I live in a NYC suburb. Before this build, I built three fuselage skin on frame boats and two stitch and glue kayaks. My wife and I like tandems but she is short and it is hard to find small tandem kayak plans or even small tandem kayaks. We had been paddling a 32” wide skin on frame tandem called the Chuckanut from Dave Gentry’s plans. It is a nice barge-like ride. Once our paddling improved, I looked for an upgrade for years before Brian put the F2 plans on the market. I wrote Brian and he suggested tweaks I could make to better fit us. You could call the result the “F2-LV.”
On an overcast January 2018 morning I played hooky from work so I could inch along in commuter traffic from Long Island to the Bronx to buy western red cedar. They only deliver big orders. So I strapped my 18′ Gentry Ruth rowing wherry to the roof. The plan was to strap the cedar to the rowboat.
They had clear boards so no scarfing on this build.
The loading dock guys were bemused by my Subaru-rowboat rig. They begrudged me the 10 minutes it took to strap the 20′ boards to the rowboat, and then to re-tighten the rowboat to the roof rack. (In fairness, the contractors waiting to load up behind me were whining like impatient kids at Shake Shack.) As I was leaving, one of the loading dock guys said, “I’ve been working here 32 years, and I ain’t never seen anything like this before.”
It was cold and windy. The dreaded wintry mix started to fall. The drive back was a white knuckler. My hands were frozen while unstrapping the rowboat and lumber. I was getting emails from work.
So forgive me for forgetting to take pics.
No problems with the initial parts and jigs. I used scrap 1/2″ mdf to make the forms. I searched a big box store bin to find a straight and relatively clear doug fir 2 x4 for the flat deck beams. I built the jig for the curved deck beams from plywood scraps and dowels that were cluttering my basement. For some reason, I have a 3/4″ forstner bit. Perfect for dowel holes.
Next were the curved deck beams. The 4 x4 cedar cut like butter but not evenly. After about 7 uneven cuts, I used feather boards to get uniform strips. I clamped all the strips together to avoid warping and twisting before assembly.
The next weekend I built the steam box from left over plywood, cut ash ribs and glued up the curved beams. My little benchtop table saw was struggling with the ash until I swapped out the 40 tooth blade for a 24 tooth blade.
I gathered my courage the following weekend to go outside to the garage to cut gunwales, stringers and the keel. Some garage cleaning was necessary to make room for set-up for 20′ table saw cuts. The set-up was awkward. But it kept my hands away from the blade. Let’s leave it at that. The deed is done. No pics.
Back to the basement. I spent another weekend clearing clutter to make room for a 20′ workspace. For the work table, I laid 3 six foot particle board panels (salvaged from a discarded storage closet) across 4 sawhorses. A month into the project and eager to start “Day 1” of the Skin-on-Frame Kayak Building Course.
I decided to shorten the F2 by 6″ in the bow, and 12″ between the stern seat and bow seat. This keeps the overall length to about 19′. Easier to store in the garage. The mods require new beam and rib placement measurements. The computations are elementary. Avoiding careless mistakes is hard.
I was thinking about ignoring the plans and using dowels instead of mortise and tenon joinery for deck beams. But my Festool domino machine would make quick work of the mortises, and the tenon cutting looks interesting.
I made a big mistake and cut the 25 degree angle deck beam mortises upside down. That was disheartening. The next weekend I plugged the mortises with modified Domino tenons and recut right side up.
I also messed up a curved deck beam by cutting it too short, and messed up a straight deck beam by cutting off the top of a tenon instead of bottom. I had made spare beams so it was only a minor setback.
Before pegging the beams, I tested to make sure I could get the finished kayak out of the basement. I could, so I pegged. After two weekends spent on joinery, I thought that there has to be an easier way to do this. I wrote Brian and he instantly posted a video on dowel joinery. I was simultaneously floored by his concern, and surprised to discover that I was wrong in assuming that dowel joinery is easier.
The next weekend I smoothed down the Kayak ends, fabricated the stems, cut down the pegs, marked, cut and filed down the ribs to fit the mortises, and got everything set up for steaming. Incidentally, I used a big hulking coarse hand file on the ends and ribs. It is easier It to control than a hand plane and faster than sand paper.
Steam bending was a months-long disaster –of my own making. After some trial and error, the bending time was about 10 minutes. But when I applied pressure to seat the ribs in the mortises and then tried to shape them while seated, the gunwales were splitting apart. I broke ribs and split gunwales for hours. Unlike my initial test ribs, the ribs were not getting soft enough to bend. Some rib areas were wet and some dry as if they had not even been steamed.
