My Strip-Built Sea Kayak

Part 2: Wood

The stripping nearly complete

As recommended, the wood I chose for the job was western red cedar – a wood which is lightweight, straight-grained, easy to work with, and relatively flexible. It provides a beautiful deep rich reddish-brown colour and a striking wood-grain pattern once finished. I purchased the cedar from a lumberyard in seventeen-foot planks, the overall length of my proposed kayak, and ripped it into lengths a quarter-inch wide using a circular saw borrowed from my brother. (If you do not have means or access to such power tools a reputable lumberyard will do this task for you.)

In Photo 3 the stripping is nearly complete. Staples can be seen in lateral rows around the kayak, indicating where the forms are aligned inside. The stands have been turned across-ways and the kayak sits right-side-up on ropes strung between the stands’ posts, the stands also doubled as useful storage space for wood in the process of being shaped for fitting.

The paler-coloured radiata pine seen as stripes along the deck and gunwales was used for creative flourishes. I purchased these strips in shorter pre-cut lengths from my local hardware store.

Tip: Make sure you DO NOT glue between the strips of wood at the gunwale strips where the deck and hull are stapled onto the forms – the kayak eventually needs to be separated to remove the forms before being rejoined again during the fibre-glassing.

Shaping and building the coaming

I had reached a most exciting stage once the stripping was complete: removing the staples. This job felt as though it went on forever, but it was well worth taking extra care removing the staples with my purpose-sharpened flat-screwdriver so as not to damage the soft cedar wood.

I gave the assembly a light plane and sand all over while still attached to the skeleton, and I could really see all the hard work coming to fruition as my boat began taking shape.

Then the intricate yet creative job of shaping the coaming began. I veered slightly from the method Schade adopts – instead of gluing thin wood strips flexed around upright blocks of the coaming wall to create the spray-skirt lip, I used a series of blocks the size of Lego pieces and sculpted them into place during the fibre-glassing later on. I also glued a series of strips across where the deck abuts the coaming wall to soften the pointy contour where a spray-skirt was to be fastened.

At this point I set to the task of separating the hull from the deck and removing the skeleton forms. The deck prized off easily; I took extra care not to over-flex the wood at the vulnerable thin sections along either side of the coaming. The hull required a little more effort to remove, but I was surprised how robust it actually was, even without the fibre-glass yet applied.

Tip: Be creative! Working with wood can be forgiving. The possibilities are vast. Take design facets from what excites you. While Schade does not indicate such, some of the designs on his boats appear to be inspired from shapes and patterns characteristic of Inuit textiles. The ratiata pine stripe design on the deck of my kayak was influenced by the old laminated wooden water-skis I learnt to ski on as a kid.

Giving my own blood to the cause - the offending plane

Yes, I somehow managed to take off a fair portion of fingernail with a block plane and spill my own blood for the cause, but this tool was a godsend and worth spending good money on. I also got great value out of a wide variety of clamps (you can never have too many), a good quality staple gun, a belt sander (bought cheaply from a local pawnshop) and a jigsaw. Useful hand tools included a selection of files, saws, sanding blocks and sandpaper, and brushes and rollers – many of which were purchased from two-dollar shops.

Tip: Good quality bargain-priced hand tools can readily be found at garage sales and bric-a-brac shops. I also recommend acquiring a sharpening stone, or even a bench grinder. Blunt tools make for shoddy work, and as was the case with my bloodied finger, can cause harm or injury. And if you borrow tools it is always good etiquette to return them sharper than how they were lent.


About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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