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Building a Nikumi

Safety Note: A vinyl skin is not safe for normal use. This is for show only.

Hundreds of years ago, the Aleuts paddled slender kayaks up and down the west coast of North America in search of sealskins and adventure. Their kayaks, called baidarkas by the Russians, were typically narrow, fast, and featured crazy looking bifid or split bows. I first gained an interest in this type of kayak after reading George Dyson’s visionary book Baidarka, and the more I read, the more interesting these kayaks became to me. Eventually, I purchased Wolfgang Brinck’s The Aleutian Kayak with the intension of building a traditional baidarka using traditional methods. But, after finishing a West Greenland style skin-on-frame, I couldn’t stomach the idea of bending any more ribs, let alone all the ribs required for a traditional baidarka. And then”¦.

Enter Tom Yost, a legendary folding kayak builder, with an outstanding website. He posted a picture of his newest creation, a baidarka, the Nikumi, built in non-traditional ways and one that had a clear skin. I had to have one. Then the winter broke early (the last week of March) in Northern Minnesota, the workshop became bearable to stand in all day, and I decided it was time to build a Yost-style wooden baidarka.

This is my building log. For those who have followed the building of the Siskiwit Bay, thanks for the support, and don’t worry, this building log won’t be nearly as long.

Day One – Friday

Corresponded with Tom via email and laid out my optimistic plans. Basically, to have the frame, except bow and stern finished by Tuesday. He sent me back the info I needed to start the build and more. I spent a little time in the shop cutting out the first three forms and then needed to put together some prints and mats for a store. Only three forms finished. Behind schedule already.

Day Two – Saturday – April’s Fools Day

Got an early start with a trip to Sawtooth Lumber store. I hadn’t realized that they carried cedar and found out that they did. They have a ton of cedar, but nothing longer than 16 feet. This means that I’m going to have to scarf the gunwales and keel. Yuk!

Had to take care of some business, but by 11 AM, I cut the gunwales, keel, chines, and then eat some lunch. I don’t have a table saw, but no problem, a circular saw and a ripping fence and I’m golden.

After lunch, I do the scarf joints. I really wish I had a table saw, so I could set up a Glen Smith style scarfing jig, but I don’t, so I cut 8/1 joints with a jig saw, block plane, and power sander. They turn out nicely. They are much better than the scarf joints I used on my Freedom, which were the first I ever did. Looks like I’ve gotten better! Cool.

It’s still too cold outside for epoxy, and I don’t want to use epoxy in the house, so its Gorilla Glue time. I head into the house and glue my scarf joints together. They look good. I’m actually impressed for once with my building ability.

Back into the garage and I set up two sawhorses and plywood in the sun outside. The neighbor comes over, we chat, and we do the boat tour, and then back to work. The rest of the forms get cut, and then, very unlike me, I decide to sand them. I didn’t realize that plywood could look good, but it does when sanded. Nice.

Then it’s time to set-up the strongback. I killed mine on the last build, and I don’t want to build a new one, so I improvise. Two sawhorse end to end with a 2″x8″ between them serve as the strongback. I swear that my strongbacks get worse and worse the more boats I build. (Note to self, build a nice strongback again. Kick self if you don’t.) I paint on a line, and then set up the form holders. The nice thing about this kayak is that I only have to affix holders for the keel at two locations. In the morning, I’m going to drop the keel in the slot, put on the form, and clamp the form into place.

After I finish with the strongback, there is nothing more for me to do today because I have to wait for the scarf joints to dry, so I call it quit.

The Score so far:

  • Us: Forms, gunwales, chines, keel, deck ridge are cut. Scarf joints are glued. Strongback set-up. Plywood left over so it cost nothing.
  • Them: $46.95 spent. Purchased: 2 – 1x8x10′ cedar and 1-1x8x16′ cedar. (Nice cedar though!)

Day Three – Sunday

Snowday! And I thought spring came early. The shop was too cold to build anything, so I spent the day doing other stuff.

Day Four – Monday

After I figure out that my shop is too short by exactly 2″ to use my strongback as set-up, I reset the forms and lay in the keel. Within two hours I have what looks like a kayak, although everything is being held together via zip-ties. This is very satisfying, so I start the gluing. I’m using gorilla glue and the shop is around 50 F, so I’m pushing it. I also use deck screws to hold the chines, gunwales in place while the glue dries. I’m not convinced that gorilla glue is going to do the trick, so the screws may stay in.

