I decided to build a kayak out of cardboard using a plywood lamination technique in order to make the cardboard strong enough. Basically cardboard has a grain like wood, so you just change the grain direction with each layer, like they do when they make plywood, and viola, you have "plyboard".

As a cautionary note to those of you ambitious enough to try this yourself, know that it takes ALOT of time, effort, and planing. I managed to go from model and blueprint to full kayak in just 4 days, but know that I lost ALOT of sleep staying up late to laminate layers of cardboard layers, and there were several features that I simply did not have enough time to construct. I spent a few weeks in preparation scrounging around cardboard dumpsters looking for large, pristine (pristine is KEY as we learned) double layer (two layers thick) cardboard. You need ALOT of cardboard, the sheet used to make my kayak measured 6 ft wide by 10 feet long. With four layers to it, thats 240 square feet of cardboard!

Also, you need a large flat space on which to construct your plyboard.

Anyways, the great thing about making your own kayak is that you can make it to any specifications you want, and add any feature you want as well. My brother for instance, said he would have made a flat backed kayak so that he could put a trolling motor on his..... go nuts!

Also, you really REALLY need at least two people to build one of these, three is much better/easier. I was lucky enough to have the help of my Dad, my best friend, and my brother at times....

Enough disclaimer, lets get into the build process!

Step 1: Tools of the Cardboard Kayak Trade....

You will need:

1 gallon of waterproof wood glue - 16-18$ @ Home Depot
paint roller - dollar store is fine, as cheap as you can get it, i got a nice combo pack at family dollar for 8$
paint tray - same as above
paint tray liners (3 or 4 is best) -same as above
good utility knife and lots of fresh sharp blades
skill saw with a fine toothed blade
140 or so bottles of beer, water, or any other small, relatively light weights
aprox. 300 sq feet of pressure sensitive adhesive backed vinyl (glorified contact paper)
masking tape
chalk line

Drywall square

The vinyl item is a tricky one, you MAY be able to find it by finding a local print shop that specializes in truck or vehicle wraps, and asking them if they have any bad, damaged or miss-printed rolls. It is just the waterproofing layer, so it just needs to be free of holes...

Also, i tested an alternative method of waterproofing, which is much more readily available. Helmsman Spar Polyurethane, make sure its for exterior and waterproof, i almost bought the interior stuff by mistake. Anyways, a couple LIBERAL coats of that (two is the absolute minimum, 3 or 4 is MUCH better) would work just fine. As i was pressured for time (i procrastinate, what can i say?) i opted for the vinyl, and as my father an I both work at a company that manufactures and designs billboard printers, coming by a few used rolls through a little dumpster diving was a piece of cake.

Oh yeah, How could i forget, you need CARDBOARD, AND LOTS OF IT!

Step 2: Make a Prototype, to Scale

This is technically an optional step, but one that is highly recommended. Making a to scale model of your final kayak will help you to see any potential design flaws before you get to the real thing. It also helps you to visualize the shape, and better understand the hydrodynamics of the hull.

Step 3: The Template

I've got a lot of people asking me for a drawing of the plan that I used. I would caution that if you are planing on using paint, polyurethane, or any other method of waterproofing your kayak, you should shiplap the joints. This basically means leave about 2-4 inches beyond what you need and then glue that flap on top of the other side. Overlap your seams, basically.

UPDATE: Okay, i finaly got a PDF version of the template done up, and it should be attached to this step. It's diemensioned and has fold lines with the degree the fold requires indicated. Ovbiously, you don't need to bend the folds to excatly 45.12 degress, just if you are going to make this kayak out of say, sheet metal, it's important to have that sort of acuracy. Sorry it took me so long to get the template up, I had to learn how to use the Sheet metal function in SolidWorks, and then model it.... time consuming to say the least. Anyways, would love to hear if anyone ends up building it.

Step 4: First You Need a Large Flat Work Space....

If your like me, and your only option is a nice hardwood floor, do yourself a favor and cover it up with whatever it takes, just in the event that a glue spill should occur...... it also helps if whatever you put down you can make marks on, as it will help with laying out the large sheet you are about to begin constructing.

Step 5: Start Cutting Cardboard Like Your Life Depended on It!

We found the trick to getting everything to line up nice, was to use a drywall square (which is optional, but highly recommended) so that each piece was cut square and the seams lined up nice and flush with each other. Also, you want to cut any seams out of the cardboard, so that your sheet is made of only nice, pristine squares of cardboard. We figured the sizes out by just marking out a 6 by 10 rectangle on the floor and then putting our biggest piece down first, and marking the next one by lining it up and marking where the lines of the rectangle on the floor met the cardboard piece we were trimming. you could take the time to measure, but this method worked just fine.

