- Brian’s course is one of the superlative things in this world.
- You can do it.
- You should do it.
How I got into this and my experience
Being new to sea kayaking, I wanted a boat that was as light, simple, and manageable possible, so it was either spend a ton or build one, and I chose the latter. I’d never done any actual woodworking until this project. Yes, my kayak floats and it goes in a straight line.
My kayak and frame features
- 125 size
- Bungee/catamaran rear rigging
- Drain plug (not yet installed)
- Action cam (not yet installed)
I live in Seattle but my boat was made in the Bay Area where I had access to tools and a garage (thank pandemic work arrangement as well). I spent what seems like a small fortune at Macbeath Hardwood in Berkeley. I’m embarrassed what I paid per board foot but it was the only place I could find the lengths of red cedar. I’m really lucky to have an amazing brother-in-law whose saws, saw training, garage, and minivan made my kayak possible. Here he is next to my cedar purchase:
Forms, deck beans, and gunwales
The prep work was a nice build up, especially for a wood working noob like me. Spending time to make the jigs and forms gives you an appreciation of the process you’re about to undertake and that you have a long way to go.
When your kayak first emerges
It’s a special moment when you first spread your gunwales and secure your deck beams. It’s your first sense of the scale, structure, and beauty of your kayak. This is also the time you’ll worrying about every imperfection in symmetry. Treasure how not dinged up your gunwales look now.
I bought my ribs from JW Swans and Sons who I recommend. The ribbing may seem scary, but if you do exactly what Brian says and pay close attention to the shapes he talks about, you will be just fine. Enjoy the process, there’s something slightly artistic about getting the rib shapes right. Mess it up? Just re-steam them–I did several the next day and it worked out fine. Take your time testing and tuning how the ribs fit.
Not perfect, but the boat floats and pretty much goes in a straight line.
Finishing the frame
This was quite possibly my favorite part of the build. There’s something special about putting on the stringers: you will learn the magic of spring clamps and the satisfaction of the lever-pull action to set the rear chines is super satisfying–one of those soul defining moments of the F1 design.
You’ll ask yourself whether you should really skin it or not…
Sewing the skin
Sewing the skin was more frustrating than I had anticipated and was the one part of the process where I kept thinking I was doing something wrong as the work Brian does in video looks so perfect. I had a lot more ripples than I thought I should, and a lot of extra material bunched up in the center of the kayak. As always, you’ll probably be just fine. The stitching becomes meditative and satisfying, but do yourself a favor and make a guide for your lacing spaces–the lacing and the stitching is such a beautiful part of the boat and another one of those soul defining moments when it’s all done.
Dying and Coating
I chose to acid dye sweet potato, and it was by far the worst part of the process. It is horribly messy and permanently staining. I cursed every second of it and it was a huge mess. Take your time to really make sure you cover up your work area properly, that you don’t dip your brush too far in to melt the adhesive of the foam to the handle. While I was relieved that the ironing really stretches out the skin, the boat came out a pastel, uninspired light orange color. I was hugely disappointed–after all that work, had I not mixed dye properly and created a vomit colored kayak? Once again–things will be dine: the polyurethane refracts the light in a way that deepens and evens out the color. The raw nylon itself almost has a directional nature.
Kayak is born
I sat with my kayak for a good 45 minutes like a new born after the final coat and clean up. Another kayak-soul moment.
So you think you’re almost done….
…and then decklines. And rigging. I’m not sure if my decklines were cut slightly fatter than they should have been, but they were a total b@#$ to pull through. I ended up wrapping them around some dowel off cuts and pulled for deer life. Pretty sure Brian is cheating in the video somehow. That said, you’ll get it done eventually.
Frame building thoughts/blunders
- If you can get your lumber planed to 11/16ths out of the gate, you’ll save a lot of time.
- I’d buy ribs again from JW Swan Boatworks, but instead of 25, I’d get 30 and do a very precise (though sacrificial) steam time test.
- The 25 degree mortice jig is fun to make and worth it; do what Brian says and lubricate your mortice jigs so they slide easily
- I thought I needed to shorten a rib and when I did, it met the keel but not the stringers. Another listen to Brian when he says don’t over-do it. I just shimmed it and it was fine.
- While building stems, when Brian says use a sharpie and cut inside/outside on a particular line, do it. Do not be like me and use a pencil and cause a lot of manual refinement.
- Cutting precise tenons was the hardest part of the frame build, especially when you must match a specific plane with a razor saw. Take your time and really learn how a razor saw works.
Skinning and coating thoughts
- It wasn’t apparent to me that the reason you push down the combing *tight* and strap it in before sewing it is that is takes up slack in the nylon when it pops back to shape after you release the straps
- When cutting the cloth using the stringer guides, I had a buddy hold the nylon while I cut it, and even with Brian’s express advice, my buddy still held the cloth too taught which left me with very little overlap.
- Because you’re folding a rectangular cloth over a tapered form, you’ll end up with what feels like saggy extra cloth in the middle of the boat. It’ll shrink out.
- If you acid dye, the dye will look drab and you’ll ask yourself, did I just turn this beautiful thing into a pastel nightmare? Don’t worry–when you coat it, the color will come out.
- Acid dye can be a horrible, permanent mess. Take precautions. I’m definitely trying pigment the next time around.
- The skinboats.org kit comes with some foam rollers but not a handle–try to use them. I ended up using a different roller that was larger, and the initial soak up was material enough that I could not achieve a half hull coat. If that happens to you, just keep going, you’ll be fine, but try to use size of roller in that kit.
- The shop vac is the best power tool.
- The course and Brian are amazing (and clearly Liz is, too, if you learn about how much she supports).
- I will build at least one other Cape Falcon Kayak sometime in the future.