The rest of the day is spent, drilling pilot holes, screwing into the pilot hole, gluing, and misting water. By 5:30, everything is together, and I decide to tackle the custom form at the stern of the kayak. This kayak has two custom forms, and the stern one goes quickly. I install and glue it. And call it a day. I have what looks like a kayak now!


  • Us: Everything glued up except the bow and stern decks, and the split bow. Went quickly and was very satisfying.
  • Them: $1.70 USD on deck screws. I already had the glue, which runs around $10 USD a bottle around these parts.

Day Five – Tuesday

I tackle the bifid – split – bow today and fix up the stern of the kayak. For the bifid, I take a couple of pieces of left over wood that I have around the shop and cut them so that they’ll fit in the space between the deck ridge stringer and the keel stringer. The gap between them isn’t exactly like I want, but I’ll fix it after the glue dries.

The stern is easy and I just drop a ľ” x ľ” piece of wood and glue it up. Done.

And the good news: Ilena shows up from her trip to the Cities with enough cheap vinyl to skin the kayak and enough left over to do some cheap vinyl dry bags!

And the bad news: Ilena tried everywhere and couldn’t find HH-66 vinyl glue. I have some, but not enough for the whole kayak. Looks like mail order is all I can do.


  • Us: Getting Closer!
  • Them: $30 on Watco Oil and Vinyl.

Day Six – Wednesday

Yiks!!!! Coming into the shop today, I notice that the weight of my clamps and the extra wood for my bifid bow have caused the bow stem of the kayak to sag down, so now my deck ridge and keel line look bad. This is not good. What to do? I’m not going to tear this thing apart, and the block plane is handy. I pull the boat off the strongback, flip it, and with the block plane, I make the keel look natural, and then using the same trick I change the deck ridge. Problem fixed.

The kayak goes to the yard for pictures. It’s hard – very hard – for me to slip into the kayak, but Ilena has no problems getting into the kayak.

In an email that Tom sent me, he mentions that he had to add an extra plywood station behind the bow to secure the chines, but I find that my chines bend fine into the bow, so instead of making this form, I push the chines into the bow and then with a saw, I cut between the flat surface of the bow and the corner of the chine until the chine has a nice flat surface than mates up with the bow. I glue these and zip-tie the chines together until the glue dries.

I use the same trick on the gunwales until they sit flat against the bow. I wait to glue these and with a jigsaw, I cut the gap in the bow to look nice, and then I zip-tie the gunwales into the bow making sure that the bow is heading straight.

Day Seven – Thursday

I have several none kayak projects going at the moment, so today is the day I have to get some of them finished. I get all but one short-term project finished. A couple of long-term items still need to be finished, and, hopefully, I sold a VR Tour to a local resort.

Day Eight – Friday

I’m determined to get all the wood working except final sanding finished today. So into the shop I go. By lunch, the decks are cut and glued, and the plywood piece in the stern is finished. In the afternoon, I cut out the cockpit coaming, and on a whim, I decide to paint it red.

After the paint, I decide that I want to be able to get into the kayak easier, so I attack the frame at the front of the cockpit with a jigsaw! And about five minutes, some sand paper, and a bastard file later, the opening in the frame is larger! It should make it much easier for me to get into. A word of warning for those around 5’10″ and 200 pounds: You may want to consider raising the deck ridge here. I don’t know that I’d want the coaming height to get any higher, but it sure would make it easier to get into the boat. My aggressive cutting may have fixed the problem, but I won’t know until the morning.

I’m not sure exactly how to install the coaming plate, so I make a guess. I decide to cut notches into the deck ridge both front and back and drop the coaming into the notches. It works perfectly, and will probably be nice on the skin, plus the coaming height is now going to be 3/8″ lower. I then paint it red.

I’m tempted to paint all the plywood red. Red! Red! Bright Red!

And almost all the woodwork is finished! I quickly glue up foot braces. In the morning, I’m going on a hunt for channel iron and L-brackets for the foot braces and the floor, respectively. The floor will be plywood. The foot braces are derived from Glen Smith’s outstanding system. I’m not exactly how they’ll be mounted into the kayak, but I’ll leave that till morning.

The Count for Week One:

  • Us: The woodwork is just about finished. The only thing left is mounting the foot braces and the floor!
  • Them: $78.65. This kayak is getting expensive. Okay, not really. Wait until I post the final numbers on the Siskiwit Bay if you want to see expensive. Prototypes are costly. If I can buy what I need for the rest of the project and stay under $100, then I’ll be happy. But my guess is that the HH-66 is going to throw me into the $125 range.