MAKE SURE THE GRAIN IN THE LAYER IS ALL GOING THE SAME WAY! This is crucial, the entire design hinges upon this one element. Cardboard, has a grain direction to it, and each layer must have all the sheets that make it up orientated so that it is all going in the same direction, with each layer having the grain rotated 90 degrees from the one below it.

For a visual break down of the grain orientation of each layer, look at the last few photos. please understand that I did the grain visual break down on a model of each layer, and that in reality, each of your layers will be 6ft by 10ft if you follow my plan to the letter....

Step 6: Lay Out the First Layer

Put down all the cardboard you just cut, and masking tape it together. You don't need to go crazy with the tape, just enough to keep the sheets together. Once you have your first layer laid out, cut enough cardboard for another layer, but this time with all the grain in the cardboard going the other direction (perpendicular to the layer below it) and lay that one out on top of the first one, just to make sure it fits.

Step 7: Now the Fun, and Most Crucial Step; LAMINATING!

So take your glue, and dump a liberal amount into your paint tray liner sitting in your paint tray. Take your roller and dip it in the glue. We learned (the hard way) that it is much better to put too much glue on than too little. Trust me on this one, it is a royal pain to have to go back and repair layers when they de-laminate because you didn't have enough glue down.

Once you've got your glue on, start sticking on your sheets of cardboard. we found it was helpful to layout the layer first, make a bunch of reference marks, in terms of how each should line up with the other, and then laminate. That way when you go to put down a piece of cardboard, you can look at the one you put down right before it and go, oh i see, that one lines up with this line, so it must go here. Very simple trick, yet saves alot of time and confusion. Press the cardboard firmly into place, but not too hard, as we don't want to dent the sheet and ruin it's structural integrity.

Step 8: Weighting, and Waiting.....

Weight your cardboard with lots of small, "light" weights. We want each weight to be relatively light so that it does not dent the cardboard, yet heavy enough so that it weighs the cardboard down. We brew our own beer, so we had alot of bottles on hand, so my brother filled them with water, caped them (because a spill would mean the end of our kayak at this point) and we laid them on the sheet. We found that the seams, where two sheets of cardboard would meet, were the most troublesome spots. They seemed to want to warp up for some reason, so this is where we put most of the bottles. If you don't have 140 bottles kicking around, or a capper, just go to the local dump or transfer or recycling center and get alot of soda bottles, and use those instead. Also, you could use books, placed in bags, plastic or paper, does not matter, just helps keep the books from getting glue on them. Or fill sandwich bags with sand, any small weights that you can think of, that you have a lot of.

Leave each layer to dry overnight, and then cut a new layer (with the grain going 90degrees different from the previous layer) and repeat until you have a sheet that is four layers thick. since i highly recommend using double layered cardboard, it's technically 8 layers thick, but whatever. the point is make it beefy, you don't want to be putting your foot through the bottom of your kayak cause you were lazy and only did a few layers......

Step 9: Mark, Cut and Laminate, or Waterproof.

Next, lay out your kayak on your sheet of plyboard that you just finished, and use a chalk line to snap the lines. Then using your skill saw and a fine toothed blade, cut the cardboard to all but the last layer, and bevel the cut so that when you bend it up, the two surfaces you just cut, come together so you can glue them. After that, apply the contact paper to the entire surface, making sure to get all the edges corners and nooks and crannies. this step is crucial, if not done properly your kayak will soak up water like the big cardboard sponge that it is, and you will be the proud but not so dry owner of the first ever cardboard submarine! Also, it is much easyier to waterproof the kayak while it is still in a flat sheet form, rather than all folded up.

waterproofing can also be done by applying SEVERAL (as in more than one) liberal coats of helmsman spar polyurethane.

Step 10: Fold It All Up, and Laminate the Seams

Fold it together, and laminate the seams. Again make sure they are as water tight as you can get them as a leak will spell certain doom. Make sure to do the inside as well as the outside, if you flip over, the inside needs to be just as waterproof as the outside.


If your like me, and used white vinyl to waterproof, go nuts and decorate it. Also the nice part about making it all out of cardboard, is that it is super light weight. I could lift it with only one hand. The drawback to the vinyl was that it was kinda hard to cary, as the surface was so slippery, but that could easily be fixed with a couple handles. My kayak design had a shallow, or flatter hull, which made it much more agile and maneuverable, but it also meant that a slight breeze will blow me sideways. A sharper hull design, would act more like a centerboard, and help to give kayak stability. Change it up, go nuts, deign your own! They're super cheap and relatively easy to build.

