Build a Kayak from a Kit

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Kayak

With just a small collection of hand tools, you can make this handsome recreational kayak in less than two months and enjoy it and the boatbuilding experience for a lifetime. How? From a kit containing precut marine plywood parts!

While kit boats abound, we chose to build the Pinguino Sport from Pygmy Boats Inc. designed by Pygmy’s founder, John Lockwood. It offers a smooth, quiet paddle at a 3. 5-knot pace. It’s easy to enter and exit. And talk about portability! The completed craft weighs just 34 pounds, making it easy to carry.

Of course the beauty of building from a kit is that it saves a boatload of cutting time. The kit’s $879 price tag for a wood boat shouldn’t scare anyone away, nor should the beginner-level woodworking skills needed. If you have a cordless drill, random-orbit sander, pliers, clamps, handsaw, block plane, scraper, and rasp, then you have what it takes to get started.

Finally, you’ll learn the “stitch-and-glue” process—tying parts together with wires and then welding them with epoxy and fiberglass. While the complete kit instructions provide the nitty-gritty, we’ll show you a photo overview of what’s involved, working with seasoned kayak builder Dan Jones. 

The basic kit

It may not look like a boat yet, but after 80-90 hours of shop time you’ll be amazed at how things take shape. Waiting for the epoxy to cure overnight explains the two-month building time. During days when you’ll lay fiberglass cloth, recruit some helpers.

Note: Before you build the boat, set up a work space. Our boat-building platform consisted of two 30"-wide strips of 34" plywood, supported by four sawhorses
(page 52). The 4'- and 8'-long panels were held together by a cleat that’s screwed in place at the joint. A cut-down cardboard box served as our epoxy station, catching drips and containing the mess.

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Prep the hull panels

Dan begins by butt-joining the ends of mating plywood parts for the hull and deck panels. Each plywood part contains a label sticker with a number that notes its location in the assembly and letters (BL, BR, or SL, RL) that indicate if the part is a bow or stern piece and goes on the left or right side of the boat. Doing one side at a time, he lays out the parts butt end to butt end on a flat surface, labels up, and checks their fit and sands burrs if needed.

To join the half sections, Dan lays waxed paper under the mating edges, and then weighs down the parts with bricks so that they can’t shift during glue-up. Next, he brushes the seams with epoxy (Photo A), lays fiberglass tape across the joint, and saturates the tape with epoxy. He places Mylar on the taped seam (Photo A Inset) and presses it flat with scrap plywood and bricks. The Mylar and waxed paper prevent epoxy from sticking where it shouldn’t. After the joints sit overnight, he flips the panels and tapes the opposite faces. With the epoxy cured, Dan then applies plywood plates to the underside of the deck panels in the same manner for additional reinforcement.

Kayak

Using a compass, he scribes a pencil line 14" along the inside mating edges of the panels that join at the sheer seams where the hull and deck meet. Now, with a wood rasp or block plane, he shaves a 45° bevel on the inside edges and up to the line as shown (Photo B). Dan sands the bevels smooth with a sanding block as needed.

Next, Dan stacks and clamps the keel panels together, flushing their edges. (When joined, these create the keel seam, which serves as the bottom centerline of the boat from bow to stern.) He makes a drilling jig from scrap hardboard to speed the work while evenly spacing the holes for the “stitching” wires. Now, with a 116" bit in a cordless drill, he uses the jig to bore holes 14" in from the panel edges every 6" as shown (Photo B Inset). He drills the holes along the edges of the remaining panels where indicated in the manual.

Kayak

Stitching and gluing the hull sides

Dan places the left and right keel panels together and marks the locations of the main temporary frames used to form the hull. From the wire spool, he cuts a few hundred 312"-long pieces and bends them into a U-shape. He then inserts them in the mating holes along the keel seam from the underside. Now, he loosely twists the ends together and “stitches” the panels edge to edge. He drills and stitches the center frame to the keel panels, followed by the bow and stern frames. With spring clamps he pinches the boat ends together to wire them. He then tightens all the wires with pliers. Dan stitches the neighboring panels (Photo C). At this point you can see how the frames dictate the boat’s shape. As he tightens the wires, Dan makes sure the butt seams of succeeding panels align perfectly (Photo C Inset).

Dan wires in the remaining two temporary frames at the stern and bow and hot-melt glues all the frames in place to add rigidity to the hull. He now sets the boat up on blocks with the keel seam on a straight 2×4. He fills a syringe with epoxy and applies a bead along the keel seam on the inside of the hull (Photo D Inset).

Kayak

Dan then screws scrap plywood to the main bow and stern as temporary frames to serve as stands and turns the boat upside down. Here you want the hull to rest evenly on a flat surface without any twists. Now, he applies painter’s tape just below the chine seams to catch glue runs and reduce sanding chores. Using a syringe, he fills the outside seams with epoxy (Photo D). Here, he waits some 40 minutes and then lays down a second bead using epoxy thickened with wood flour to fill any gaps.