Day Nine – Saturday

Find HH-66 online for $12.00 a quart and I order some, and then off onto the round town trip to see if I can find some channel iron aka Glen Smith Style Foot braces. And, of course, all the stores in Grand Marais don’t have any. Surprisingly, the stores also don’t stock any aluminum angle iron for the seat, so I end up buying some joist hangers and I’ll have to cut them up, and then some nuts for $5. That’s another $17 into this kayak. It’s getting dangerously close to $100. Yikes! Must keep kayak under $100. Must keep kayak under $100.

The rest of the afternoon is spent sanding. Note to self or anyone that is going to do a kayak like this: Sand everything before glueing the kayak together. It will be much easier on you. I’m lazy, so some of the boat is left roughish, and I’m okay about that – it’s authentic.

Then the rest of the rest of the afternoon is spent Watco oiling the kayak. The kayak starts to glow in color, and the red cockpit coaming looks very cool with the red cedar. I was worrying a little that it wouldn’t.


  • Us: Finished. Floor improvised.
  • Them: $17. No Glen Smith footbraces.

Day Ten – New Month

Holy Nessmuk! What a huge break in the building.

The HH-66 took a couple of weeks to show up, and while it was showing up, the ice melted and I headed off onto some lakes, and then Lake Superior called, so my free time was spent paddling there also. The Nikumi sat alone, cold, unskined in the shop”¦

Armed with HH-66 and vinyl I tackle the Nikumi skinning. First, I put the vinyl over the bottom of the boat, and then carefully cut the vinyl, so that I have enough for the top. Unfortunately, the vinyl slipped or something, because after I cut, I realize that I cut it wrong, and now it’s not cut correctly to cover the bottom completely. The closest vinyl of the same kind is a four-hour round trip drive away, so I see if I can make do. And after a whole afternoon of struggling, pulling, and stretching, the vinyl covers the bottom tightly. I call it quits for the day.


  • Us: Working on the boat again. Saved from having to buy new vinyl
  • Them: Bad cut made work harder.

Day Eleven

The deck goes on easily, but isn’t as tight as the hull, but it still is acceptable. It’s pretty hard to get a whole boat out of one piece of vinyl, but I manage to do it. After it’s done, I screw the coaming riser piece to the base plate and then roll the vinyl up and staple it onto the riser. Then using glue, I glue the coaming rim onto the riser. I’m using PU glue, so it should foam up and fill the gaps to help prevent water from leaking into the cockpit. Finally, a few screws tighten down the rim and make it secure. Next, I make a few patches to attach the webbing to the hull. They are tedious to build, and feel like the most work of the whole boat. I break off early and watch some TV.

Day Twelve

The stern. Surprisingly, the stern goes easy and I’m not even sure how I did it. It’s not as tight as I would have liked, and with fabric, it would have been a ton tighter, but it’s done and looks pretty good!


  • Us: !!!
  • Then: 000

Day Thirteen

Unlucky day thirteen brings me to the bow of the kayak. I pull over as much vinyl as I can and join it together on the inside of the bifid bow. I have instructions from Tom on how to do this, but I just kind of wing it and it seems to work out. Towards the back of the opening of the bifid, there is a large gapping hole. So, I patch it closed with a patch of vinyl and the bow is finished. In an email from Tom, he told me to pray to finish the bow, and I guess that praying worked.


  • Us: Bow done easily.
  • Them: Nothing really.

Day Fourteen

A week and a half of northern Minnesota spring weather breaks. (Minnesota + Spring = Rain, and sometimes snow and 40 F temps.) We load the Siskiwit Bay onto the car and drive up to Paradise Beach. After I worm into my new dry suit, I launch out into the waves and paddle up to the rock islands that sit off shore. I play around in the echoing waves and head out about a half a mile or more from shore and paddle up and over the waves. Nothing real big, but occasionally a few nice two footers. Feeling safer in the dry suit, I’m able to try a few moves that I’ve held off on with the wet suit. Man! I love this boat! I turn and surf a couple of waves into shore. I manage to catch one that I ride at top speed for about 100 yards. Really fun! The fog starts to roll in off of Superior, so I head to shore and we pack up the kayak”¦ But first, I jump into the lake and take a swim with the dry suit. It’s still cold, but not too bad. With a fleece vest on, it would be pretty nice. Although, I wouldn’t want to spend more than a couple minutes in the 43 F water. Ilena tells me that it looked funny when the waves would make my boat disappear and it would look just like only my upper torso was in the water.

After I finish paddling, it’s back to work on the Nikumi. The last thing I have to do is finish the deck rigging fasteners. The fog is hanging near the lake and downtown, so at our house, we have sun, and it’s now a pleasure to have something to work on in the sun. The job goes quickly. I snap a few shots, and then wiggle my way into the boat. Once in, it’s pretty comfy. Now, the only thing left to do is to launch it.


