Instructables

Build a Greenland Kayak

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This instructible will teach you how to build a 17 foot long Greenland kayak that will weigh between 30 and 40 pounds and cost less than $300 in materials. Compare that with the 45 to 60 pound weight and $1000 to $3000 of a commercial plastic kayak.

The Greenland kayak is one of dozens of different Arctic kayak designs that uses skin on frame technology. In skin on frame technology you build a lightweight frame by pegging and lashing together pieces of wood and then covering the frame with a skin. The result is a boat that is light and yet strong.

Total time to build a Greenland boat the first time around is about 100 hours. That doesn't count time spent buying or collecting materials.

This instructible is fairly long so I've broken it up into a number of sections.Besides this intro, there will be the following sections.
Preparing the gunwales
Building the deck
Adding the keelson, stem and stern
Adding the ribs
Adding the hull and deck stringers
Sewing on & painting the skin

Skin on frame building is fairly easy and does not require either fancy tools or great wood-working skills. Skin on frame boat builders in the Arctic were hunters first and boatbuilders second. Everybody built their own boat. There were no professional boat builders and so the technology was at a level that was accessible to everyone.

And for pictures of more Greenland kayaks in action go to the qajaqusa website.
 
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OruKun2 years ago
Its a sad day to have to tell you... but they no longer offer any woodshop, or garage/workshop of tha nature in most public schools anymore.... Well the ones in the cities that are drastically cutting budgets. But Id renttools from Ace hardware... But Im in the proccess of making one out of pvc to check if its similarly as strong as wood, Im concluding it wont, but im doing it just to have a kayak without having to deal with more than 4 tools... And to explore options, gotta love options on materials to use.
wayman29 OruKun10 months ago
I am currently doing this also. Let me know how yours turned out. Testing one today. See above comment.
wayman2910 months ago
for those asking about canvas, I picked up a Blue Hawk 10oz 15 X 4ft drop cloth at my local hardware store for about $20.00. I am currently constructing a 10ft stretch kayak out of PVC pipe using the ideas of the Greenland frame. So far the cost has been about 100.00 including beer. We used zip ties for lashing and found it easier to make corrections in the framing by simply snipping them. We also used a candle to warm the plastic to bend the 3/4 in. PVC ribs. Testing it out later with some plastic wrapped around it. If this works I may go longer and try a 14 ft. Thanks for these directions and comments! They were most helpful. When I learn how to cut a straight line I'll try a wood one some day.
Last year I bought all the wood I need to build this kayak. It's quite hard to find the right wood in my area (The Netherlands) and especiallly the better quality. Nevertheless I found some reasonable good pieces and the guys from the lumber yard helped me out great by doing much of the sawing. So I was pretty much all set to start building... until I found out that both two pieces of wood for the gunwales broke in half on one big *ss knot. Now I could go to the whole proces again and search for some better pieces of wood. Or I could try to solve this with some high-tech fixing... I was thinking like a proven connection method for wood combined with some epoxy/glass. What do you guys think, any chance of working out OK?
nativewater (author)  wintergreens1 year ago
The accepted way to fix or to simply make longer pieces of wood out of shorter ones is to scarf them. Search for scarf joints on the internet. Here is a typical link.
http://www.glen-l.com/supplies/pxman-apscarf.html
Be sure you have at least an 8 to 1 ratio of overlap to the thickness of your wood for a secure structural joint. This is for a face to face scarf. If you have deep gunwales, say 3-1/2 inches deep, you can also do edge to edge scarfs which require no glue. You can see one of these here.
http://www.boatdesign.net/forums/boat-building/scarf-strength-question-40707.html
The only problem with scarfing is that you lose some length due to the overlap.
I would not attempt to do a butt joint and glass over that because it will most likely break again. I would also avoid doing a butt joint and glue a facing piece of wood over the joint because that would change the stiffness of the piece in that region.
uglycitrus1 year ago
I finished building a kayak according to your instructables, and it's awesome. Thanks again for the diligence you put into this instructable. Unfortunately this is now my first time kayaking, and I can't figure out how to eskimo roll. Any advice on learning how? I feel like maybe my legs and hips might have too much room so snapping my hips isn't working. Any suggestions on what to use for padding? I was thinking about cutting up some noodles and putting those on the back rest, knee rest, and some where down by my hips.
nativewater (author)  uglycitrus1 year ago
check youtube or http://qajaqusa.org/Movies/movies.html for some rolling videos. Yes, foam noodles can be used to pad out your boat.
Thanks!
What Kayak would you recommend building for The lower American river in Ca. The river is mainly class 1 and 2 with occasional class 3. This Kayak would be for my 11 y/o son. We would like to make it together.
nativewater (author)  toddchristensen2 years ago
I would recommend something like this boat, a ten footer.
http://wolfgangbrinck.com/boats/tales/playboat.html
Thank you for the recommendation. How do you compare the skin kayak to the stitch and glue type. Is there any advantage or disadvantage to either method?
nativewater (author)  toddchristensen2 years ago
plywood might be more resistant to beating on rocks. Aside from that, stitch and glue requires plans or a pattern or some experience in developing patterns for cutting out the plywood. After that it's a bunch of fiberglassing, sanding and varnishing. That might be enjoyable but I don't know since I've never tried it.
Skin on frame designs can be modified on the fly since you fit each new piece to what is already there. Very little detailed design work is required. Also very little epoxy and sanding.
Sharp_Tack2 years ago
Nice!
franztek733 years ago
Thanks for posting. I used your technique for shaping the gunwales on my kayak and it worked beautifully. Total cost for my Kayak was around $60 thanks to some freecycling.
nativewater (author)  franztek733 years ago
Great price. $60 is probably close to a record low cost.
actually i'm making a similar one for about $5 with a plastic bag skin and some scrap wood
Thanks a lot man! Being in the process of thinking ahead it seems usefull to me to create some kind of mounting point, something like a tripod mount. This to mount several things on as I do on my bike (e.g. bottle, light, map, gps, compass etc.) I wonder what other peoples thoughts are and how this can be accomplished and/or already has been done.
nativewater (author)  wintergreens2 years ago
The kind of mount you use depends on where you paddle. Check with what other people in your area are doing if there are any doing kayaking. In surf or rough water, stuff on deck becomes a liability and can easily get washed off. But in more benign conditions mounting stuff on deck is doable. Since the skin is flexible, any kind of deck mount should be supported by some kind of framework under the skin.
Thanks a lot for this wonderful guide! What are your thoughts on using 'balistic nylon' as skin material?
I'm very impressed by the durability of BALLISTIC nylon (8 oz):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYyvIExWkqU
The skin is sealed with a two-part polyurethane.

