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Building a Kayak - Should You?

Posted by Darren Bush on 2/16/2013 to Building Your Own Kayak

Should You?

An old friend of mine (the guy who taught me how to fly airplanes) used to say, when I was drooling over some hot homebuilt airplane, ďIf you want to build, build. If you want to fly, fly.Ē

The point was that getting into building an airplane because it would save you money alone was a bad idea. If youíre temperamentally inclined to constructing things, and you like tinkering around, AND you have the patience to wait five or six or ten years for your airplane to be done, well then so be itóget busy and build.

The same might be said of building boats. While the time commitment needed to build a boat may not be the same of that as an airplane, and I can guarantee itís not, it still represents a significant outlay of three things cash, time, and space. Letís address them one at a time.


This is probably the least painful of the three. Kits for a kayak usually run between $600 and $1200, depending on what you want to build. The larger, more elaborate boats with multiple hatches and bulkheads cost more, and are a little trickier to build.

It has been pointed out in several places (including the kit producersí literature), that their boats are lighter and stronger than fiberglass kayaks and cost a lot less. To be fair, thatís comparing apples and oranges. I wonít argue that itís not a good value, because if youíre willing to invest the time and space as well as money, it is a good value. But the chances of you getting something that is as nice as a professional boat builder is pretty remote unless youíre already a skilled carpenter or artisan.


As Ben Franklin said, ďTo love time is to love the stuff life is made of.Ē Building a boat requires a substantial time commitment. Most of the folks who produce kits give times of 60 to 80 hours. Thatís probably a pretty good measurement. If it doesnít sound like a lot, thatís 10 Saturdays, all day. And in reality, thatís not accurate because thereís a lot of waiting for things to dry or cure. Just be sure you donít take your free time and spend it doing something you donít really like just to save a few bucks. Or to put it another way, if you make $10.00 an hour, youíre going to spend $800.00 in time. Add that to the price of a kit and youíre in the ballpark for a new professionally-built boat.


Kayaks are big. Youíre going to devote a large amount of space to working on this project for at least a few months. Youíre going to be making a lot of dust and stinky resinous smells that will make their way into the house. And if you build in the basement, you better make sure you can get it out of there without creating a new access point. I have friends who had to put larger windows in their basements to get boats out because of poor visual-spatial skills (or just plain bad planning).

Now, lest you accuse me of being biased against building, Iíve built kayaks and canoes both, and I very much enjoy the process. Iím just letting you know thereís more to it than you might think, and you shouldnít look it primarily as a way to save money. It is a way to stretch yourself and learn new skills, get some slivers, and sit in a chair and stare at your creation, knowing that it started off as a few chunks of wood and some fiberglass cloth. Thereís no feeling quite like that.

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