  • Us: Great day on the water and in the sun.
  • Them: Nothing.


We waited a week for the perfect lighting and picture conditions before launching, and it just didn’t seem like they were going to happen, so on a windy Saturday with gusts up to 30, we headed up to Devil Track Lake to put in.

Ilena didn’t feel like paddling in the gusty winds (up to 30 mph), so I went out for about an hour by myself. Quick and not through observations: It’s not as fast as I thought it was going to be, but not bad. It’s super stable and easy to drive. It sits low in the water. It’s tight at my legs and pretty hard to get into, but I expected that. I had some wind chop and it handled that fine, and the big gusts seemed to be fine. You could feel the frame flex, which was fun, but I think it might be stiffer than my Greenland SOF. It weathercocks slightly going into the wind, but not badly. Just slightly more than I’d have liked, but I’m picky. Quartering winds and waves were a little bit of work to keep the kayak going straight and preventing it from wanting to turn into the wind, but I’ve been in worse kayaks. It’s not bad. Pretty fun boat.

Lauching Pictures

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  • I was thinking about building one of these kayaks myself but came across your website and was curious to why you decided to sell it, I noticed you said it would make a good decoration. Was it a decent kayak in the water?

    • The vinyl skin is not durable which makes the kayak not functional for safety reasons. I didn’t particularly like the way it paddled, but I’m at the upper or just past the upper limit for it’s weight range at 200 pounds. My SO thought it was a fine kayak and she’s 140 pounds.

  • I sure do like the look of those clear vinyl skins over the nice wood frames. But I wondered about the durability. I know there are different thicknesses available, but if you don’t trust it, no reason I should.

    My other concern about those is how it looks to underwater predators. They see a large object with a non-clear boat, but how does a little person body look to them from below?

    Of course you don’t have as many of those to be concerned with as I do here in Florida ;-)

    Looking forward to building one of these Yost boats as soon as I can make the room!

  • I am building a Yostwerks sea rider and i want to skin it in the clear vinyl. I am looking for a sorce for the vinyl and any instalation tips you may have. I will be ready for the vinyl in about a week. I too live in Florida but I could order from your vendor. There is no mention of where or how to cover with the clear vinyl on Toms web site. I didnt see an e-mail address either. Thanks

  • I’ll repeat my warning: Safety Note: A vinyl skin is not safe for normal use. It is for show only.

    I picked up my vinyl from a local fabric store. I bought the heaviest material, which I decided wasn’t durable enough even for light use. I also decided that it was a safety hazard.

    I used Tom’s PVC Skinning method to apply the vinyl.

    Good luck!

  • Well I thought about what you have said about the durability of the clear vinyl. I found a local shop that stocked the different gauges of vinyl. I see that people were using between 10-20 gauge. I tested a couple of samples with a knife and small flat blade screw driver and I opted for the 30 gauge .030. They had up to 60 but the 30 was about as far as you can go with extra weight and pliability. It is marine grade, marine grade starts at .030. In my opinion this gauge (.030 clear vinyl)is as tough as some of the alternative covering materials I have researched. I recomend doing some research on alternative materials before using the clear vinyl, but i have chosen it for my finish because I find it to be more than durable enough for anything that I encounter here in S.Fl.
    I finished covering the bottom and will be starting the top soon. I found that using a pair of plyers to pull the material while stapling it makes for a wrinkle free job. I have a few ideas on how to get the top on tight as the bottom as well.
    Thanks Again

  • Good luck finishing your build.

  • […] extremely pleased with how I drew the bow and stern. It took time, but it really looks like the baidarka that I built. I think this bow looks really cool and I’d love to paddle this kayak. I bet it’s […]

  • […] you can make your own. I had a bunch of vinyl and HH-66 left over from making dry bags and a vinyl Nikumi, so it was less expensive for me to make my own.) During a typical paddling trip, I usually carry a […]

  • Hi Brian,

    I considered to build a Nikumi but I feel you didn’t liked the way it paddled.
    Did you built the long or short version of the Nikumi?


    • I honestly don’t remember there being two sizes. It paddled okay, but I prefer British-style kayaks. Ilena liked it. She ended up paddling it more than I until I built her a Greenland-style kayak. We sold the Nikumi for about cost.

  • […] you plumb the frames, you run the stringers between the frames to give the kayak its shape (See my Nikumi builder’s log to see the process). The stem and stern are attached. Once everything is screwed or glued together, […]

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