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How I Built a Kayak

Copyright (c) 2006-2023

Nowadays, most kayaks come from big machines, crews, and an assembly line. However, the roots of kayak building are DIY (do it yourself). With modern materials the options available to do it yourself builders have expanded. You can build "skin on frame," wood strip, plywood, fiberglass, or plastic. You can build a cedar strip work of art, you're afraid to get wet, or a kayak so ugly you don't have to worry about theft.


In the summer of 2005, I bought a dealer demo Perception Sonoma 13.5 and a used Honda Element. After 18,000 miles and paddles in Arizona, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia it was time to go home. Freight for the kayak back to Hawaii was more than $300 with packing. I decided to leave the Sonoma on Vancouver Island and buy or build a kayak on Maui.

As author of DIY Portfolio Management, I was tilting toward a DIY (do it yourself) home built kayak.


Just before I left Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, I took a rolling class from Alberni Outpost. I couldn't do it, couldn't roll. I needed a roll practice kayak.


To roll, I figured the deck should be round. To fit the limits of my workspace the kayak had to be short. Short kayaks are wide for initial stability. The short kayaks I'd seen had flattish bottoms and lots of rocker. The design used two 4'x8' sheets of EPS for a kayak 90" long and 25" wide.

I read and was inspired by Chris Kulczycki's The New Kayak Shop. Although Mr. Kunczycki likes marine plywood, Hawaiian marine craft and supplies focus on foam and fiberglass. The construction plan was modified from the plywood/epoxy method, substituting 1" EPS for 4mm marine plywood. The hull has 4oz cloth on the inside and 10oz on the outside. The front deck has 4oz cloth on both inside and outside.


My wife, 1 or 2 grandchildren, and I live in a 900 sq. ft. condo with a 300 sq. ft. yard. I don't expect much workshop sanctity. Our family picnic table was my kayak workbench.

Working outside, ventilation was never a problem. Wind, dust, leaves, insects, birds, chameleons, noise restrictions, sunlight, proximity to living quarters all impacted the build. Wind broke the EPS foam before I got started. Dust and leaves fell on the wet epoxy. A big, black Carpenter Bee burrowed into the EPS. Birds were always chirping and chameleons entertained me from the fence. I used hand tools whenever I could, to prevent noise fines from the condo association. Sometimes I had to slather on the SPF and wipe sweat out of my eyes. Mrs. was constantly after me about EPS balls and glass threads attracted to her fancy Indich carpet. Even without a shop, you can build a kayak.


I'm cheap. I'm retired. The first time I was in a 'sit in' kayak was 7/10/05. I fiber-glassed an 8' foam KOOL sailboat 30 years ago. If I can build a foam/fiberglass kayak, chances are good you can too.


Total cost was around $400. Sometimes the build seemed more like a job than a hobby. The build consumed 100 to 200 hours; at $10 per hour, it would have been a lot less expensive to buy.

The big money went for EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) foam ($35), fiberglass cloth ($97), and epoxy ($97). Other expenditures included consumable supplies and tools. The $400 total doesn't include cost of tools that are still useful or of some materials left over. Supplies consumed include fittings, acetone, brushes, spreaders, thickeners, and paint. Other purchases include minicell foam, shock cord, and nylon webbings. The EPS, fiberglass and epoxy were all available on Maui, but minicell foam, shock cord, and nylon webbing were ordered online.


Construction borrowed from the 'stitch and glue' plywood method, but there was no stitching. The Kayak One method was more 'clamp and glue.' In retrospect, the hull build would have been less stressful if I'd used section frames as a female mold. The section frames would have held pieces in place, in correct alignment while the thickened epoxy glue set.


The deck was a challenge. The compound curves required lots of cutting, lots of patching, lots of shaping, lots of clamps, lots of time, and lots of patience. I'm still not happy with the quality of the finished product. For Kayak 2, I'll spend more time on design and eliminate compound curves, or use a different material for the deck


Cockpit construction went smoothly, but it sucked up quite a few hours. The cockpit rim core was a drywall corner bead, trimmed and scored to get the basic shape. The corner bead was covered with layers of fiberglass. I started with 2 layers of 4 oz. and a 6 oz 2" tape. Later I added a layer of 10 oz. that wrapped from 4" under cockpit to the outside tip of the rim.

Overall I'm happy with the cockpit rim. It looks okay and seems strong enough. I wish I'd studied more rim shapes and avoided a flat spot in my rim. I joined a back big semi circle to a small front semi circle with straight lines. I should have used lines that curved out. I'm not getting a good seal in the mid section of the flat part.

Deck Hull Join

This was the most exiting, most stressful, most second guessed part of the build. Too late I discovered alignment of the deck/hull seam was off. The thickened epoxy glue and clamps were all in place by the time I had a chance to step back and see where I was. Luckily it wasn't off enough to require major surgery. The final product is not as symmetrical as it could be.

Fitting Out

Sea touring style shock cord deck rigging was installed on both the bow and stern decks. Bow and stern carry handles were fabricated by wrapping polyethylene tubing with 1" nylon webbing. The cockpit was padded out with a combination of fiberglass wrapped EPS and minicell foam.


Kayak 1 floats, what a relief.

I was able to squeeze a little more length out of the 8' foot EPS than I planned. The kayak is 97.5" long and 24.5" wide. It weights 32 pounds, with deck rigging, knee braces, and a seat. From far it looks okay, and up close it is obviously home made.

It is easy to turn, especially without its skeg. It goes straight, especially with the skeg. It is not nearly as fast as the Perception Sonoma, 2" wider and 5.5' feet shorter. It has at least as much initially stability as the Sonoma. So far I haven't been able to do a re-entry from a wet exit, as the stern sinks. Because of all the fiberglass encapsulated EPS, it floats, even with the cockpit full to the rim with water.

I haven't learned to roll yet.

I can't wait to start on Kayak 2. I think it will be longer and narrower.

Check out for pictures and details.

About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Lyle Wilkinson, investor, trader, author, MBA, kayak builder
Helps individuals learn to self direct their stock portfolios.
Book, e-book, kayak, PowerPoint "DIY Portfolio Management"

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Last Distribution Date:
2006-06-06 17:23:00

Internal ID: #2927

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