With the epoxy cured, he removes the wire with snips and pliers. He cuts the stitch’s back side and untwists and pulls out each leg. Scrap plywood provides leverage and protects the surface from tool marks (Photo E). He times wire removal while the epoxy remains green. To remove stuck wires, he heats the tip of a soldering iron to soften the epoxy and free them. He builds up the keel seam at the bow and stern with thickened epoxy, filling gaps as needed.

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Glassing the hull

Within 24 to 48 hours, when the epoxy has somewhat hardened but not fully cured, Dan rounds over the bow and stern keel seams. Starting with a Surform tool or rasp, he uses long, low-angled strokes to cut back the excess epoxy. He switches to a card scraper or sanding block to finish fairing, being careful to not scrape or sand through the plywood veneer. Now, he rasps and scrapes the hull seams (Photo F, Photo F Inset). He sands the hull with a random-orbit sander and 220-grit and wipes off the sanding dust.

“Glassing” the hull involves several coats of epoxy, an initial saturation coat to seal the wood (Photo G), a second coat to lay the fiberglass cloth, and several fill coats. After this first stage, Dan must apply succeeding coats within a 72-hour window. When using larger quantities of epoxy, he notes it’s important to work quickly. When it starts to act sticky, you need to toss the batch, clean your mixing container, replace the roller, and start fresh. After this and later coats, he tips off the wetted surface with a foam brush to remove bubbles.

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Dan trims and spreads fiberglass cloth over the hull, letting it overhang the sheer edge by 1". He cuts and overlaps the cloth at the stern for a smooth, wrinkle-free fit. Next, with friends on hand, he mixes up several ounces of epoxy. They roll out the cloth (Photo H) and watch it disappear into the wood as saturation occurs. One helper squeegees the wetted cloth to smooth it and spread the epoxy, pressing it into the weave. More epoxy is mixed for a steady supply. As it cures, Dan trims the excess cloth with a utility knife.

Dan lays down a strip of fiberglass tape along the keel seam to provide additional protection before he adds the first of two fill coats on the fabric. The fill coats prepare the hull for sanding, and make for a more durable boat. Now Dan turns his attention to assembling the deck parts.

Kayak

Adding the deck, more glass, and coaming

Dan uses the same stitch-and-glue techniques to build the deck. Like the hull, you form the deck over the temporary frames to create the designed shape. With the deck temporarily in place and the parts adjusted and wired, Dan glues the seams with the syringe and clear and thickened epoxy, respectively. He pulls the wires and removes the rigid deck. He tapes the interior seams and lets them cure, adding fill coats.

Now, he returns to the hull and removes the temporary frames and scrapes the surfaces clean. He adds more epoxy, thickened epoxy, and tape to the hull’s interior. He wets the hull’s interior with a saturation coat and cuts fiberglass cloth to fit. He then rolls it out and fills the fabric as before.

Kayak

Dan now preps the beveled sheer seam and sets the deck on the hull, aligning the butt seams of both assemblies. Then he tapes the deck in place with 1"-wide strapping tape. Now for the exciting part: Dan glues/tacks the deck to the hull by injecting epoxy into the sheer seam with a syringe (Photo I). He lets it cure.

Now Dan props the boat on its sheer seam. Working from inside the boat, he applies a bed of thickened epoxy along the sheer seam. He lays on a strip of fiberglass tape and saturates it with a clear epoxy topcoat for a super-strong bond, repeating the process for the opposite sheer seam. He then rests the boat on its hull, securing it with blocks, and rasps, scrapes, and sands the deck and sheer seams. He rounds over the seams (to let the fiberglass cloth lie flat). Now, as before, he applies a saturation coat, cuts the fiberglass cloth, and glasses the deck. He scrapes and sands where needed and applies fill coats.

Kayak

With the boat built, he fits the inner U-shaped coaming pieces to the cockpit opening. (It’s these pieces, combined with the upper coaming, that strengthen the cockpit and distribute the weight when you get in and out of the boat.) He marks them at the deck ridge seam and cuts them to final length with a fine-tooth handsaw. He seals the edges and then butts the pieces together to test the fit. Using thickened epoxy on the mating surfaces, he clamps the pieces in place. Scrap fiberglass covers the upper coaming (both faces), and is left to cure. Dan then trims the pieces to fit and clamps them in place (Photo J). Finally, he cuts, glasses, and installs the hip braces in the cockpit.

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The final details

Dan adds the seat components and foot pedal hardware, sealing any holes drilled with epoxy. He removes the hardware. Because fine epoxy dust is a hazard, he takes the boat outside for safe sanding. Here, he slips on a dust mask, and sands the surfaces flat with 150-220-grit sandpaper (Photo K) to achieve a smooth, matte-white appearance. Finally, he removes the sanding dust, wipes the boat clean with a damp cloth, and finishes it with a marine spar varnish.

Now it’s time to paddle.

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About Our Builder

Dan Jones of Marietta, Ohio, is both an avid kayaker and kayak builder, with this recreational model being his 10th boat construction. He’s also the president of his local rowing and cycling club.

Kayak

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