platform (also called a jig or strongback) is required as a base for construction of the kayak. This can be purchased from any boat supplies hardware store, but you can build one by yourself to save on expenses.
To make a simple strongback for kayak construction, you only need to prop up a single 8-foot by 2-foot wooden plank on a stable base reaching up to your waist level. The plank should be at least an inch thick to support the weight of the kayak being built. It is also important to ensure that the platform is precisely level; use a split-level indicator to check for any inclination.
Here is part 1 of a great video series on building a strongback:
Setting Up The Forms
Trace out the outline for the frame panels (forms) from the building plan and carefully draw each of them on the plywood sheets. After all the forms have been drawn, use the jigsaw to cut them out.
These forms should then be screwed perpendicular onto the strongback platform, spacing them out in the exact intervals laid out in the plan. These panels will form the kayak’s skeleton upon which the cedar strips will be attached.
Note that the forms will not be part of the finished kayak; their only purpose is to help in creating the contours for the hull.
Joining The Cedar Strips
Before the cedar strips are attached to the frame, each of the forms has to be lined with plastic tape. This will prevent the strips from getting permanently glued to the frame.
The cedar strips should be fixed one by one horizontally onto the frame using a staple gun. Since most cedar strips are about 8 feet long, they will certainly end up stretching past the frame, but this should not be cause for panic. The protruding parts will be trimmed off later in the process.
Wood glue should be applied on the edge of each cedar strip to enable it to form a permanent bond with the adjacent strips. When placing these strips, it is important that no gaps are left between them that may cause leaks when the kayak is on water.
Once the entire frame has been covered with cedar strips, the protruding ends should be carefully trimmed with a saw, and staples attaching the planks to the forms should be removed.
Using a chip brush, epoxy resin should now be applied on the exterior surface of the hull to firmly hold everything in place and to fill any gaps that may have been left.
The kayak should then be left for an hour to allow the glue and resin to solidly bond with the cedar strips.
Placing The Fiberglass Coating
Coating the kayak with fiberglass will make it totally waterproof and also give it a lustrous appearance.
Before the fiberglass coating is applied, the exterior surface of the hull should be sanded with a sandpaper to make it smooth and even. After the surface has been sanded and dusted, epoxy resin should be applied on the fiberglass cloth using a chip brush. The fiberglass should then be placed on the surface of the kayak, with the side containing the epoxy facing the cedar strips.
You should use your hands to firmly rub the fiberglass cloth from one side to the other to remove any air bubbles trapped between it and the hull. The entire surface of the kayak must be covered in fiberglass.
Once the hull has been coated, it should be left for about an hour for the fiberglass to set. It will form a glazed layer on the kayak’s surface after drying.
The kayak can now be taken out of its frame and sanded before applying two coats of wood varnish. Varnish will protect the kayak form harmful ultraviolet rays that may destroy the wood strips and cause the glue holding the strips to decay. After the varnish has dried, the kayak will be ready for use.
Building a kayak using cedar strips is cheaper than using polythene composites. A cedar-strip kayak may be heavier than one built entirely from fiberglass and plastic, but it requires less expertise to construct and has a more authentic appearance.
With that said, the guide above is only a brief overview of the kayak-building process.
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