ArticlesBuild It YourselfKayaks

Building a Perfect Kayak: Part Eight

A break in the building to go fishing

A break in the building to go fishing
A break in the building to go fishing

A perfect kayak not only is one that performs perfectly in all the aspects that you desire, but one that you are building and have designed can only be perfect if everything goes correctly, the shape ends up as you wanted it, and then when finished it performs better than anything else that you’ve paddle. Such a perfect kayak would fail as a learning experience. I’ve often found that I and other people that have worked for me learn more from the mistakes they have made on their own, than having their hand held along the way and achieving perfection. I figured this out with my first and only $60,000 mistake. My boss at the time asked what I had learned, and I told him. Then for the next two years, I had to hear jokes from my peers. This current kayak project falls much closer to the later experience than the first. To recount the learned lessons so far may help in future projects, whether yours or mine:

  • After spending hours and hours of time designing the kayak, I compared the center section to an other kayak, then in one night redesigned the sheer height and deck, which yielded too high of a rear deck and a deck which required a further redesign. Lesson Learned: Even when you want to get started quickly, don’t rush any major changes without considering the consequences. Make sure to objectively and systematically evaluate changes.
  • When recutting the deck at the 48″ form, I misread my notes, and removed a 1/4″ instead of adding a 1/4″. This resulted in a, go figure, unfair deck. Lesson Learned: Measure twice, cut once, and make sure your notes are easily readable. (Okay, I’ve been taught this lesson before but keep on forgetting.)
  • My boat looks too big from the amount of above waterline flare in the forward sections. Lesson Learned: Max width no more than 13″ in HULLS at the 48″ station.
  • Cutting the joints between strips in the football went slowly, because I was using a pull saw and block plane. Lesson Learned: A knife, a simple tool, is faster and works just as nicely as a pull saw.
  • I skipped 96″ and 108″ forms figuring that a 102″ would work just fine, but because the rest of the forms are on 12″ spacing and this skip left two sections with 1.5′ spacing. This made for some flattening out of the strips and an unfair surface. Lesson Learned: Use even spacing for the forms.
  • And a mistake that I made, which I thought fixed a design mistake. As I’ve worked on planning and sanding, I’ve decided that the pinch I introduced to the nose of the kayak wasn’t the best idea. Lesson Learned: Don’t try to change the boat’s design after it’s mostly stripped out and on the forms.

Okay, I’m sure there are more mistakes that I could list, but these are the major mistakes made, so it definitely isn’t the perfect kayak, so far, but it sure has been a great learning experience.

VR Tour of My Cedar Strip Kayak Build

Perhaps, an interruption in the kayak build to show you a VR image of the build. You can read more about how to do these types of images at My Business Website look in the Articles section. Sorry, on this image, I didn’t take the time to fill in the floor, so you have to put up with my copyright symbol. Click the image to go to a new page.

Layback Lounge (TM Pending) Part Two

In the last episode, you may remember that in order to get my cockpit coaming down to a height that would be respectable in the minds of those specializing in layback rolls, I needed to cut my Layback Lounge (TM Pending) far down into the deck, and even one strip into the hull. By doing this, I would be able to get the coaming height at about 8 inches. In order to do so, I would have to cut into forms and the strong back. While the forms seemed to me no problem, the strong back did seem like it would cause some trouble. I started to lay in strips for the coaming, but as I neared having to cut into the strong back, I paused, and decided to fiberglass the bottom of the hull and then come back to do the Layback Lounge (TM Pending. Okay, not really, but it sounds really cool. I coined this phrase, and you are welcome to use it as you wish in your building endeavors as long as you don’t try and TM it.)

SUBSCRIBE TO PADDLINGLIGHT
Receive PaddlingLight updates straight to your inbox every time I publish a new article. Your email address will never be shared
The kayak is planed and the gaps are filled with wood putty.
The kayak is planed and the gaps are filled with wood putty.