Are other skin types (regular nylon / polyester) as durable as ballistic nylon? What kind of coating is used for polyester? Thanks.
nativewater (author)  wintergreens2 years ago
durability is more or less a function of weight. Ballistic nylon is called that because they used to use it for flack jackets. They now use kevlar. The two part urethane will work on polyester as well. Polyester has less stretch than nylon so will not move out of the way of impact as readily as nylon. But you can go with heavier weights of polyester without worrying about shrinking skin warping the frame. You need to be careful with nylon in excess of 8 oz.
nativewater (author)  wintergreens2 years ago
yes, nylon works. I've used it. 8oz is a good weight. Nylon expands when wet and cold and contracts when warm. So it loosens up when in the water. This works against it. Corey Freedman and George Dyson both sell nylon. You can search for them on the internet.
Polyester is more stable but harder to work with because it has no stretch. So you have to sew some darts in the skin to get it to cover the kayak without wrinkles. You can shrink polyester with heat before you paint it. Once in place, the polyester does not expand and contract as much as the nylon, so that's good.
landsharkxx3 years ago
Can I fish in it? Also would aligators be a problem?
nativewater (author)  landsharkxx3 years ago
you can probably fish from any kayak although you would probably want a fairly wide and stable kayak for fishing.
I have no experience with aligators and cannot tell you whether they would be a problem.
anyusername3 years ago
Thanks, a lot for your articles. i'll start this project very soon. Just wonder something: does the model include any kind of seat or at least backrest?
Greetings from Chile
nativewater (author)  anyusername3 years ago
I use a foam rubber mat as a seat. My back is supported by the back of the coaming. But some people install back bands for extra support.
search for kayak back band and you will see lots of samples like this:

http://www.coloradochaps.com/kayak_accessories.html
After about three months and ~400$, mine is done!

