Building a Cedar Strip Kayak from Scratch: A Tale of Adventure and Mastery


Embarking on the journey of constructing a strip kayak is an exciting endeavor. Before diving into this remarkable project, it’s crucial to explore the wealth of knowledge available. Ted Moores’ masterpiece, “Kayakcraft: Fine Woodstrip Kayak Construction,” proved to be an invaluable resource for me. Its pages brimmed with insights, laying the groundwork for my own creation.

Choosing the Perfect Design

After immersing myself in “Kayakcraft,” I found myself captivated by Bear Mountain Boats’ Resolute touring kayak. Measuring in at an impressive 16′ 5″, this vessel promised exceptional stability and catered perfectly to my size and weight. However, a critical decision awaited me: should I opt for a kit or tackle the construction from scratch?

The Appeal of Kits

Building from a kit provides a ready-made solution, offering a complete package with the exception of the strongback. A strongback, essentially a long, low table, serves as the foundation for the molds that shape the kayak. For those lacking extensive woodworking and fiberglassing experience, a kit boat is an excellent choice. It streamlines the process, enabling enthusiasts to dive straight into the joy of building.

Embracing the Challenge

Bolstered by my background as an amateur woodworker and my experience with fiberglass and WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy on my sailboat, I brimmed with confidence. The allure of constructing a strip kayak without a kit proved irresistible. Armed with full-size plans, I set off on my adventure, ready to unleash my creativity.

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Getting Started

The journey began with crafting the strongback, a meticulous process where precision is paramount. Each step demanded careful attention, as any inaccuracies would reverberate through the entire construction process.

Next, the molds took center stage. Transferring the plans onto plywood, I carved them out using a saber saw. Each mold found its place on the strongback, ensuring they aligned flawlessly. With a string as my guide, I confirmed their impeccable positioning. A batten aided in adjusting their height, establishing perfect vertical alignment.

Bringing the Hull to Life

The hull materialized first, a feat accomplished with the kayak inverted. Since my endeavor involved constructing the kayak from scratch, I procured 1″ x 6″ x 18′ cedar boards. These sturdy planks were transformed into 1/4″ strips, their edges meticulously routed to create a bead on one side and a cove on the other. Cedar, renowned for its lightweight properties, became my material of choice.

The internal stems, essential for maintaining the kayak’s structural integrity, took shape through bending cedar around dedicated stem molds. Epoxied together, they formed a robust foundation. As for the external stems, they assumed their form by bending Jatoba, a resilient Brazilian cherry wood, around the internal stems. Laminating thin 1/32″ strips of Jatoba, I created a durable and inflexible exterior.

Planking the hull required a delicate dance. With wood glue and scraps of cedar, I meticulously pieced together each strip. Patience was essential, as each plank had to be held in place with precision. No shortcuts were taken, ensuring the absence of nail holes that might mar the final masterpiece. The diligent process continued until all the strips were seamlessly integrated.

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It’s worth noting that excess wood glue needed immediate removal to allow the epoxy to penetrate the wood during the subsequent fiberglass application. Upon completing the planking, the external stems were attached and skillfully trimmed to shape.

To fortify the hull and ensure its longevity, I turned to the trusted combination of WEST SYSTEM 105 Resin® and 207 Special Clear Hardener®. This powerful duo provided the backdrop for applying 742 6 oz. fiberglass cloth.

With the hull cured and ready, I carefully flipped it over to embark on building the deck. Mirroring the hull construction process, I approached this stage with the same meticulous attention to detail. My only regret was not considering 740 4 oz. fiberglass for the lighter-weight deck during the planning phase.

The Final Flourishes

With the deck coated in 4 oz. fiberglass, I proudly lifted the hull, removing the molds that shaped it. The transformation neared completion. Now, my focus shifted to the interior and exterior fiberglassing of the hull, ultimately culminating in the deck’s seamless fusion with its inseparable partner.

Using a saber saw, I artfully carved out the cockpit and hatch, employing laminated pieces of 1/8″ mahogany plywood (commonly known as door skins) to bring them to life. To add a touch of elegance, walnut veneer adorned these components.

The final step entailed attaching a walnut shear, serving as a protective barrier and complementing the trim on other portions of this magnificent creation.

To complete the strip kayak, I meticulously applied nine coats of Cabot® Gloss Coat Spar Varnish with UV inhibitors. Each layer contributed to its lustrous finish, reinforcing its captivating allure. Between each coat, light sanding ensured a smooth surface, accentuating the beauty of the wood.

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The Fruit of My Labor

Upon completion, my strip kayak weighed in just under fifty pounds. However, a minor hiccup arose when I sought to acquire a seat. To my surprise, kayak companies weren’t willing to sell me one directly. Luckily, a local kayak rental company came to the rescue, providing a seat from their retired fleet.

The challenges of building a strip kayak were undeniable. My garage had temporarily transformed into a workshop, preventing my car from finding its rightful place. Additionally, yearly maintenance included varnishing out the inevitable scratches. However, the triumphs outweighed these minor inconveniences. The overwhelming sense of accomplishment and the admiration that surrounded this labor of love made every challenge worthwhile.

Cedar Strip Kayak

In conclusion, embarking on the journey of building a cedar strip kayak from scratch offers an unparalleled sense of adventure and fulfillment. Each step immerses you in the world of boat craftsmanship, enabling you to masterfully create a vessel that is uniquely yours.

To learn more about the art of kayak building and explore the incredible possibilities that lie ahead, visit UpStreamPaddle.