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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, “If you want to build, build. If you want to fly, fly.”

The point was that getting into building an airplane because it would save you money alone was a bad idea. If you’re 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 it—get 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 it’s not, it still represents a significant outlay of three things cash, time, and space. Let’s 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 producers’ literature), that their boats are lighter and stronger than fiberglass kayaks and cost a lot less. To be fair, that’s comparing apples and oranges. I won’t argue that it’s not a good value, because if you’re 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 you’re already a skilled carpenter or artisan.


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


Kayaks are big. You’re going to devote a large amount of space to working on this project for at least a few months. You’re 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, I’ve built kayaks and canoes both, and I very much enjoy the process. I’m just letting you know there’s more to it than you might think, and you shouldn’t 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. There’s no feeling quite like that.

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