Building a Stitch and Glue Kayak Journal

Day 1

(4 hours)

The paddling season is drawing to a close and it's time to start the indoor projects. I usually build strip-built kayaks, but this year I want to try out a stitch and glue design I had drawn up. It is based on my Guillemot designs with upswept bow and stern. I felt this could best be accomplished with a four panel deck as opposed to the more common two panel or one panel arched decks I've seen.

The first task was getting the material. I went to the local lumber yard and looked at their luaun plywood. The 1/4" looked too thick so I got the 1/8". This stuff is pretty thin but should suit the purpose well.

I recently bought a Delta Unisaw (as Tim Allen on Home Improvement says, "Uhhh UHHH AHHH AHHH AHHH") and this was my first opportunity to use it for a real project. Not surprisingly the 1/8 plywood did not reduce the RPM much.

I needed 17+ foot panels so setup to scarf them together. I put a scrap piece of plywood down first then stacked up all the pieces, stepping them back 1 inch at a time. I topped this of with another piece of scrap. Using my newly purchase Record 18" jack plane ("Uhhh Ahhh AHHH") I started turning the steps into a slide. Where I needed fine tuning I used a Stanley Low Angle block plane. I tried using my belt sander with course grit paper but, it didn't have the power to keep it moving ("Uhhh uhhH?). Maybe it's time I got a better belt sander.

When the scarfs were brought down to a nice feather edge, I care fully flip the plywood around to do the other ends as needed. I was careful to flip over the pieces so that the faces would be matching woods.

After putting plastic on the floor I laid out the pieces to create two long sheets of plywood. I masked off the plywood about 1/4 inch back from the scarfs so I could be a little sloppy with the glue. I pre-coated all the scarfs with epoxy until they would absorb no more. Adding a little more epoxy I aligned the pieces. Now its time to find some way of clamping the joints. Maybe I should have put more thought into this earlier. Looking around I found some pieces of pine that had been part of the packing crate for the Unisaw. I laid these on top of the joints. Now all I needed was some weight.

The previous tenant had left several bags of redi-mix concrete, and a couple bags of Lantern Hill White Sand ("1001 uses"). These bags were quickly laid on top of the packing crate parts. This use of Lantern Hill White Sand was not listed on the bag and therefore must be use 1002.

Time to let the glue dry, so I went and made brownies.

Day 2

(about 8 hours)

The morning after gluing I had lifted the sand off the joints of the plywood. They looked good, not great, but good enough. Today I sanded off some of the excess epoxy with my brand new random orbital sander ("uhhh uhhhh uHHH").

If it seems like I have a lot of new tools, well I do. My brother recently got married and moved, taking with him all his tools. So I've been forced to buy tools of my own. If it weren't so much fun having a good excuse to recite a credit card number and soon there after find a gift by my door it would really suck. Luckily getting shiny new toys will always be fun so I've gotten over the sudden loss of my brother's tools.

I plotted out the panel patterns for my kayak full sized on 10 sheets of "D" sized paper. I stacked the two long panels of plywood and stapled the patterns directly to them. It was then merely a matter of following the lines with my shiny new saber saw ("uHHH Ahhh AHHHH AHH"). I touched up the edges of the cut out panels with my block plane. While the two top deck pieces and two bottom hull pieces were still together, I drilled a series of holes every 3" along the edges that would become the center line.

I cut two cradles each for the hull and deck to match the planned shape. I clamped the hull cradles to saw horses. Using 4" long pieces of wire I loosely stitched together the hull centerline.

I can usually get anything I need at Montville Hardware. They have all kinds of stuff. They let me down when I asked for small gauge, uninsulated copper wire. Even more embarrassing, the guy at the Cash True Value Home Center had exactly what I needed. I bought two fifty foot rolls.

Laying the stitched together bottom panels in the cradles, I opened them like a book. After tightening up the copper wire, the panels held a pretty good shape. A strip of packing tape across the middle held it from sagging too much.

The hull side pieces meet at the each end. I drilled holes through both sides and stitched together the ends. I lifted these up onto the bottom and spread the two sides apart. After aligning the ends I drilled matching holes along the bottom edge of the side pieces and outer edge of the bottom pieces. Inserting copper wire into the holes, I stitched together the chine.