A few hours after I gave up, I finally figured out what went wrong. I had built the steam box out of cheap big box furniture grade plywood. The heat delaminated the inside layers. You can’t see that from outside the box. You must think inside the box. The delaminated plys were hanging down or bubbling up on the inside of the box, covering the ribs and blocking the steam.
The next weekend I built a new steam box out of solid pine. I continued breaking ribs. Turned out the pine warped so much from the steam that the joints came apart and too much steam was leaking out. I didn’t see that until it was too late because the box was covered with a towel.
For my next try, I built yet another steam box using exterior sheathing plywood. Not having learned from my mistake, again I did not see the joints come apart from the heat because again the box was covered with a towel. Many broken ribs later I finally rebuilt the steam box with many many more screws. Meanwhile, Brian sent me some new ribs. Unfortunately, once I got the ribs to bend, I had a hard time figuring out how much to bend them to transition from one to the next.
It took several tries over several weeks and several emails to Brian before I finally got the hang of shaping the ribs (I thought). I sent Brian some photos before skinning.
Brian gently broke the news that my ribs were too round. It might affect stability. There was no way to know until the test paddle. Rather than take any chances of building an unstable kayak, I suppressed the PTSD from my earlier steam bending disasters, cut the stems, keel and stringers free and re-steamed all the ribs except the first and last. It took a day to do it. But the kayak is stable so it was worth it. Plus, I moved the production outside and enjoyed the sun after a cold winter.
I decided on a rudder on the theory that it is easier to remove a rudder if you don’t need it than to install one after building if you do need it. This is my first kayak with a rudder, and the plans don’t cover it. I searched online, found the parts, and learned the meaning of the word gudgeon. I figured out a way to mount the hardware and shimmed the stern to fit.
After draping the nylon over the frame, I concluded that my plan modifications would cramp the rear paddler’s legs. I restored the deck beam between the cockpits. By this point I had no patience for complicated joinery. I still had a spare deck beam so I improvised. I cut it slightly oversized. Then I clamped it in place. To custom fit the deck beam ends I sanded them down. First I spray glued sand paper to a discarded curved deck beam ply I had cut too thin. Then I held the deck beam in place with one hand while I gently slid the sand paper strip back and forth between the gunwale and the beam a bunch of times with the other hand until the beam fit flush to the gunwale. I did the same on the other side. Then I made pilot holes and drilled 2 long stainless screws through each gunwale into the deck beam on each side. Quick, easy, custom fit and secure. No pegs necessary. If I could do it over, I would install all the deck beams this way – maybe with a little epoxy.
Dying, coating, and rigging were okay. It was hard to cut the nylon with so little margin for error. In one spot I cut too much and used Heat N Bond to patch in some extra nylon. Overall my sewing is ragged and ugly, but wrinkle free.
I recommend buying a lot more goop than suggested – at least double. The stuff is not fun to work with. Having a wide margin for error lets you ignore the instructions about conserving without having to order more when you run out. The rudder rigging required a little thought. Luckily it worked on the first try.
After I added a racing stripe with electrical tape – a trick I learned building Pygmy kayaks – my wife and I took a 10-minute test paddle. The kayak was stable. It turned without the rudder and turned easier with the rudder. The mats were comfortable. But a little water puddled under them.
The next weekend, I poured water into the kayak to discover the source of the leak. There was leakage where I screwed drywall screws into the stringers when coating, and more in the deck rigging holes. I plugged everything up with Aquaseal.
The Kayak was completed in mid-summer 2018. While I was busy building, my wife’s shoulder was busy complaining. After the test paddle, her doctor said no more paddling and ordered season ending (potentially career ending) surgery. The shoulder healed fine, but the recovery stretched through the 2019 season. Despite a lot of windy weekends and other obligations this year, we were able to finally get in a some paddles, and at long last, an action shot of the F2-LV (Geriatric Edition).
With that experience I offer the following performance observations, (a) the F2 is fast and easy to paddle, (b) tracking is acceptable without a rudder, but not great. I have no reason to blame the plans for that because I modified them, so all bets are off. Either way, it is a 20-foot boat, so I advise a rudder, especially if you do group paddling and don’t want to crash into your friends, and (c) my mods narrowed the kayak and lowered the gunwales closer to the water which makes it more comfortable for the shorter stature paddler. It is nonetheless stable and feels stable. Another satisfied customer.