My Strip-Built Sea Kayak

Part 3: Fibre-glass

The skeleton removed (on floor left), and the hull and deck being prepped for fibreglassing (complete with seat and foam bow buoyancy)

The strip-building process requires a fibre-glass layer on the inside and outside. The wood gives shape and form; the fibre-glass gives rigidity and strength. Photo 6 shows the hull with the translucent white fibre-glass fabric cut and ready to be sealed to the inside. The deck sitting upside down on chairs has already had its inside layer adhered and sealed with resin.

Going in, I found the fibre-glassing stage the most daunting of the project. I had never worked with the medium prior, and the prospect of mixing resins and being itchy from fibre splinters did not sit well. Schade’s book steered me in the right direction regarding some useful tricks and tips, but I was again lucky to call upon my brother for his hands-on expertise with this material. And the retailer from whom I purchased the fibre-glass was also a wealth of information with specific intricacies about his product and the craft of fibre-glassing in general.

Tip: Select a fibre-glass fabric which is woven instead of loose mesh – it is much easier to work with, and will give superior strength and look better when sealed. On some of the kayak surfaces where high wear might occur or extra strength required (at the waterline of the bow and stern; across the deck behind the coaming), slip an extra layer of fibre-glass underneath the outside fabric layer.

The deck and hull ready to have the excess fibre-glass trimmed from the gunwales befire being joined

In this photo the inside and outside of the deck and hull have their fibre-glass layers nicely sealed, and some clamps can be seen holding the wooden Lego blocks in place around the coaming as the resin cures. Once the coaming lip was shaped and completed I used a length of fibre-glass tape to seal everything in place. At this stage the deck and hull are all but ready to be joined back together.

Tip: When possible, even after removing the hull and deck from the skeleton, your kayak is best stored on its forms – this will negate any warping and hold everything straight and true during the building process.

The messy fibre-glassing process (albeit the wood's beauty is beginning to shine through)

The photo above shows the finished coaming. I have cut out the aft hatch with a jigsaw and the deck is in readiness to have an inner lip formed for the flush-fitting hatch lid. When complete, the lid will be released by a latch connected to an old fiberglass tent-pole accessed through the bulkhead behind the seat. The photo also shows my impatience: I have lashed some shock-cord between the hatch and coaming where cargo is to be carried, regardless of still having to varnish my kayak.

The next job was also a scary and foreign one: joining the deck to the hull. This process involved sealing a length of 4-inch-wide fiberglass tape along the length of the gunwales around the outside of the kayak.

Then the even trickier process involved doing the same along the gunwales inside the kayak. I accomplished this by sitting the kayak upside-down on its stands and maneuvering myself into the coaming with a head-torch and a resin-roller taped to the end of a broomstick, to press the tape up into the extremities of the bow and stern. It was messy and smelly; resin went everywhere; of all the processes to build my kayak this was the one I was happiest to see behind me.

Following this, I took Schade’s advice to completely seal the bow and stern by performing an ‘end-poor’. I carefully positioned my kayak on its end, bow down, and rigged some lengths of string to a cup of mixed resin. And again with head-torch donned, standing on a chair this time, I lowered myself and the cup into the kayak, and pulled a string so as to drizzle the cup’s contents into a puddle in the bow. I did the same with the stern. Then, thankfully, the bulk of the fibre-glassing had been completed.

Tip: Be organised with the fibre-glass stage. Undertake all the prep work (such as cutting fabric and ensuring the deck and hull meet flush to one another) before mixing the resin. Be aware, also, of weather conditions – temperature and humidity variations can dramatically affect the curing time of resin. And get some help with the end-poor – one or more extra pairs of hands are an invaluable acquisition for positioning your kayak on its ends to get this job done as efficiently as possible.

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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