After tightening the wires and some adjustments it applied a coat of System 3 Clear Coat to the inside of the hull.

Day 3, Evening after work

(2 hours)

I started by measuring out too much epoxy. I poured of the extra into a tray and put it on the cool concrete floor of the basement. Hopefully it wouldn't cure before I needed it. I added a mixture of Cabosil, Quartz Micro Spheres, and Milled Glass Fiber to the rest of the epoxy to make "Dookie Schmootz". After I achieved a peanut butter consistency I looked for something to spread it with.

Running up to the garage I cut out an egg shaped piece of luaun. The egg shape provided a variety of radiuses for making filets. I plastered the dookie schmootz into the keel centerline and the chines.

I rolled a strip of 1 inch fiberglass tape down the keel line. Retrieving the previously set aside tray of epoxy, I tried to wet out the tape. The epoxy had started to thicken up. I mixed up the last of my Clear Coat epoxy and wet out the remaining 1 inch tape. On top of the 1 inch tape I added a layer of 2 inch tape. I used one layer of 2 inch in the chines, and wet it all out. Using my gloved finger I smoothed the tape into the doockie schmootz.

The resulting hull sagged a little bit so I pulled the center together with several pieces of packing tape.

Day 4, Afternoon after leaving work early.

(about 4 hours)

The job for the deck was pretty much the same as for the hull. The deck has a fairly complex shape, and I kept braking wires trying to pull it together. I ended up doubling or tripling up the wire.

I painted the whole inside with epoxy, System 3 medium cure because I'd used up all the Clear Coat. One layer of 2 inch tape on all the seams should be enough.

The sides of the deck were pinching in so using scrap strips from a strip-built kayak I made some spreaders. I also used some bent paper clips to hold the panels tightly into the cradles.

Day 5, Saturday morning before going paddling

(2 hours)

The task this morning was taping the deck and hull together. I started by cutting the cockpit hole into the deck. I had not cut the hole before to help create a fair shape in the deck, now I will need to get inside to tape the inside seam.

I used my saber saw to cut the hole. With the saw placed front end down and the blade shaking in the air I slowly tilted the saw until the blade contacted the wood near my cutting line. I continued to tilt until the blade had pierced all the way through. I then cut around in the regular manner.

I placed the deck on top of the hull and aligned the ends. Using fiber reinforced packing tape I wrapped several turns around each end. Moving to the middle I aligned the edges and pulled a length of tape across the seam. I repeated this for the other side and a short distance toward each end.

Moving halfway up toward the bow, I had to use a table knife to pry the edges into alignment before taping. The deck ended up some what wider than the hull and as I proceeded toward the bow I had to apply more force to achieve good alignment. The last foot was difficult. I put some spring clamps on the deck to bring it together. Working incrementally toward the bow, I was able to completely close the gap.

I then moved to the stern and repeated the process. When the stern was complete I went back and added more tape to the middle.

I now have a kayak shaped thing. The shape isn't exactly what I want. The pinching of the deck to meet the hull reduced the amount of up-sweep at the ends. I probably could have fixed this by putting a clamp from top to bottom to squeeze it and thus reduce the height. Unfortunately I don't presently have clamps long enough with a deep enough throat to reach. Besides it was time to go paddling

Day 6, Morning and Afternoon

(2 hours)

Taping the interior seam is not my favorite task. I put it off as long as I could, but today, the day after Turkey Day, I have a whole day to burn.

I tightened a pair of bar-clamps vertically to the saw horses and lean the boat on its side against the clamps. I intend to put two layers of glass on the seams so I lay out lengths of 1" and 2" fiberglass tape on the top outside seam and cut it to length. I re-rolled up these lengths and set them aside. After tracking down some gloves I mixed up a cup full of epoxy. I put my pre-cut rolls of tape into separate cups and poured the epoxy on top. I then went off to take care of some other things to let the rolls soak.

When I came back and after a little manipulating of the roll to complete the saturation I started laying the wet tape on the inside seam. I rolled it down the seam as far as I could reach then got a long stick of wood to push the roll the rest of the way down. It's tricky to get the roll to stay centered on the seam. The tape wants to wander off to one side where it can lay flat. I eventually got it rolled out even if it wasn't perfect.

