Building Kayaks

Strip-built (SB) and Stitch & Glue (S&G) are not the only methods to home-build a kayak but are the ones I know. There are also several methods of constructing "traditional" skin covered kayaks and some other techniques for plywood and you can also use a mold. I will not address these here. I'll stick too what I know.

The two building processes SB and S&G are quite different. In SB you bend narrow strips around a form. With S&G there is no form. You take shaped plywood panels, stitch them edge-to-edge, then glue them together. What this means is that with SB you can make smooth rounded shapes. With S&G you end up with angles running lengthwise for a "hard-chined" shape. Both shapes are good. Some people prefer a hard-chined boat.

Neither method produces a "better" boat. I prefer SB as it gives more design freedom (you can make it hard-chined if desired.), and looks nicer (plywood looks nice but strips of cedar, redwood and pine is beautiful). Weight for both is dependant on how much glass is used. S&G can get away with less glass and may be made somewhat lighter.

S&G is quicker. There is less setup involved and somewhat easier finish work. SB involves a series of easier steps but requires more patience. SB is more forgiving. A mistake will usually only waste a small strip of wood, where a mistake in S&G may destroy an expensive sheet of plywood. A serious mistake is less likely with SB. The following are outlines for each process:

STRIP-BUILT


The basic process for a strip built kayak is this (there is a more complete outline here):

  1. Draw out the forms full size,
  2. Paste the drawings to cheap plywood,
  3. Cut out the forms using the saber-saw or band-saw,
  4. Cut a hole in the middle of the forms,
  5. String the forms on a straight two-by-four,
  6. Lay 3/4" x 1/4" strips on the forms and staple in place,
  7. Add strips, gluing edge to edge, and stapling,
  8. When stripped all the way around, pull the staples,
  9. Plane smooth,
  10. Sand smoother,
  11. Fiber-glass the outside,
  12. Remove the shell from the forms in two halves (deck and hull),
  13. Plane and sand the inside,
  14. Fiber-glass the inside,
  15. Glue the deck and hull back together,
  16. Sand,
  17. Varnish, go to 16 and repeat until bored,
  18. Paddle.

For me the longest this process has ever taken is about three months. The weight of these boats with a good protective layer of glass is 45 lbs or less. Materials cost about $500-$600 total.

To see some pictures of this process here are pictures as I built a boat.

STITCH AND GLUE


The basic process for Stitch & Glue is: Note there are many possible variations from this method.

  1. "Scarf" together several pieces of plywood (Make one big sheet out of several 4x8 sheets
  2. Draw the parts full-sized on the plywood. (correct shape is critcal)
  3. Cutout the parts.
  4. Drill small holes along the edges of the parts ever 3" to 5".
  5. With wire "stitch" the panels for the hull together through the drilled holes.
  6. Glue the interior seams with a "fillet" of thickened resin covered with `glass tape.
  7. repeat 5 & 6 for the deck.
  8. Bond together the deck and hull in a similar manner.
  9. Cut the wires and pull them out or sand them down.
  10. "Radius" the corners.
  11. Glass the outside. (optional but recommend on the bottom)
  12. Sand and Paint.
  13. Paddle.

For me this process takes about 1 to 1 1/2 months worth of weekends and evenings. Weight with glass on the bottom is about 40 lbs. Material cost about $250-$500.

I kept a journal as I built a stitch and glue kayak which can be found here.

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