Ballpark Estimate: $1,000 to $1,400
Building a kayak is less a matter of money and more one of time. The biggest payoff is that there’s no route to fine boat ownership that is more satisfying and more economical than paddling a kayak you built yourself.
Workspace for Building
To start, you’ll need a workroom: a basement, garage or carport, or even a spare bedroom. Measure your workspace room: you’ll need an area at least six feet longer and six feet wider than the kayak you plan to build. Next you’ll need to check that you can get your kayak out of the workshop after you’ve built it. This sounds obvious, but it also happens to be a common (and painful) mistake- the proud builder whose kayak becomes a piece of furniture because it won’t fit through the hall.
So be sure to measure your doors and windows to check whether they’re large enough — and widely-angled enough —for you to get the kayak out. Likewise check corners or hallways for sufficient pivot and swing room, especially if you build in a basement or a corner.
What Type of Kayak?
The next decision is the type of kayak you want to build.
There are two main choices: strip- built, the more labor-intensive method, and stitch and glue, the more straightforward method and cheaper by about $400.
There are fundamental differences between the two, yet both yield durable, lovely, lightweight boats.
Strip-built kayaks require fastening long and narrow, tight-grained cedar strips, about ¾” by ¾” square and 4’ to 12’ long, to a set of frames attached to a long length of wood called a strongback.
The results are always beautiful. Typically, a strip-builder will use red and white cedar; by placing contrasting strips against one another other, he or she creates intricate shadings and patterns limited only by the builder’s eye and sense of design.
Then after covering the kayak in fiberglass and cutting the boat in half, lengthwise, to remove the frames, a strip-built is done. A strip-built kayak is a fairly involved project that costs about $1,500 plus the cost of a few tools — a sander, a saw or two, a good block plane and a sharpening stone.
Among designers and kit manufacturers, Newfound Boatworks stands out for its variety of designs and a-la-carte pricing schedules on kits and raw materials.
For your time and effort, you’ll be well rewarded: strip-builts weigh about 25% less, and are many hundreds of times more beautiful, than the lightest, carbon-fiber kayak selling for $3,000 or more. Your kayak will be also be remarkably seaworthy: most strip designers are not only designers but experienced sea kayakers to boot.
The second building option is less time-consuming and more straightforward. It’s called stitch-and-glue.
To build a stitch-and-glue, you take panels of 3 to 4mm-thick marine plywood, called okume, that have been cut into lightweight forms. After epoxying (gluing) the sections together, you get down to work.
First you stitch the sections together with copper wire to form the rough shape of the boat. Then you bend the panels into the boat’s precise shape by placing, within the hull, two forms which also serve as the kayak’s bulkheads.
The entire outer surface of the hull is then fiberglassed — a straightforward if messy job — and sanded. You’ll want a high-quality random orbital sander and lots of sand paper. The kayak is then painted or varnished or both.
Like strip-builts, stitch-and-glue kayaks are beautiful: After varnishing, their plywood’s figures, swirls and waves attain a deep, lustrous glow.
Building costs for a stitch-and-glue kayak: about $1,000. Expect savings of about twenty percent if you buy only a set ol plans and hunt down the plywood, fiberglass, epoxy and supplies on your own.
Three designers stand out: Pygmy Kayaks of Washington State, whose designs take a little longer to build; Chesapeake Light Craft of Maryland, which specializes in intermediates’ boats; and Roy Folland Designs of Canada.
All three support vibrant online builders communities. All three also provide laudable levels of technical support via email, phone and detailed construction manuals.
To build your own lightweight kayak: $1,000 to $1,400 plus the cost a few basic tools and the willingness to go for it.