Building a kayak has been something I have wanted to do for a while, partly to have a kayak (one I knew inside and out) and partly for the fun of building it. Quarantining at home created an opportunity.
I have only owned one kayak before: a Perception Eclipse Sealion. It was long, heavy, and more expedition-y than I really needed.
I ran across the Cape Falcon Kayak YouTube videos while researching this project and was hooked on Brian’s approach to design and building. I watched every CFK video on YouTube before deciding to build an F1. This was going to be my only kayak, and the F1 seemed like a good balance among all the attributes I was looking for.
The cut list can seem like a lot to keep track of at the lumber store unless you realize (like I didn’t) that all the longitudinal pieces can come from a single 11/16″ thick board. Easy—if you can find a clear piece of cedar that size. I couldn’t, so I ended up buying a lot of 2×4 and 2×2 pieces instead, spending a lot of time making expensive mulch with the planer. If I were to do it again, I would custom order one big 11/16″ plank from the sawmill.
I didn’t have much experience with steam bending, so bought the oak bending stock from CFK. That was a good decision that eliminated a lot of risk. Likewise, I bought the coaming and accessory kit from CFK.
Skinning materials came from SkinBoats.com, exactly as specified in the plans. I live in Puget Sound where the beaches are rocky and covered with oysters and shells, so a heavier fabric might have been a good precautionary choice.
I watched all the videos and followed the instructions to the letter, and was rewarded for it. A lot of thought went into the instruction. If there is a detail that seems superfluous or unimportant, watch a few videos ahead and the reason for it will become clear.
Bending the ribs was the big unknown since I had very little experience. It turned out to be easier than I expected. I had a few extra ribs ready, but only ended up sacrificing one.
Heed the advice in the instructions about the need for sharp bends in the first few ribs. In the photo above, ribs #2 and #3 transition from V-shape to a U-shape. In hindsight, I might have started the transition later, maybe at rib #4, because the stringers added so much volume to the bow.
I missed the bit in the instructions about the importance of placing the keel and stringers immediately after the ribbing was finished. Luckily the ribs held their shape until the next day. It only took a little bit of trimming to make the keel and stringers fit nicely.
Patience and preparation pay off here—patience for the stitching, and preparation for the coating.
The cutting and stitching takes time and attention. The lacing stitches do a good job of keeping the skin tight over the ends of the boat. The cockpit area is more difficult. Fully tension the coaming with the cam strap as instructed, and keep pulling tension into the fabric as you stitch it to the coaming rim. After dyeing and ironing, the fabric around the cockpit was nice and taut. Some wrinkles appeared later when glueing the thigh braces on—it must be a reaction between the skin and contact cement.
Carving the Paddle
I only planned to build one paddle but ended up making three. It’s enjoyable—part woodworking, part sculpture. Rough shaping with the bandsaw is very important. Cut too close and you’ve ruined the paddle; not close enough and you’ll spend a lot of time with the plane making up for it.
I used Corey’s Boat Sauce (a blend of tung oil and pine tar) on the two full-size paddles and Rubio Monocoat on the storm paddle. The results aren’t surprising: Rubio Monocoat does a good job for a single-coat finish, while Boat Sauce will (eventually) give better results after several coats. The thing is, if you use your paddle, you’re going to have to apply touch-up coats anyway.
(The laminated storm paddle is so pretty that it doubles as furniture when off-duty.)
A lovely little boat that turns heads wherever it goes. It was tippy getting in the first time, but it didn’t take long to feel completely at ease in it. The combination of a super-low seating position and excellent secondary stability make it fun to edge because it springs back so reliably.
I don’t have experience rolling many boats, but this one rolls just fine. I can do a layback and a C-to-C roll as easily as I could in my expedition kayak.
It only took an hour before I was completely hooked on the Greenland-style paddle. It’s light, easy on the hands, and zen-quiet. It’s also hugely forgiving for practicing rolls.
I was impressed with how well the boat turned out having never built one before.
- I mentioned how all the longitudinal pieces can be cut from one 11/16″ plank of cedar. Doing that would have saved some time on the planer.
- I paid a premium for perfect wood of the recommended type. I would feel comfortable scavenging wood now that I know what to look for.
- I didn’t buy a Japanese saw because I already had plenty of saws. I finally bought one and it is so worth it.
- I didn’t buy a radius plane. I probably should have, because otherwise it’s tempting to cut corners (oof, sorry) manicuring the edges of all the longitudinal pieces. One of the most important places to knock the corners off is at the outboard edges of the gunwales above the deck line holes. Otherwise the deck lines protrude and often get grazed while paddling.
- This might be just idle hand-wringing, but I wonder if I should have bent the 2nd and 3rd ribs as sharply as the 1st. Either that or thinned the stringers slightly at the bow. The reason is that, when I’m sitting in the finished boat, the bow knuckle comes out of the water often (see photo above). The boat behaves fine, but it seems like the bow knuckle was meant to be a bit more planted.
- Because I live in the land of rocky beaches and oysters, opting for a thicker skin might have been good insurance against shell abrasions. I will revisit that decision if/when necessary.
Would I do it again? Absolutely—I’m thinking of building a West Greenland. The plans and the video instruction were excellent, and I finished with a great boat.