http://i339.photobucket.com/albums/n461/julieandcandy/76986_1609303625744_1030826900_31648388_2363298_n.jpg

I have to say this project is within reach of anyone who knows which end to hold a handsaw by. I can't wait to make another one!
nativewater (author)  armored bore3 years ago
Nice job. and it floats.have fun.
nativewater (author) 3 years ago
I don't have time to do a canoe instructable right now, but it's a good suggestion. You might also want to search on the name Tim Anderson. He has an instructable on a skin on frame outrigger canoe.
jweirs3 years ago
Would you mind making an instructable for that canoe? I'd love to make one but I can't quite figure out how to skin it.
nativewater (author)  jweirs3 years ago
The skin on open boats was usually stretched over the gunwales. A seam was necessary only at the bow and stern. The edges of the skin were laced to a batten attached to the ribs on the inside of the boat. Leather laces were run through holes in the edge of the skin.
Fabric works a little differently. You could tack it to the outside of the gunwale and trim it flush at the top, then screw or nail a batten to cover the tacks. This is how wood and canvas canoes were covered.
In the canoe pictured, I attached the skin by putting grommets to the edge of it and lacing it to the batten on the inside of the hull. See here for some pictures:
http://wolfgangbrinck.com/boats/tales/ojibwaycanoe.html
Aside from the bending portions for the gunwales and ribs, this looks very doable even for an amateur like me! How hard do you suppose it would be to add a mount for a canopy? I'd love to make one for my wife, and that would be a great addition to protect her from the wrath of the Flame Orb (or "Sun" as it's popularly called)
nativewater (author)  armored bore3 years ago
adding a canopy mount wouldn't be that hard. But if you added a canopy to the boat, you would have to make the boat wider, probably thirty inches plus so the wind doesn't knock the boat over. or you might want to add an outrigger to the kayak or inside ballast. The Greenland kayak in its original configuration is relatively unstable so adding a canopy without modifying the basic design would be an invitation for disaster. Keep in mind that a skin on frame kayak is very light and narrow compared to traditional wooden boats so adding any superstructure would raise the center of gravity to unstable heights.
My dad built one of these canoes; held up great until we scraped on a rock in a reservoir--thank god for duct tape! We've been talking about making a pair of kayaks, I will definitely keep this ible in mind! Thanks!
nativewater (author)  starrydynamo4 years ago
modern materials are pretty tough.  And duct  tape is always a fallback. Skin on frame has its limitations, but overall, very good technology.

I don't like the idea of taking this through rapids.
nativewater (author)  Quiksilver26936 years ago
It's a sea kayak. It's too long for rivers. You want a short plastic boat for rapids, one that turns easily. But before there were plastic boats, people used to take fiberglass boats on rivers. Skin on frame is at least as strong as that construction. So theoretically, you could build a skin on frame river kayak. But nobody bothers because plastic can take more abuse.
Robert Morris also has some whitewater skin on frame kayaks. One of which, the alaskan retrieval, I'm currently in the process of "skinning" using a thick canvas, instead the suggested 15 oz nylon.
nativewater (author)  graeme.t.cooper4 years ago
Yeah, that's a nice little boat. I built one for my wife but she doesn't like that it turns on a dime and takes effort to keep going straight. Soon as I get a chance, I'm going to add a skeg to it so it tracks better. You can make one of these at about 20 pounds. Very easy to carry and accelerates quickly. Has no glide but will go up to 4.5 mph. 15 oz nylon seems like overkill. Does Morris really recommend that? I've been using 8 oz more recently since the heavier stuff tends to warp frames when it shrinks in hot weather. But if you do river boating, heavier fabric might be good for beating the boat into rocks.
ya, for the "canadian" canoe and the recovery/retrieval kayaks, he recommends the heavier nylon for rocks and branches and what-not. I have canvas kickin around, so I'm gonna be cheap and use that instead.
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