A COVID project was needed while being stuck at home because of the pandemic. Prior to the Covid, I was fixated on building a boat. I started off by purchasing plans for a plywood sailboat, then I quickly realized that I was way in over my head. I took wood-shop two years ago during my Freshman year of high school. With a basic knowledge of woodworking I searched again for a boat more in my comfort zone to build. I had been following Cape Falcon Kayaks on Instagram and found that I could get the F1 plans for free. This was truly helpful because I needed to purchase/find many of the tools and materials for the build. After a month and a half of scavenging for tools and needed materials I was able to begin the kayak. The plan was to build everything by myself from scratch.
I purchased the wood at Maurice L. Condon Co. Inc. in White Plains, NY. This was the only lumber yard where I was able to find everything I needed. I was overwhelmed by the amount of choices available. Brian’s directions were to pay close attention to grain orientation and quality of the boards. Limited by a budget, and the steep prices during Covid, I was forced to not build the boat from cedar. I decided that Douglas Fir would be a great alternative because of its strength and slight resistance to rot. The lumber yard had a pile of white oak which cleaned up nicely once planed [free of charge]. The two boards of Douglas Fir had to be strapped to the top of the car. Not interested in driving fifty miles with boards on the roof, I let my dad undertake the stressful journey. The wood acted as a sail as we drove over the Tappan Zee bridge. I was more than relieved when the wood made it home safely. To become familiar with my borrowed tools I constructed the 8ft workbench first.
My close friend helped support the wood as I ripped the boards into the correct dimensions. I was fortunate enough to end the day without losing any fingers. The wood prep was completed in one day and the build officially was started on December 30th, 2020.
LAMINATING THE DECK BEAMS
For this process I cut a four by four piece of cedar in half and reserved the other half to make a Greenland paddle. I cut five thin pieces of cedar and joined them together with gorilla glue. Somehow you can never have enough clamps!! I liked how the form for the deck beams allowed for all three to be done at once. Although, I could have used the scrap plywood from the coaming jig to make a single deck beam jig.
Making the Coaming
I decided to make the coaming instead of ordering a finished one from the Cape Falcon website. Understanding that I would gain necessary skills in steam bending, I knew it would become handy when it came to bending the ribs. I made the single lip coaming because the kayak won’t be used for any extreme conditions and it was the simplest route for me to take. Bending the first piece of oak around the form went smoothly and I was surprised how easily the wood took shape. I was confident that bending the coaming lip would be just as simple. The lip of the coaming wouldn’t shape around the top and I would later have a gap that would have to be filled. My tailors tape measure was too short and I feel this consequently made my measurements incorrect. The tails didn’t join together well and a small gap surrounded the entire coaming after hammering in the nails.
I have always been a perfectionist and it was hard for me to accept the coaming because it hadn’t met my expectations. I would soon come to learn that if I focused on perfecting every component of the project it would drive me crazy. In the beginning of the build I would venture into the garage every fifteen minutes to examine the flaws of my labor. After filling the gaps, I felt the coaming was presentable enough to use.
DRILLING THE MORTISES
I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow a brand new plunge router from a friend. The router would save hours of work and give me precise cuts that would prevent the gunwales from cracking out. The jigs for the router were the hardest part of this step. I made two different jigs, one for the straight mortises and one for the angled mortises. Although Brian claimed the angled jig wasn’t worth the trouble for a single boat, I felt that it would give me the precision I wanted. The jig was complicated to make, but I will always have it in case I make another boat.
FITTING THE DECK BEAMS
My gunwales didn’t quite align symmetrically when I lashed them together. I learned that this asymmetry was caused by the wood being warped. Instead of restarting the build, I forced the ends of the gunwales together and pegged them with dowels. This helped align them better but they still were not perfect.
The tenons for the deck beams were very simple to make; sharpening my chisels made the process much easier and enjoyable. The curved deck beams surprisingly fitted into the gunwales much easier than the straight ones towards the stern.
After fitting all of the deck beams, I decided to redo the two directly behind the cockpit. The angle of the gunwales were funky so their was a small gap where the tenon met the mortise. I am not a heavy kid so it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the tenons were not flush. But for peace of mind when sitting behind the cockpit, I did my best to refit them. I then pegged the deck beams to secure them from shifting.