I next put a wedge of ethafoam on the end of my stick and used it to smooth out the tape and spread in some more resin. This process worked well to straighten out the tape and neaten up its appearance.

Repeated this task, rolling tape down toward the other end. Then again with the wider tape toward the bow and one more time toward the stern. With a little extra care to smooth everything out I left it to cure.

After eating lunch I came back to check the results. The epoxy was stiffened up but not completely hard. I clipped the copper wire stitches for a while. After I'd clipped all the wires I could reach without bending over I decided the epoxy cure was good enough to hold while I flipped the boat to the other edge. The process was the same for this side and just as much fun. This time when I put the dry tape into the cups before saturating, I shook the cup a little to loosen up the roll. This made the saturation go more quickly.

Day 7 and 8

(1/2 hour)

It's just after Thanksgiving and between visiting family I have a little time to do some quick tasks.

Because of the shape of the kayak, with upswept bow and stern, its hard to get the tape all the way up inside the ends. To strengthen the ends I pour quartz micro-balloon filled resin into each end. I also mixed in some saw dust for good measure. This makes a mixture that looks very much like cocoa nut frosting.

Luckily both Saturday and Sunday turned out to be relatively warm so resin would cure outside. I took the kayak outside and leaned it vertically against a tree. Climbing up a step-ladder so I could look down inside, I lowered a dish of filler into the end. I used the bottom of a two liter soda bottle for the dish. From some string I created a yoke deal that let me lower the dish while up-right then dump it at the bottom.

The whole process took about 15 minutes for each end each day. I used the rest of each day to get stuff ready for my next kayak and go for a bike ride

Day 9

(1 hour)

I plan to paint this boat. The Luaun plywood is not looking too good. It's got some scratches in it. I might leave some parts bright but I will definitely paint the hull. This being the case and the fact that I have a few problems with the shape at the ends, made me decide to go to town with some fairing putty. The problem with the ends is because I just sort of eye-balled shape. The width of the deck and the hull did not match well at the ends. Therefore there is some ugliness in the shape.

The over-all shape of the ends is really not what I intended. I wanted more sweep. If I had widened the boat at the sheer it would have produce a nicer shape. Next time I build I will use more forms to bring the boat nearer my drawn design.

Back to the putty. I mixed up some epoxy and micro-balloons and a little Cabosil to make a fairly thick fairing compound. After painting some un-thickened epoxy directly on the wood, I started smearing on the putty. I used one of those yellow autobody "plasticators" for spreading and leveling the putty. It's looking pretty ugly now but hopefully with some sanding and a coat of paint it will look better.

This took about an hour Saturday morning then I went out to the garage to cut some strips for my next kayak.

Day 10

(2 hours)

On my strip-built boats I typically cut out the cockpit oversized. I then re-strip the hole with horizontal strips. Then I cut out the correct cockpit and build it from there. This creates a somewhat inset cockpit that I like the looks of. It also has the advantage of providing a place to brace my knees.

I wanted to do the same with this stitch and glue. To that end I cut the cockpit bigger (I already had the hole I used to get in to tape the interior seam). I then cut a rectangular piece of luaun slightly bigger than the hole. In the middle of this piece I cut a 6 inch diameter hole. Pressing this sheet down on the kayak, I reached in through the 6" hole and traced the shape of the cockpit from the inside.

I then rough cut the shape of the panel oversized from the traced lines. Using a plane I made the panel fit nicely inside the hole. I used the same copper wire to stitch the panel in place I used to for the hull and deck panels. Because it was hard to drill while holding the piece in place, I just held it while I made marks every couple inches of the perimeter with a pencil. I used a small drill to make holes 1/4 inch from the edge at the marks.

The panel warped nicely down into the hole. I need to glue it in now, but before I do so I need to cut a bigger hole. Because it is only wired in place and I don't want to knock it loose, I painted the outside with a little epoxy.

Day 11

(1/2 hour)

This day didn't work out as planned. It started out all right. I cut the cockpit to size. No problem.