The kayak weighs only 35lbs. I measured by standing on a scale, then holding the kayak, and then subtracting my weight, so it may be off by a few pounds, but it is still super light.
<p>Sprayed plastidip or rubber in a can would waterproof as well.</p><p>Or if you can get it cheap, the shrink plastic used in RC airplanes.</p>
<p>This is an excellent idea and I plan on making one for myself as I really can't afford a store bought one. Also, my storage space is rather limited so I plan on combining your idea with the fold-able kayak posted by https://www.instructables.com/member/wizgirl/. Also I intend on using recycled blue jeans instead of canvas, easier to come by and basically just as strong for a project like this. The best thing about using cardboard for a folding kayak is it will be even lighter weight for easier transport plus the individual spacer layer pieces and seat layer pieces will be much easier to cut with an exact-o blade before laminating with contact cement! </p>
I wonder if wrapping the laminates in a sealed plastic bag and use a vacuum pump to evacuate the air would create the overall pressure needed to laminate properly. Any thoughts?
<p>Yes, that would work, but you'd want to use a plastic designed for vacuum forming. But it would definitely give the necessary pressure evenly over the entire surface of the piece.</p>
that would work, you might need like a shop vac, or another higher powered vacuum pump of some sort, in order to get enough pressure. You would also need a bag with a 6ft opening that could then be sealed air tight... which might be difficult....
I'm not quite sure I understand the dimensions on the template. Could you explain? I plan on trying to make a similar kayak for a engineering event I have for school. Thanks :D
Thanks! <br>I'm a member of Engineers Without Borders at my school, and we are making a recycled boat for a homecoming event. <br>I used your instructable as a jumping off point, and designed my own! <br>http://matharportfolio.blogspot.com/2012/06/cardboard-kayak.html <br> <br>The cool thing about solidworks is that I can scale everything on the fly, and I even made a desktop-sized boat!
That is fantastic! I think you even worked out some of the dimensional issues i encountered in your soildworks model. I gotta say, it's really great to see someone taking a similar route, and your plans look fantastic! Good luck with your project! Oh, a side note, I found the kayak to be fairly deep, like if you look in the pics i&quot;m in it almost up to my arm pits. You may want to add either a seat (i had planed to) or lower the sides, with all the air in the corigations of the cardboard, the kayak was much more boyant than i expected, and rode much higher in the water. Just a thought! I'd love to see pictures of the final product!<br><br>-Msd8
Two observations: once you drink all that beer, you might be too big for the kayak! :-) And it's awfully nice of Gorilla Glue to encourage all this creativity, and then even award a Grand Prize to someone who didn't use Gorilla Glue!
Hahahaha, yeah, i was really hesitant to use wood glue rather than gorilla glue, but the thing is is that their glue is much harder/stronger, and not as flexible, so if i had used it, any flexing in the kayak would have been more likely to cause the glue to crack, and or the cardboard to de-laminate.
also, the tarp would add more strength.
instead of the lamination, you could use 2-4 ounce nylon sheets(tarps) glue that onto the outside with the gorilla glue then use polyethylene on that layer. the cardboard would add buoyancy and strength while the tarp and polyethylene would add water tightness and the glue would gold the skin to the rest of the kayak. and then just add a bunch of polyethylene to the inside to waterproof it there and finally, but earlier on in the project maybe use wood glue in large amounts to seal the pieces where they meet.
This is win on so many levels... Have you weight-tested it? I'm about 230, and I just think my weight would crush the cardboard, cause a tear, and eventually sink it.
Thank you Javin007, yes I have weight tested it, to a degree. I can say with confidence that it will hold 205 lbs, as that is what I weigh, and when I got in it did not rip tear or sink, so yeah. It is surprisingly boyant, i think it has alot to due with the cardboard being so porous. The key to not having it rip on you is in the lamination, that was what this project mostly taught me, namely that as long as you lamanate everything properly, the strength will be incredible. Screw up one layer, one small 2ft x 2ft patch, and you have a HUGE weakness in your material. Hope that helps, happy making!
This seriously makes me want to create a design for lake fishing.
yeah this would be perfect for lake fishing, i would recomend a wider base and shorter sides though, we had alot of stability issues.... I didn't really spend too much time on hull design, more interested in getting the process down as this was the first one i ever built, but in hindsight, the sides do not need to be nearly as high as i made them (12inches), you could easily get away with like 8 or 6 inch sides. You sorta feel like your in a submarine or something when you're in it, because the sides come up so high.