Planning

After recounting my mistakes and drowning my misery and giving up, temporally, on the Layback Lounge, I decided to get on with it. And to get on with it, I had to pull out the block plane and hobbyist plane. I slowly worked along the hull removing wood along the joints of the strips to start with the rounding and fairing process for the hull. By working only the joints, you actually just take the high spots off of the hull, and leave the lower spots in the middle of the strips, by doing it this way, you know how far you’ve planned into the strips, so you don’t go all the way through. There were a few places on my hull that I planned more deeply, but overall it was quick easy and uneventful.

Filling Gaps Between the Cedar Strips

After the planning process, I used wood filler to fill in any gaps that opened between strips or in sections of the hull, like the line down the football and the joint between the pine and cedar on the bottom. My pine filler matched perfectly, but my cedar filler ended up too red. So it goes.

Sanding the Kayak Hull

At this point, many people just launch into sanding with a random orbit sander, and this is how I used to do this, but this time, I decided to make a fairing board. The fairing board that I made consisted of a 1/4″ piece of plywood the length of two pieces of sandpaper and the width of half a piece of sandpaper. I screwed two 1″ x 1″ boards at each end to make handles, and then I affixed one piece of 60 grit sandpaper cut in half lengthwise to the board with spray adhesive. Working for the bow to stern with this faring board, I made quick work of the high and low spots on the hull. Sanding this way worked so good, if fact, that in the future I will always use a fairing board before a random orbit sander.

After the fairing board, I quickly ran a random orbit sander with 80 grit sandpaper affixed to it, and it only took me four pieces of sandpaper to get to the point were I would have been after 80 grit orbit sanding. It also took less than half of the time to get there. 120 grit followed the 80 grit, and then I wet the surface of the kayak down with water and saw for the first time the final color of the kayak. Very nice.

Wetting the hull with water does two things: First, it raises the grain that was compressed during planning, and second, it allows you to see any rough spots or glue spots that still need to be sanded off. After the hull dried, I finished sanding, and then moved it back into the shop.

This is the fairing board that I made.  This worked so well at cutting down sanding time, that I feel stupid that I haven't used one of these before.
This is the fairing board that I made. This worked so well at cutting down sanding time, that I feel stupid that I haven't used one of these before.
This is the sideview of the kayak.  The boat has been wet down with water to raise the grain for final sanding before epoxy precoat.  This is the first time I've gotten a real good view of the side of the kayak.  I like it.
This is the sideview of the kayak. The boat has been wet down with water to raise the grain for final sanding before epoxy precoat. This is the first time I've gotten a real good view of the side of the kayak. I like it.
I feel pretty good about this kayak.  It looks good.  Simple but elegant.  I don't feel so good about the pinch I introduced.  So, I'm going to glass without the pinch and redo the deck in the front of the kayak.  So it goes.
I feel pretty good about this kayak. It looks good. Simple but elegant. I don't feel so good about the pinch I introduced. So, I'm going to glass without the pinch and redo the deck in the front of the kayak. So it goes.

Setting Up of Fiberglassing

Fiberglassing a kayak is one of the most stressful steps for most builders. Now that I’ve fiberglassed several kayaks and canoe, it doesn’t feel so bad anymore. In fact, most builders recruit one of their friends at this point, but I’m going solo on this one. Because of going solo and because of the stress involved with working with an item that is time sensitive, it’s important to have everything set up perfectly and ready to go before you go.

To do this, I do the following things:

  1. I put down a plastic sheet to protect my workbench from spills.
  2. I install the pumps for the epoxy.
  3. I put stir sticks in a container ready to go.
  4. I put a plastic sheet on the floor.
  5. I put a box a gloves next to the epoxy.
  6. Set a scissors out.
  7. Make sure the utility knife is next to the epoxy station.
  8. Since I use plastic squeegees for the whole process, I place those next to the epoxy.
  9. I put a junk container for excess epoxy grunge.
  10. Find a clean sacrificial rag to wipe epoxy from the squeegee and my gloved hands as they get coated.
  11. Then lay the fiberglass out on the boat and cut it to size.
  12. Cut extra strips of glass for the stems.
  13. Cut the stems so they lay perfectly as they wrap over.
  14. Smooth the fiberglass out as perfectly as can be.