I wanted to sand the outside and maybe glass the bottom of the hull. I brought the boat out the garage and fired up the random orbital sander. I put a nice new 80 grit pad on. Sanded for about 5 minutes. It was getting really ineffective. I look at the pad. It's a tattered piece of paper. I pull it off. I doesn't come voluntarily. I put on a new pad. Four minutes later I look to see a pad with absolutely no grit. I rip it of. Another pad. I look at it after about a minute. It's pretty sad. Thirty seconds more sanding and it would make decent toilet paper. Forget it.

I get out my fairing sander. Its a piece of plywood twice as long as a sheet of sandpaper and half as wide. The paper on it is currently gummed up. I sand for a while but it is unsatisfactory. I'm out of the sander adhesive I usually use to attach the paper and can't find the double sticky tape I'd used the previous time. Forget it.

I go inside and finish making Christmas presents.

Day 12

(1 hour)

Its the day after Christmas and plans for kayak work dance through my head. But its nice out so I blow it off and go paddling.

When I got back from a nice day around the Thimble Islands I did a little sanding. I had bought some good sanding pads (cloth with the brown coating instead of paper with the white stearate coating). These were much more satisfactory. They eventually dulled but never lost their sand. I tried to put a good 1/4" radius on all the seams.

Day 13

(2 hours)

Today I put a layer of cloth on the bottom of the hull. I used VersaTex polyester cloth. This is a light weight abrasion resistant material that I don't have much long term experience with. The rest of the boat is an experiment, why not this.

I just rolled the cloth in place, trimmed it to sized and immediately started in with the resin. I did not use a sealer coat. The polyester cloth is light weight and tends to float in the resin. I want it as close to the wood as possible. I figure if the wood absorbs some resin it may help pull the cloth to the wood. Hey, you've got to try things to learn.

After letting the wet-out cloth cure for a while I trimmed the edges. Using a razor blade I cut through the cloth to create and even straightish line. I then used a scrap of wood to scrape of the excess cloth. The recommended technique is to lay down a strip of tape, cut through to the tape, then peel off the tape, removing the excess cloth with the tape. This sounded more involved than required, so I blew off the tape.

I then went back and wiped off some drips. Being day 13 of the project, I'm sure I missed some.

Day 14

(1 1/2 hours)

The deck cutout around the cockpit is still being held in place with wire. It's time I glassed it. I cut out two strips of kevlar to act as ribs at either end of the cockpit. From some scraps of bi-axial glass cloth I cut some more strips.

The area around the cockpit takes a lot of stress from lifting and getting in and out. For this reason I want to make sure it is well reinforced. I could use standard weave cloth but I had the scrap biaxial so I decided to use it.

The glass was going on the inside of the boat. To get at it I turned the boat upside down and kneeled below it with my head sticking up in. I have a fluorescent drop light which I used for illumination.

The kevlar strips went in first. I oriented them across the deck at the very ends of the cockpit cutout. I then wetout a layer of glass around the edge of the cockpit cutout. The biaxial glass conforms well to contours. It is very much like bias-cut cloth. I put one layer all the way around and an extra layer in back and on the sides.

Day 15

(2 hours)

The typical method of making a combing on a stitch and glue kayak is to stack plywood cut-outs. I don't like this way for two reasons; cutting curved sections out of plywood wastes a lot of wood, and using 1/8 plywood requires like 10 layers to create a decent height combing. On my strip built boats I use strips of wood glued vertically to the edge of the cockpit hole.

Out in the garage I used the table saw to cut some 1/4 thick strips. I then cut these into a bunch of 2 inch long pieces. Back in the cellar I started stripping the combing. I put a bead of hot-melt glue along the bottom of one side of a strip. I pressed this strip vertically in the middle of the back of the combing. Using elmer's between the strips and hot-melt where they attach to the boat I continued around the back. I then continued the process starting from the front until I met at the sides. Here I whittled some wedge shaped strips to fit in the remaining gaps.

Day 16

(1 hour)

Oops. I guess I should have cut the strips ahead of time. The combing pulled away from the boat. The strips have shrunk a little, breaking the hot-melt glue joint and creating an 1/8 gap at some points around the joint. I guess because I used wood that was stored in my garage and used it while it was still cold, when I brought it in it decided it like a different size in my heated basement.

