Friday, February 22, 2008

Kayak Building Books

For anyone who wants to build their own kayak, there are a good number of books in print to show you how in a variety of construction methods. Among the best are:

The New Kayak Shop: More Elegant Wooden Kayaks Anyone Can Buildand Stitch-and-Glue Boatbuildingby Chris Kulczycki. Chris is the founder of Chesapeake Light Craft, one of the biggest suppliers of kits and plans for kayaks built by the stitch-and-glue method, which relies on thin marine plywood for the hull structure, and epoxy and fiberglass tape to fasten the parts together. Chris's kayak designs are generally attractive, relatively easy to build, and available in a wide range of capabilities, from pond-paddlers to expedition boats for open waters.

The The Strip-Built Sea Kayak: Three Rugged, Beautiful Boats You Can Buildby Nick Schade. Strip building utilizes dozens of thin strips of wood edge-glued around forms, then covered with fiberglass (or carbon fiber, or Kevlar) fabric and epoxy. It permits greater design flexibility than stitch-and-glue -- i.e., the designer can achieve any hull form desired. (In stitch-and-glue, the designs are highly driven by plywood's very limited capacity to bend in two planes at once.) The boats are arguably more attractive as well, and though not necessarily more difficult to build, almost certainly more time-consuming. Schade's workmanship is truly extraordinary. He has another book in the works for International Marine, Building Strip Planked Boats, scheduled for publication this fall. It contains plans for one sea kayak, one tiny double-paddle canoe (a la Wee Lassie), and a dinghy. (The photo of the Petrel kayak design at the top of this post is courtesy of Nick Schade. Plans available from Guillemot Kayaks.)

Building the Greenland Kayak : A Manual for Its Construction and Useby Christopher Cunningham. Chris, the longtime editor of Sea Kayaker magazine, shows how to build a kayak using the Eskimos' skin-on-frame method. The woodworking required is perhaps the most sophisticated of the three, and the wood frame is lashed together, not nailed, screwed, or epoxied. In a logical concession to practicality, the environment, and the law, Chris shows how to "skin" the boat with canvas, rather than sealskin.

All three boatbuilding methods are capable of producing very cool, entirely seaworthy boats that will almost inevitably draw questions and favorable comments on the beach. There are dozens of tradeoffs between them, on matters of weight, ease of construction, durability, appearance, etc. etc., and ultimately the choice comes down to matters of personal preference. But here's a terribly oversimplified nutshell comparison:

  • Stitch-and-glue: Easiest to build

  • Strip-building: Slickest looking

  • Skin-on-frame: Most traditional

As Nick Schade says, home-building isn't the most practical way to own a kayak: you can buy one (especially used) cheaper and a lot quicker than you can build one. But the building process can be fun and fulfilling quite apart from what you do with the boat after the fact. So build a boat if you want to. Given sufficient determination, some ready cash, and an appropriate place to work, almost anyone with even modest woodworking skills and basic hand tools can build a perfectly seaworthy and respectable-looking kayak, and getting something of the "wow" factor doesn't take a whole lot more.

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