PREPPING THE RIBS
Finding the right white oak for the steam bending process was the hardest part of the build. I felt that New Jersey would have plenty of lumber yards/ sawmills where I could find green white oak. Who knew that I would be totally wrong and spend three months trying to solve this issue. The cost of materials was already so high and I didn’t want to have ribs shipped across the country. My contractor table saw wasn’t accurate in the cuts and ruined my first board of oak. It wasn’t until I cut all the ribs that I noticed the blade was on a slight angle. The next board came from a local sawmill and was relatively cheap. I had a friend cut the board up into the right dimensions. The grain orientation and everything else seemed on point until I started to bend them. Since it was winter I was worried the ribs were cracking because of the cold air. I tried many different steaming times but the quality of the wood just was not right for steam bending. In the end my rib graveyard was big enough to build a house and my hands were slightly burnt from the hot wood.
In a last ditch effort I contacted Brian to purchase some bending oak. My luck must be awful because Covid had caused a lumber shortage and he had none available. He recommended I contact Josh at J.W. Swan and Sons. He was more than helpful and I quickly received a package of around thirty beautiful ribs in the mail.
BENDING THE RIBS
I found that steaming great quality bending stock is really enjoyable. This had to be my favorite part of the build because the boat took shape extremely fast. The day I shaped the ribs was one of my most productive days. I started by test bending the first and most difficult rib. To my surprise I got it on the first try and was able to proceed bending the other twenty ribs. I had enough time left at the end to tie both of the stringers on and the keel. Parts including the gunwales, stringers, keel, and stems are lashed to the boat with artificial sinew. This lashing is very strong!!
FINISHING THE FRAME
Lastly, I tied the stern and bow stems to the boat. I then chose to peg and glue the secondary stringers to the gunwales. I brought the stringers of the stern down with a cam strap because I didn’t have the clamps necessary for that step. This worked much better than I thought it would. The goal is not to break the entire boat!! The foredeck stringer I previously cut out was warped so I cut a new one. The new one was warped so I then cut another one. Before I knew it I was out of Douglas fir so I made do with what I had and was able to tie it straight. I oiled the frame with Watco danish oil and waited a week before the skinning process.
SKINNING THE KAYAK
I ordered the 850 Xtra-Tuff fabric from Corey at skinboats.org. I bought a soldering iron to cut the fabric because a regular hot knife was out of my price range. My first cuts with the iron were ok but the skin started to stick to the blade and it became useless. I desperately made a trip to harbor freight where I was able to find a regular hot knife for $25. This made the rest of the skinning process a breeze.
I was not intimidated by sewing the skin because at an early age my grandmother taught me how to knit. The stitching was very simple and I was pleased with how the stern and the bow came out. My sister was “happy” enough to help pin the skin to the stern as I laid on my back and stretched it. I then flipped the boat over and tightened the skin around the frame of the boat using string and sewed up the excess fabric. My hands were raw from tightening the thread, make sure all the bad wrinkles were out of the fabric. Lastly, I centered the coaming and stitched it on.
DYING AND SHRINKING
Looking through Instagram I found the post of Brian’s new sweet potato color. I wanted the boat to stand out but at the same time allow light to show through the frame. Orange is my favorite color so it perfectly matched what I was looking for. The dye went on super easy and the scary wrinkles that I was worried about disappeared. The boat became drum tight and the color was excellent.
COATING THE KAYAK
The boat was coated in a two part polyurethane ordered from the skin boat store. I made sure to get a full and a half order. I ended up needing the half order for the three total coats the boat has. The coated skin is remarkably durable and I am not worried about running into any issues. The coating went on thick then began to cure very fast. I did end up with some bubbling in the coating but it isn’t very noticeable.
The deck lines were definitely the hardest part of the build. Being 120 pounds and a distance runner, means that I don’t have great upper body strength. I was able to get the deck lines directly in front of the bow through, but after hours of pulling my body was too sore to continue. For the first time during the build I actually had to ask for assistance. With help from my dad we were able to muscle the lines through the holes; insuring that their wouldn’t be any leakage. For the time being I will have to live without a back-band until I find something suitable.
After six months of hard work and patience, I am more than happy with the results. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the people who lended me their tools and for my father who helped make this a reality. Luckily, I live about three miles from the closest lake and didn’t have to worry about transporting the boat. I was joined by my friends and family who were intrigued to see the boat launched. I received plenty remarks like, “what if the boat sinks” or “are you sure the boat is going to float”. Before this question was answered I wanted to give the boat a name. I named it Sandy after my grandfather who sadly passed away last year. He owned many boats during his life and I know he would have enjoyed to see this one. All of my anxiety left when I took the first stroke. The boat tracked very well and the secondary stability was great. I could almost feel the water pass under me as I was paddling. The light shone through the skin almost like a lampshade. Everyone was amazed by the F1’s beauty and maneuverability. This experience will truly be a moment I cherish for the rest of my life.