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Boat Building Techniques


Information about boat building techniques

Why "Stitch-and-Glue"?

Because stitch-and-glue boat construction uses a relatively small number of wood pieces a boat can be build in relatively short order. Because plywood is inherently quite strong for its weight the resulting boat is quite tough and lightweight with a minimum of additional reinforcement.

While the technique quickly produces a boat, that does not imply that it is necessarily easier than strip-building. The shape of a stitch-and-glue boat is largely determined by the shapes of the plywood panels. If the panels are not accurately cut, the resulting boat may be quite badly distorted.

This makes stitch and glue designs very well suited for kits.

Why "Strip-Built"?

One of the biggest benefits to building a small boat with narrow strips is how accessible it is. While it looks intimidating, taking a bundle of small strips and wrapping them around a set of forms really is a matter of patience and not one of specialized skills. The tool requirement is minimal and the technique is very tolerant of mistakes. If you fail to make perfect joints between strips, the epoxy and fiberglass will fill them in and seal the mistakes.

If you are looking for a way to mass-produce wooden boats, strip-building is probably not the best choice. It is a time consuming method. More traditional methods of boat building tend to be quicker when performed by experience craftsmen, but that speed and ability to build a usable boat is largely dependent on the skill of the builder. The strength and water-tight integrity of the finished traditionally-built vessel is a result of the ability of the builder to make tight and sound joints. This takes skill and practice.

Which is easier, Strip Built or Stitch and Glue?

Building a kayak using either the strip-built or stitch-and-glue method is within the means of most people who want to do it. Neither method is particularly difficult for anyone who is willing to take the time required. Many first time builders who have never done anything remotely like a constructing a boat have produced beautiful boats they are justifiably proud of. Wanting to do it is the most important prerequisite.

"Ease" can be broken down into at least two factors: time and skill required. A strip-built boat will take more time, a similar design of a stitch-and-glue boat will require finer skills to get right. The differences are mostly in the woodworking parts of the projects. After the woodwork is done, the fiberglassing and finish work is pretty much the same. Because a "stripper" requires individually fitting many narrow strips together, you spend a lot of time doing woodworking. Once finished with the stripping, you must sand everything smooth. Neither the stripping nor the sanding are particularly hard. While a "poor" job of stripping may look a little ragged, but even if you end up with gaps between the strips, the fiberglass and epoxy will seal all but the biggest mistakes and the finished boat will work very well.

What do you mean by "Stitch and Glue"?

"Stitch and Glue" refers to "stitching" together panels of plywood with wire and then gluing the joints. A stitch and glue boat uses carefully cut panels of thin plywood which when joined together bend into the desired 3 dimensional shape. It is the geometry of how the panels must bend to create a tight joint that defines the shape of the boat.

This method of building goes together quickly because there are relatively few parts that must be assembled, however because the panels of plywood are relatively wide there is typically a hard angle or chine between the panels. This somewhat limits the variety of shapes possible, but does not detract from the performance of a well designed boat.

Kayak Building Bibliography

Here is a list of books and other texts related to kayaks, kayaking, kayak design, boat design, woodworking and boat building that may be of interest to anyone interested in building their own kayak.

Outline of How to Build a Strip-Built Kayak

Here is a step-by-step overview of the process of building a strip kayak as described in my book. The bulleted links are to videos showing the process. While building a kayak may at first appear to be a big task, it can easily be broken down into a series of small manageable tasks. None of these steps are beyond the capability of the average person who has ever wielded modest hand tools.

What tools do I need to build a kayak

To build a striper from scratch you the minimum tools needed:
Table Saw or Band Saw, (Not required with the kits)
Jig Saw
Block Plane,
Thin Kerf Hand Saw,
Jack Knife,
Sanding Blocks.
A selection of clamps

How much will it cost to build a kayak?

Most of the cost of building a kayak is labor, but doing the work is part of the fun so we won't count that here. Some people are really good at scrounging up materials or have especially good access to quality stuff cheap so we won't count that either, but is worth looking you around for unexpected sources of materials. For example old telephone poles were often cedar...

A strip-built kayak needs about 2 board feet of wood for each foot of boat length. Obviously longer boat and wider boats will need more and short boats will use less, but this lumber will generally cost $150 to $200. Forms for a stripper can be cut out of one sheet of inexpensive plywood or MDF and mounted on a simple 2x4 or plywood box beam for $50-$150.

What do you mean by "Strip-Built"?

"Strip-Building" is the art of bending many, small, thin strips of wood around forms to create a boat shape. The wood is covered with fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin then removed from the forms and the inside is fiberglassed. This method allows a lot of design freedom because just about any shape may be produced. The results are very strong and stiff because of the composite construction with wood surrounded by fiberglass and sealed in epoxy. By varying the thickness of the wood and the amount of fiberglass applied the boat can be supremely light or extremely tough.

The fiberglass cloth be

How long will it take to build a kayak?

The amount of time you take to build a small boat will depend on you previous experience, willingness to push forward, and your attitude. It is possible to pump out in 60 hours, or if you are being a perfectionist, you may end up putting 400 hours into it before you christen the finished boat. As mentioned in the previous page a stitch-and-glue boat will generally go together faster than a strip-built boat. Depending on the design, it is usually about half the time for a stitch and glue design vs a stripper.

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