I can’t believe I’m building a kayak! – Part 1

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Working at Woodcraft has not only exposed me to the woodworking industry, but their involvement with a community non-profit group, Adventure Pursuit, also introduced me to kayaking. Adventure Pursuit is a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing adventure to everyone, including those who are mentally and physically challenged.  Initially I helped Adventure Pursuit with marketing and mailings, and Woodcraft donated printing and postage.  I soon jumped in with both feet and became a very active member of their board.

As a board member of Adventure Pursuit, we brought kayaking to the Special Olympics – with West Virginia being the first state in the nation to hold that event. Adventure Pursuit also held running, biking and kayaking triathlons.

In 2004 I was looking for a flat water kayak to race with in the triathlon. Bob Etter, who puts together Woodcraft’s catalog, mentioned that he had a new neighbor, Dan. The new neighbor in fact had at least four kayaks in his front yard. So I stopped by and introduced myself. I told Dan about the triathlon. His boats were handmade wooden boats, and he wasn’t about to lend them out. But he said he might enter the race, so I left him the info and the race registration form. I never heard back from Dan, so I was stuck with my slow whitewater boat.


There I was on the morning of the race still fretting about my SLOW boat, when I saw Dan drive into the race area. I can still picture his car – with TWO kayaks on top. He not only signed up for the triathlon, but he brought a boat for me to use. I couldn’t believe my luck – what a guy!

Step ahead many years later, and the June/July 2010 issue of Woodcraft Magazine featured Dan Jones building a wooden kayak from a kit. Dan lives close to Woodcraft, and has been an incredible addition to the community ever since his move in 2004. He is very involved with getting people active in the area through the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club. In fact, a dragon boat was acquired in Marietta, and he and gathered a team of cancer survivors to paddle the majestic beast through their first season!

Last fall Bob Etter steps in again.  Bob has been a member of the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club for over 20 years, and he forwarded an email from Dan Jones. The good neighbor strikes again. Dan emailed an offer to help anyone interested in building a kayak, and offered the use of the old historic lockmaster’s house in Marietta. I couldn’t resist!

Originally my husband Mark and I were going to build one together. But with all of the spring projects around the house, he knew he couldn’t commit to such a project. Dan scheduled a meeting for anyone interested in building kayaks; I showed up without Mark. At the meeting, Dan said I could definitely work on the project myself AND that he would help – it would take 80-100 hours. As a working mom with a graduating senior, I didn’t think I could scrape together that much time. But – I REALLY wanted the 1) the bragging rights, 2) the kayak, 3) building the boat at the historic lockmasters house on the bank of the Muskingum River in Marietta, and 4) most of all the opportunity to work with an expert – Dan has already built at least 10 boats.  I came home from the meeting that night and bought the kit from Pygmyboats.com.  Now – I’m committed – yikes!


Courtesy of pygmyboats.com

The kit arrived in a week. (I thought I’d have more time before commitment and project, but I guess not!) The kit comes with an instruction book, and started with a list of tools needed.   I went on a scavenger hunt in the garage to gather all of the tools.  Then I scavenged the shop at Woodcraft for any that I was missing. Jim Harrold, the Editor-In-Chief of Woodcraft Magazine, still had some of the items left from the last project. Jim is an avid kayaker and also wrote the article “Build a Kayak from a Kit” , so he was happy to help.

I read the instruction manual, reviewed the videos online, and had my Woodcraft Magazine article memorized!

After the scavenger hunt on Saturday, I headed to the lockmaster’s house in Marietta. The  house was built around 1900 when the original locks were moved to the east side of the Marietta dam.   When a larger dam up the river was built and raised the water level, the lock was no longer needed and was removed in the 1960s.  The lockmaster’s house was given to the city by the Federal Government with the stipulation that it is only to be used by a non-profit group. The Marietta rowing club secured a five year lease on the house, and uses it as a meeting place and storage facility. The club opened up the walls to make more space, and it will now be used as a shop for boat building. The club hopes to draw attention to the boat building process in order to build an interest in the process and to get people on the river.

I met up with Dan at the lockmaster’s house, and unpacked the kit. The boards are the highest grade of BS-1088 marine Okoume plywood. Each board has a sticker on it that tells which position it is, left or right, bow or stern.


I pulled out all of the pieces for the left side and layed them together on a big plywood table that the club had prepared for the work.

I thought I’d be there all night, but it was too cold to work with epoxy – less than 60 degrees. So after cutting some wax paper and Mylar to prepare for the next step, I left.

Day 2: 4/3/12 I met Dan at 6. He was adjusting my layout a bit and gathered bricks to help hold down the boards during the epoxy process. I chose the Coho kayak model, which is 17 ft long. Since that’s a bit long to mail, the boards need to be butt-joined together using epoxy and fiberglass tape. We assembled the left side. Tomorrow I’ll flip and repeat the process.

Day 3: 4/4/12. 45 minutes. I removed the bricks, plywood, and Mylar. Then I flipped the boards, cut more fiberglass tape, mixed the epoxy and went to work. It was a short night, and I only needed one brick per seam since they were already epoxied on one side.

Days 4-7:  4 hours total. The temperatures dropped below 60 degrees, so I had to hold off on putting together the right side for a week.  By Sunday, April 15, we completed the same routine for the panels that make up the right side of the boat.  After the epoxy hardened for 24 hours, I cut the edges off with a razor knife, and then Dan helped as we scraped epoxy off the edges with a surform shaver.  We also added additional plywood with epoxy mixed with wood flour to a few panels where it needed extra support.

Day 8: 4/17/12,  1 1/2 hours.  The WoodRiver Plane!

In 2008, I traveled to the factory that makes our WoodRiver planes with my favorite Woodcraft employee, Tim Rinehart.  Tim was everyone’s favorite at Woodcraft, and we lost him to cancer in 2009, so my memories are especially precious.

In any case, at the factory, we tested out the planes and worked on all of the details of the tool.  Since then I have learned to sharpen plane blades with Rob Cosman and cut paper thin shavings.  But in all of that time, I never used a plane for a project until last night!

We needed the block plane to shave a 45-degree angle on one side of 4 panels.  This was one of the critical steps according to Dan.  He showed me how to measure to get the angle. He used a compass to mark the distance of the top 2 of 3 panels. Then he set that distance, and I marked a line down the appropriate side of the panel.  Next, he broke out his Stanley plane, but I quickly replaced it with my WoodRiver block plane.  He gave me a few tips, and I went to work.

I loved working with the plane and kept trying to find the best way to position myself for the cuts.  The plane was small and easier for me to handle than the one Dan brought.  The rounded knuckle cap handle was also very comfortable in my hand.  I envisioned perfectly smooth 45-degree angles cuts.  It was no where near smooth, and I just hope I followed the lines and didn’t take out too much.  I decided to clean up and leave the panels out  for Dan to touch up on Thursday.  Now I need to watch some of our online videos so next time I use a hand plane, I’ll do a better job.  I just wish I would have watched the videos first!

That’s it for now!    Next step will be drilling holes and wiring the panels together.  Wish me luck and stay tuned for more!!

Read Kayak Building Part Two

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