Step 1: Materials
8 oz nylon is available from George Dyson (360) 734-9226.
#10 canvas I don't have a source for, but art supply stores seem to handle it. Check the internet for sources.
I have lately been using mostly 8 oz nylon fabric. It is strong, easy to work with and lasts a long time. I have used heavier nylon fabric, but it is too strong and if the boat is left in the sun, the skin shrinks and warps the frame. Before you buy skin, measure your boat. It will be longer than 16 feet with the stem and stern boards in place. Width of the fabric should be sufficient to circle the boat in the cockpit area. If you can only get fabric in 48 inch width, you might have to sew some patches in the cockpit area. Buy a foot more material than the length of your boat.
In the past, I have used cotton canvas. If you use it in salt water, it can last a decade, but in fresh water, canvas starts rotting out after a few years and you either have to keep busy patching or replacing the skin within 5 years.
Thread - I use a nylon thread because it will not tear while I am sewing. With cotton canvas, I have used a cotton polyester blend string.
Varnish or Paint - On cotton canvas, I used to use house paint. With nylon, I have been using exterior polyurethane varnish. The varnish makes the skin translucent and the yellowish color of the varnish also gives the skin a natural sealskin look. Be sure to get exterior varnish. Interior varnish lacks UV protection additives and if you leave your boat in the sun, the skin will start to degrade.
Step 2: Tools
1 curved sewing needle
Soldering or wood burning pencil with a sharp tip - If you use nylon or other synthetic fabric, use a hot soldering pencil to cut the material. Cutting with a scissors leave lots of frayed edges since the nylon threads are so slippery.
Scissors if you're using plant fiber skin
Step 3: Drape Your Fabric Over the Inverted Boat
Drape the fabric over the inverted boat. Center it left to right and front to back. You should have a little overhang on each end. If the fabric is just barely long enough, don't worry, it will stretch. If not, you can always patch some on the ends.
Step 4: Sew Around the Bow
Step 5: Stretch the Skin Lengthwise
Step 6: Sew a Pocket at the Stern
Step 7: Pin the Skin Down the Keelson
Step 8: Lace Up the Deck
Repeat this process for the back half of the boat
Step 9: Trim Excess Fabric
For now, the cockpit will be completely covered. We will trim it up when we're done sewing the center seams.
Step 10: Install the Bow and Stern Decklines
Step 11: Sew Up the Seam
If you are right handed, overlap the left flap of fabric over the right hand flap. Right and left as you're facing the direction you are sewing in.
The stitch you will be using is a simple spiral like the spiral at the edge of a spiral notebook. Stick the needle in the right flap, come out at the left of the seam with the thread going under the center gap and come out on top on the left of the gap. This is easiest to do with a curved needle.
As you are sewing, try to grab enough fabric on each stitch from each side of the seam so that you are tightening up the fabric as you go. Excess fabric will roll over on itself to make a nice tight seam.
Sew from the stern up to about 3 inches into the cockpit. Tie off your thread.
Repeat the procedure for the front deck starting at the bow and sewing into the cockpit
Step 12: Trim Up the Cockpit Area
Step 13: Sew the Coaming to the Skin
The best way to maintain equal tension on the skin as you are sewing is to work with two needles and start sewing in the front center of the coaming and working in both directions. Sew about 4 inches in one direction and then 4 inches with the other needle in the other direction. This way tensions will be balanced and you won't be pulling the coaming off center.
Starting on the inside of the coaming, sew through the underside of the skin flap, run the needle out the nearest hole in the coaming, run the thread through the next hole, into the top of the skin, back through the bottom of the skin and back into the next hole in the coaming. Repeat until you have gone halfwaw around the cockpit. As you are sewing, you will be pulling the flap of skin on the inside of the coaming up toward the coaming. As you are sewing you will be building up tension in the skin. To relieve some of the tension, cut slits in the skin flap up to within an inch of the coaming.
Keep sewing until you end up at the back center of the coaming with both threads.
Step 14: Trim Off Excess Skin
Step 15: Sew Another Pass on the Cockpit Coaming
Now sew another pass around the coaming, so that the thread will cover the gaps between the holes that weren't covered on the first pass.
As you sew, bend down the excess 1/2 inch of fabric and sew through it as you go in and out of the holes in the coaming.
As before, use two needles and work down both sides of the coaming.
When you reach the front center of the coaming, tie off the threads and trim them.
Step 16: Wet Down the Skin
Step 17: Paint the Skin
I generally find two coats to do the job. Sometimes a third coat is needed on the bottom of the boat to completely fill the weave and make the skin smooth. The first coat will soak up quite a bit more varnish than the second coat. Follow the manufacturer's suggestions on painting. For polyurethane, you want to apply subsequent coats a few hours after the previous coat so the subsequent coats will bond to the previous coats. If the previous coat is allowed to cure completely, you might want to sand before applying the next coat. Look out for drips.
Step 18: Install Deck Lines Around the Cockpit
Step 19: Install Rub Strips at the Bow and Stern
Use small dowels like bamboo barbecue skewer size or small brass screws to attach the rub strips. Pre-drill the holes. Put a dab of sealant between the rub strip and the keelson at each hole before attaching the rub strip. The sealant will prevent leakage.
Step 20: Congratulations, You're Done!
If you've never paddled before, get some instruction on water safety.
Always wear a pfd (life vest)
Install floatation in the bow and stern of the boat.
Get a spray skirt for the boat to seal around the cockpit.
When paddling in cold water, wear a wet suit or a dry suit. Always dress for the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air