Skin On Frame Kayaks

Building wooden kayaks

Skin on Frame is the traditional way the Inuit and Aleut Eskimos made their kayaks. They made a frame out of driftwood and bone tied together with sinew. This frame was covered with seal or whale skin. Today the natural skin is generally replace with canvas or nylon cloth. The cloth is sealed with paint or some other material to make the boat waterproof. Some times these kayaks are called "wood and canvas". The variety of skin-on-frame kayaks made by the Aleuts of Alaska are typically called "baidarkas".

Picture of Aleut Baidarka and Inuit skin on frame kayak

Advantages of Skin on Frame

The big advantage for the traditional builders of skin-on-frame kayaks, the Aleut and Inuit residents of the far north, is they could be built with the materials on hand. The frame did not require big pieces of wood and could be made with material that drift up on the beach. The skin was made from their primary food species, the seal. This set up an interesting chicken-and-egg situation, because they needed the kayak to catch seals and they need seals to make the kayak. The resulting boat was light weight, rugged, resiliant and easy to maintain.

Today skin-on-frame kayaks are made primarily by enthusiast interested in the traditional ways of the originators of the kayak. However, this method of making a boat offers some advantages to the modern kayak builder. The advantages are similar to the Eskimo's, the materials are inexpensive and easy to obtain. A few boards and a little cloth and you can probably build yourself a kayak. The resulting kayak will be light weight, rugged, resiliant and easy to maintain.

There are some other potential advantages discussed on the Baidarka page.


Guillemot Kayaks does not currently offer any skin on frame designs, but the Stitch and Glue Guillemot can be built as a skin on frame.

Links to Skin on Frame Information:

kayak building

<-Back to the Kayak Building Page

©1999 - Nick Schade - All Rights Reserved.

Email Nick Schade

High Performance Wooden Sea Kayak Designs
Send snail-mail to:
Nick Schade
824 Thompson St, Suite I
Glastonbury, CT 06033

Phone/Fax: (860) 659-8847