If you’ve decided to build a boat, you’ll need a good set of kayak plans, along with tools, an open work space, and a lot of time and patience.
Another option is to buy a full kayak kit with all of the materials included. This might be your best option if you’re building your first boat. But if you’re more adventurous, you can still get by with a set of plans and your own materials.
There are three basic types of home-built kayaks, and you’ll want to study each of them carefully before you make your decision on which kayak plans to choose. Those three basic types are:
Wood stitch and glue kayaks
This is the cheapest and easiest option. In this type of home-built kayak, the shell of the boat is constructed from plywood panels. These panels are cut out from a pattern supplied with your kayak plans, and the panels are then stitched together using a system of copper wire ties. The seams are then covered in a layer of fiberglass tape, and the tape is covered in epoxy resin. The outside of the hull is wrapped in fiberglass cloth and more epoxy. This rough surface is sanded smooth, then painted the desired color or varnished to show off the natural wood grain.
The advantages of stitch and glue kayaks are their cost (plans and materials can be had for under $300) and their relative ease of construction. You can expect to spend several hundred hours building a kayak of this type. The disadvantages are their relatively heavy weight and the hassle of working with fiberglass, which creates a lot of dust when sanded.
Skin on frame or folding kayaks
These kayaks are more labor-intensive to build than the stitch and glue variety. Skin on frames are essentially boats that have a fabric skin stretched around a wood or aluminum frame. This is how the original kayaks were constructed hundreds of years ago by the Iniuts and Aleuts of the North. Kayak plans as well as full kits are available for skin on frame designs. These plans call for an elaborate wooden or aluminum frame that is lashed together and then covered in nylon or canvas. The skin in turn is covered with airplane dope, paint, or Hypalon, which is a type of paint formulated from synthetic rubber.
Some of the advantages of these skin on frame boats is their light weight and low cost of materials (from between $200-300). They’re also very strong for their weight, and they have good speed and performance on the water. On the minus side, you’ll spend a lot more time putting one of these kayaks together (figure on three hundred hours or more), and their internal framework limits the amount of available cargo space.
The wood strip kayak
If you go for the wood strip, or “stripper” type of kayak, you’ll end up with a very attractive and sea-worthy boat. Kayak plans for wood strip models are more involved than the other two types,
and they require a fairly high level of craftsmanship. In this design, 30-40 strips of light or dark wood are cemented edge-to-edge over plywood forms spaced about 12″ apart. The kayak is constructed in two major assemblies–the hull and the deck–then joined together with fiberglass tape and epoxy resin as in a stitch and glue model. The interior of the boat is sealed with more resin. The hull is then sanded smooth and varnished to show off the grain of the wood strips, which can be pine, mahogany, or redwood.
The advantages of wood strip kayaks are their beauty: the strips of light and dark wood create a stunning pattern, especially on the water. The use of wood strips also allows you to construct about any hull shape you desire. Some of the drawbacks are price ($600-900 depending on materials), weight (40-50 pounds), and the time and expertise required to build a high quality boat (count on 300 or 400 hours, especially if this is your first attempt at a wood strip kayak).
But if you take your time and build it right, you might just end up with a wood strip kayak that you’ll be proud to pass down to your children (or grandchildren).
In the end, your choice of a kayak plan will come down to how much you want to spend, your woodworking skills, how much time you have to spend on a hobby construction project, and the type of kayak you ultimately want to own. Building a kayak is a long term commitment, both before and after construction, so make sure the above factors are a good fit for you before you reach for that credit card.