How to Build Your Own Kayak

Posted by on Sep 30, 2022

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Kayaks are made out in a greater variety of materials than you probably realize. While most amateur boaters probably envision themselves skimming through the water in a cedar hull, many modern kayaks are made out of molded polyethylene. Plastic may not be an obvious choice for a DIYer, yet you can find plans to build a craft out of XPS Foam (extruded polystyrene) for about $100. Some amateur boatmakers fashion kayaks out of cardboard or plywood. Here, we show you a range of kayak-building techniques, starting with a traditional approach.

Once you make your kayak, you'll probably need a few accessories, like shoes, to go along with it. If so, check out see this article from Then you can continue down the stream.

Cedar Strip Kayak

The web is filled with free plans to make beautiful wood kayaks, very often created with an out shell of cedar wood strips. As Pask demonstrates in the above video, if you don’t want to buy the wood as strips, which can cost thousands of dollars, you’re going to need a table saw and lots of patience to cut down the wood. 

The inner frame for the boat can be built from plywood and many of the plans include templates that can be attached to the wood before sawing. If you want to get into the details that go into building a wood kayak, you’ll probably want to watch more videos and buy a couple of books (in addition to the tools you’ll need). Construction can take weeks, particularly if you’re new to the pastime and want to be careful and do things right. Once the frame pieces are cut and sanded, they’re attached to an aluminum beam that acts as a spine for the boat. Wood inner stems function almost like ribs that the cedar strips attach onto. The cedar strips attach to the frame with a combination of hot glue, wood glue and small nails. Plenty of duct tape comes in handy for keeping the strips in place. Some woodworkers use strips made out of different types of wood such as mahogany or oak to create a design in the boat. Inlay can also be utilized for more ornate decoration. 

Once the shell is complete, the wood strips are smoothed out with card scrapers and a power sander. A coat of fiberglass helps create a waterproof seal. The inside of the hull is also treated with epoxy and fiberglass. The cockpit is glued in place and the outside of the deck coated with fiberglass. 

Sometimes the deck and hull don’t match up, which can be quite scary after all that work. Still, a little packing tape and belts can help push and pull everything into place. The seam between the top and bottom gets glued and fiberglassed into place. After another round or two of sanding, the whole thing gets varnished. Watch the video and you’ll understand why you’ll need at least two weeks, likely longer, to build one.

$150 Spruce Kayak

If spending thousands of dollars to build a canoe seems a little overwhelming, you’re not the only one who feels that way. Felix Immler wanted to build a canoe, but not risk a lot of cash on a project he wasn’t sure he could finish. In the video above, you’ll see he bought 100 meters of spruce “roof battens” and decided to turn the low-cost wood into a canoe. 

Felix estimated he could build the boat in two days with the common tools everyone has in their workshop for about $150. His project would also require foaming adhesive (to close up the gaps between the wood) and boat varnish. Tools required: wood plane, power jigsaw, belt sander, and a range of clamps big and small. 

First, he glued several pieces together into a flat floor board (different from the typically curved bottom once sees in most canoes). Then he built a frame to support the interior. The video shows measurements for different parts of the canoe, but you’ll likely need to watch it several times to understand how the pieces come together. The two support frames are then glued onto the boat. The bow and stern of the boat are created by gluing together wedged pieces into a shaped point. The sides are developed by curing pieces of batten around the frames. More battens are blued on to increase the height of the walls. 

The belt sander comes in handy for smoothing down the pieces. Several coats of boat varnish are added on top. The finished result is kind of like a piece IKEA furniture,: simple, functional, but not the most impressive woodworking you’ve ever seen. 

Felix’s concept is solid, and even he admits improvements can be made. A woodworker with a little more experience and tools could likely turn the idea into a much more impressive looking kayak.

$100 PVC Kayak

If you don’t care about your kayak looking like a kayak, you can make a single person vessel with PVC pipe for about a Benjamin. That’s right, the tubing that often appears under sinks can also be the backbone for your next maritime getaway. In the above video, Amanda Rated Red explains how to create a water worthy rectangle out of eight feet of thick PVC tubing and a few T-bars to keep the rectangle stiff. You’ll need strong glue to keep all of the tubing together and possibly a little foam insulation so water doesn’t seep inside. 

The chair doesn’t need to be anything special. You can get a used cushion from an old outdoor coach or reuse something with a back from another small boat. This gets glued or screwed onto a piece of a couple of pieces of wood that are then screwed into the PVC. 

In the end, this kayak looks like it belongs more in a backyard pool than a stream or river, but if it’s built right, it should be able to stay afloat in calm water.