After these sets are over, I roll up the glass and precoat the kayak with epoxy. I find that precoating helps me with the wet out of the fiberglass. It seems to make wet out easier. Precoating was uneventful, but for the first time, I really got a view of what pine looks like under epoxy. In places, it gained an irradiant glow, and in contrast to my two shades of red cedar, bright red and brown, it makes the kayak come alive.

Perfect kayak status?

It’s back again. And I’m off again on my quest for the perfect kayak. This kayak had me worried there for a couple of days. Maybe a week.

The kayak has been precoated with epoxy.  This prevents outgassing during wet out, and seems to make the wet out of the glass go faster.
The kayak has been precoated with epoxy. This prevents outgassing during wet out, and seems to make the wet out of the glass go faster.

More on Fiberglassing

I should note here about the fiberglass and epoxy that I bought. Since boat number one, I’ve used RAKA, and I’ll continue to use it as long as it remains priced inexpensively. For this project, I purchased 24 yards of glass, and so far, I’ve used six yards, which when cut from this 60″ wide glass, I found I covered the kayak and managed to get a football sized piece out of it. Still, after getting all of this out of it, I managed to get enough extra for several layers at the stems, and maybe enough for two to three canoe paddle blades. With 24 yards and the left over from last years kayak, I should have enough glass to cover a canoe. I only bought a 1.5 gallon epoxy kit. I guess that I should have sprung for the 3 gallon kit, and then with $60 of pine and cedar, the left over ash for gunwales and seat and thwarts, for the decks some cherry split out from some firewood, and some other left over wood in the garage, I could have built the Elan from Red River Canoe. My Elan plans have been gathering dust for the last couple of years. I need to get that built soon, so I can paint it yellow.

Side note: The Strong back

I should note, that I really like using an internal strong back because it has allowed me to move the boat outside during sanding. This made the process much more pleasant. And I’ve been thinking about this issue. The problems are that a 2×4 is subject to twists and turns and you can hardly find a good straight strong one in the 14 foot range. The second problem was that with Schade’s design of a box beam, it was too easy to make a minor mistake in the milling and cutting without a table saw that my strong back didn’t end up as perfect as I had hoped. After thinking about this, I’ve thought that maybe laminating 3.5″ by 1/2″ strips together to arrive at 2×4 would be easier than making a box beam, and it should work better, but be easier to build. Of course, many people successful create a box bean internal strong back, so maybe inventing a better mousetrap isn’t needed. Now a better moose trap, there’s an idea.

Fiberglassing the Wooden Kayak

After the precoat, I waited overnight before starting the wet out of the fiberglass. To wet out the glass, I placed the first layer on the kayak and then the layer of glass for the football. You should always check to make sure a new batch of epoxy is going to work the same as the last, but I skipped that part and mixed a small three squirt batch up (2 squirts of resin and one of hardener.) I wet out the center of the kayak from the centerline to the sheerline as far as I could before running out of epoxy, then I mixed up a six-squirt batch to wet out more.

I find that working solo a six-squirt batch is as big as I want to go to handle that epoxy without spilling too much onto the floor. Epoxy is expensive enough and if you lose a ton to the floor because you are trying to work with too big of batches, then you’re just wasting money (Yes, I’m cheap.) When I reached the ends of the kayak, I switch back into three squirt batches.

This talk about the ends of the kayak brings me back. I always wet out the middle of the kayak first, starting in the middle and working towards each end. I find working this way helps to keep runs from forming in the glass, and it allows you to work runs out towards the ends if they show up. Before I start the last two feet of the boat, I switch to the other side and work, again, the middle towards the ends. Once at the ends, I wet out each side, wrapping one over the other. Offsetting the end cut to one side helps to prevent a bubble where the stem turns to the keel cuts the ends of the glass. After the main glass is wet out at each end, I add my extra two-inch wide strips. This kayak, I used three extra up front and four extra in the back. These are more like sacrificial strips when running ashore. I should probably add more here, because I know how I treat my boats, but I’m going to try and be nice to this one, plus if I can keep the weight down, I’ll be super happy.