Instead of sanding the combing and putting on the spray-skirt lip, I have to fix the work I did yesterday. The hot-melt glue held at the front and back and at the sides. It pulled away at the harder turns of the "corners". I broke the elmer's glue joint at this point and peeled the combing back as far as it was loose. I scraped of the remnants of hot-melt glue. Using elmers's this time, I glued the pieces back in place. I used a couple dots of hot-melt to hold the pieces in place and some staples in the top to get the alignment correct.

I guess I'll put the lip on next year.

Day 17

(1 1/2 hours)

Today I glassed the outside of the combing. I pulled some strands from some 24 oz woven roving and bias cut some 10 oz cloth. After sanding the outside of the strips fairly smooth I painted on some resin. I then wrapped the roving around the combing and push it down into the corner between the combing and the deck. Painting on more resin wet out the roving. When covered with the cloth this roving will create a good fillet. The bias-cut cloth lay down nicely into the corner. I ended up putting two layers of cloth around most of the combing with and extra layer at the front and back. I tried to overlap the layers such that they stepped up in thickness gradually. The first layer going about 1 inch out onto the deck and the second layer about 1/2 inch.

Day 18

(2 hours)

After a quick sanding I started making the combing lip. I wanted to use laminated wood strips for the lip, but when I scrounged through my scrap wood I couldn't find any suitable wood. What I've used previously is a rigid foam material my brother found in a dumpster. This stuff is a light brown color that looks like wood from the distance. It flexes alot before breaking and is pretty easy to work with.

I cut several half inch square strips. With a block plane and sand paper I rounded off two corners.

I mixed up about 1 once of epoxy and stirred in some Cabosil to thicken it up. After painting on the resin on both the combing and the foam piece, I bent the piece around the combing. I tried to keep the lip at a constant height. Where I had to join another strip of foam to make it longer, I just did a flat butt-joint. In the back there was a 1/2" gap. I cut a piece of foam with a razor blade to fill the gap. It takes a lot of clamps to hold the lip while the resin cures. I use spring clamps.

Day 19

(1 1/2 hours)

I cut off the excess combing above the lip with a coping saw. My block plane worked well for cleaning up the top edge. I have another block plane which my brother ground to have a curved sole. I used this to clean up the inside of the combing. Initial sanding was done with a curved sanding block.

The hard part is cleaning up the bottom of the combing. This would have been easier if I'd made the combing before attaching the deck to the hull. I wanted to leave the deck as flexible as possible, so I've got to trim the combing the hard way. I trim a little with a saw, but I can't see how deep I can cut before cutting into the deck. After some cautious trimming I go after the remainder with my planes. I don't have a good rasp which would proably be a better tool.

Day 20, 21, 22

(1 hour)

As the end of this project nears work is slowing down because I'm starting work on another boat. The remaining tasks are small and can be fit in between work on the other boat.

The next task is putting in a hatch. I only plan to put a hatch in the stern, and only because I plan to put a bulkhead behind the cockpit for strength. This a quick and dirty prototype and I don't feel like spending alot of time on details. Since most of my paddling is day trips, a bow hatch is not neccessary.

I want a flush hatch because they look better. I will build a combing out of stacked plywood. I generally put staight sides on my hatches so I can pre-assemble a "U" shaped channel, then cut pieces to build a combing.

I cut eleven 1/2" wide strips of luaun plywood and one 1 1/2" strip. I then glued together a stack of four of the 1/2" strips with carpenter's glue. I clamped them to a piece of varnished wood to hold the stack straight. The strips are staggered back slightly so the stack is at a slight angle. The next day I did a stack of three strips and then another stack of four the following day.

Day 23

(1 hour)

I didn't really intend it to slow down this much. I am working on a strip-built kayak which, frankly, is more fun than a stitch & glue. The result is it has been over a month since I last did anything on this boat. BTW the strip-built is fast reaching completion.

I am actually combining several really minor tasks that I did over several days into this one day. I took the laminated strips I made above and ran them through the tablesaw to clean up the faces. I cut one face at a slight angle and the other square. I then glued two of the laminated strips to the wider strip. This create a piece of channel stock.