It’s helpful to go back over parts of the kayak and squeegee excess epoxy out of the weave as you’re working, but I find now that I hardly have to do this, because somehow I’ve achieved Zen with the epoxy. Now, if I wasn’t allergic to the stuff, I’d be happy.

The first layer and the football layer and the stems layers of glass are wet-out on the kayak.  It went easy.  Again the 5 P's make everything work correctly.  Prior Planing Prevents Poor Performance.  Who the heck coined that phrase anyway?
The first layer and the football layer and the stems layers of glass are wet-out on the kayak. It went easy. Again the 5 P's make everything work correctly. Prior Planing Prevents Poor Performance. Who the heck coined that phrase anyway?

After the Fiberglass is Wet Out

After the fiberglass is wet out, I wait for it to set up to just beyond sticky. This normally takes four to six hours and then I head back to add a filler coat. The filler coat buries the weave of the glass, so you can have a really smooth surface. It takes two filler coats for 6-ounce glass, but with 5-ounce (no longer available) or 3.5 (T), it only takes one filler coat. Note that if you are painting the boat, you should make use of some type of filler for the filling coats of epoxy. This will help cut down on cost of epoxy by making up in volume of required epoxy with glass bubbles. If you are clear coating, which I am, you have to use the extra epoxy to achieve a clear glassing.

The Bottom Finished

And with that, I finished the glass on the bottom of the kayak. It went easy. Well, except now my eyes feel slightly swollen and my wrist tingle and may start itching. I sure wish I wasn’t allergic to epoxy, and you need to make sure that you avoid breathing the fumes or touching the gunk with your bare skin or you’ll eventually become allergic also. With the bottom finished, I wait a day and then flip the boat back over to work on my Layback Lounge and see if I can pry apart the deck and hull after glassing. Cross my fingers…

6 comments

  • […] this stage the process for finishing the hull is identical to that described by Bryan in his wood strip sea kayak building articles and that will assist you if you have never done that […]

  • Hi
    Nice site. It’s best not to do the centerline football method. This seem will open, and is not as strong as hand fitting each strip separately, nor as asthetically pleasing. Thanks for all the great info.That’s alot of work, putting up a site.
    Mark

  • Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoy the site. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, eh?

    I’m not sure I agree with the assertion that a centerline football method seam will split or open up once fiberglassed and I don’t think I agree with the assertion that other methods provide a stronger bottom seam.

    If they do, I believe, based on my usage, that any method is strong enough. I beat the heck out of this kayak and never had any problems with the wooden centerline seam.

  • Hello Bryan
    This site is great. Massive amounts of free information, tips, and ideas! Great pictures. Thanks for the very quick reply too. I guess if the centerline seam works for you, it must be strong then. I personally found that if you put the football piece under the full piece, inside or outside, you never have to hear from it again; it just “dissappears.” What do you think. Also, I found that if I put 2 glass stem strips 6″ & 4″ on first, then feather after curing, I can glass the whole boat the next day, and not have to go around the stems at all since they’ll be protected by an ash stem strip epoxied and screwed to each end. That’s how I do my canoes anyway. I’m just starting a Guillemot now, so I’ll see how these methods work with Kayaks. Should be fine. What do you think/

  • Thanks, Mark.

    I think that the center seam is a personal choice. Do whatever makes you happy.

    On recent boats, I’ve added extra glass to the boat’s football by adding it to the outside and then feathering. Lots of builders do it your way.

    For the stem, I wrap the fiberglass and then add up to 18 ounces of reenforcement. I don’t use a hardwood internal stem.

    If you’re happy with your methods, they should work just fine on a kayak. There are many ways to build a boat.

  • OK Thanks

Comments are closed.