I had some leftover resin from working on the other kayak and used it to put a layer of 4 oz cloth over the combing.

Day 24+

(Exactly several hours)

I have not been good about keeping up with my progress recently. Since my last report I've taped the exterior seams, faired the bottom, and faired in the tape.

I used 1 inch tape on all the seams above the sheer and 2 inch on the the sheer. Two inch throughout probably would have been better however I didn't have enough on hand.

I bought some West Systems Microlight (410?) fairing filler. This stuff makes a nice smooth, easily sandable fairing compound when mixed with epoxy. I spread this on the bottom to fill the weave of the polyester fabric. I did not want to sand the fabric because it does not sand well. It fuzzes up when sanded. I could have just filled with straight epoxy but I wanted to save weight.

I also applied the fairing compound to the hull side up to the sheer. This smoothed out the fabric edge and the tape edge.

I was going to use fairing compound on the deck as well, then paint it. When I put on a coat of clear epoxy to seal the grain of the plywood, I decided it didn't look as bad as I thought it would.

So, I am now left with the more difficult task of fairing out the taped seams while leaving the wood bright. This has involved several coats of epoxy with vigorous sanding with a random orbital in between.

The fairing of the bottom has also taken a couple coats of fairing compound. When it is done I hope that little evidence of the tape or the fabric will remain. We shall see.

Day 25+

(2 hours?)

It's time to use those pieces of plywood channel I made back on day 22 & 23. The pieces look like this:

in cross-section. I cleaned up the edges to get rid of the staircase effect.

I first cut out the shape of the hatch. I usually use a six-sided hatch because it is easier than a rounded on and looks better than a square. I lay some masking tape down in the basic outline I wanted, then lay it out more precisely by drawing on the tape. Using an Exacto razor-saw I cut along the lines. I cut the corners as close as I could then banged on the inside to break it free.

Using the channel I cut a frame to fit inside the hole. I figured out the angle on the miter by tracing the angle on paper, and cutting it out. I then folded the paper in half to bisect the angle. I used this piece of paper to setup the table saw.

I then cut out a frame to glue to the hatch cover (the piece that came out of the hole). This frame will fit down into the channel.

Hopefully, I'll get to the gluing tonight.

Day ??

(6 hours total?)

Well I wasn't to good about keeping up with this journal at the end. I paddled the boat last week and am quite happy with the results. I'm bringing it up to Maine over the 4th of July and will give it more extensive sea trials.

I glued in the frame pieces for the the hatch. I sanded down the fairing compound and painted on some primer. I was getting a little ansy, and this is only a prototype so I cut corners and am not trying for a glassy smooth bottom. I sanded the primer and masked off the deck. I applied one coat of Chinese Red enamel paint with my brand new HVLP spray gun to the hull. When it dried I put a couple coats of varnish on the deck

I Cut out a bulkhead of 3" minicell foam and glued it in with boat caulk. (The nasty black stuff, I forget what it's called... "505" or something.) From the same foam I cut a 14" x 16" block which I carved to fit my butt. I also cut a 12" x 12" block as a back rest.

The hatch is held down with shock cord run through plastic padeyes. I cut one padeye in half to create a hook to catch the shock cord.


I will have to paddle it more before I cast final judgement of this design. The boat looks distinctive even though the shape is not what I had designed. I think my panel shapes are good, I just need to use more care stitching the panels together. The task took longer than I had hoped. Primarily because I was having more fun with the construction of my strip built. Adding up the above numbers I came up with over 50 hours, call it 55 to account for some optimistic time estimates. I guess this is still fairly quick. I can probably knock 10 hours off if I built another one by avoiding some of the mistakes and being more decisive. Because the design is relatively complex for a stitch and glue it will never be the quickest built boat.

Email Guillemot Kayaks

(c) 1994-1995 Nick Schade

High Performance Wooden Sea Kayak Designs
Send snail-mail to:

Guillemot Kayaks
54 South Rd
Groton, CT 06340

Phone/Fax: (860) 659-8847

Email Guillemot Kayaks
© Nick Schade - All Rights Reserved