think if you just made the whole thing this way, made it solid, and then basically carved it then sealed it you could made a sit-on-top kayak?, also you could look up templates or other things online on the shapes and dementions(sp?) of kayaks to make it work perfectly.
do you think you could sub the plastic with flexseal spray
Could you use duct tape to water-proof it as well as add some extra strength?
yes you can but unless you got a box of ductape lying around it seems expensive
Where I live, I can get 4 inch thicks rolls of duck tape for two dollars, it would come cheaper than buying the glue. That is, if it work.
Nice kayak, have you heard that fiberglass resin can harden cardboard?
Great instrucable! I thought of a way you could improve your lamination technique, If you take a 4 sheets of MDF plywood with a laminate non-stick layer and put 2 pieces next to each other, then laminate your plyboard, then put the other 2 sheets on top of the stack, you could clamp and make &quot;pressure treated&quot; plyboard. It would increase strength and decrease thickness.
There are so many plans online for plywood stich and glue kayaks. These can be easily transformed and used with the cardboard construction method. They should give you a kayak that might be a bit better to handle. <br>You also might glue some wood veneer or something as an outer layer. This way you could simply paint it and have a more abrasion resistant kayak. <br>Fiberglassing the hull is also a good option for waterproofing. Come to think of it- the fiberglassing would give you a proper sandwich construction kayak. Yehaw. People race those in the olympics etc (it will be a foam core, not made out of cardboard, but...). <br> <br>Cheers, Christian
Where did you find the vinyl?<br>And how much did the total cost amount to?
Thank you ^_^
Go to Bj's or Sam's club for the cardboard.&nbsp; I work at Bj's and we recycle more cardboard every night than you can imagine.&nbsp; A possible advantage to this is that you can get perfectly flat 4X4 cardboard sheets.&nbsp; They are used as separators between layers of certain products or as protective lids for stretch wrapped pallets.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Just ask any manager to leave a note for the third shift crew to set some aside.&nbsp; Or you can call after hours and ask personally.&nbsp; There is a manager in the store 24/7.&nbsp; Hope this helps!!<br />
Nice instructable, i wish i had found it when i was making&nbsp;my card board boat. there's only two things i didn't see anyoe post (i didn't read every comment) i know that killz will work to waterproof the boat. and in the intro slide you mentioned that you spent a lot of time looking for pristine cardboard, going to any large store (i went to wal-mart) and asking works. They'll give it to you free, and they'll save some for you if they don't have any.
I had this EXACT same idea, except to use choroplast (corugated plastic). You can get a 4 ' x 8' sheet for $20 bucks. you beat me to it, though
hahaha, sorry! Yeah if you sift through the comments, somewhere someone posted a link to a video of a guy who has a colapseable dingy made of cloroplast. My only concern with cloroplast is that it would be too flimsy with only one layer, and due to it's super slick and slipery proerties, i don't imagine it would laminate too nicely. Yeah if your in the NH area, i can hook you up with as much cloroplast and you could ever want, the company i work for, makes billboard printers, and one of thier major test mediums in cloroplast, so they throw loads of it away. test prints and what not. Anyways, would love to see some pics if you ever get around to making it....
&nbsp;Well, You could double up the layers, and It's plastic, so it's water proof, so you don't need to laminate it.<br /> <br />
i found a way to water proof this without vinly or sealer, use 2 layers of water proof duck tape. saw it on mythbusters made an entire boat out of tape
Fantastic job on the kayak! by the way, for some reason, the beer bottles picture is pretty funny, I couldn't help but think "that's a LOT of beer!"
most of it is just water really, i think that out of the 140 or so bottles, only about 70 or so contained beer. We just filled old beer bottles with water and capped them... so it looks like beer but wouldnt drink the same ;)
congrats on winning the contest!
thank you musicman14
super amaxing and congrats on winning the contest.
thanks cheese man!
When will you upload the template ?
uploaded it today, sorry for the delay....
Could I use TYVEK house covering. Is it affordable? Seems viable and maybe a good way to cover the hull! What do you think?
That stuff is crazy expensive.
I would imagine it is fairly inexpensive, though having never bought it myself, i can't say for certain, but it's nothing a quick trip to Home Depot can't fix for you... Although, on the issue of waterproofing with Tyvek, i would be a little hesitant. I asked a mechanical engineer what he thought about tyvek, and he said that he thought that it acted more like a barrier, and less like a waterproofing agent. Meaning he was under the impression that it actually lets the house "breathe" so to speak, and therefore is NOT waterproof. I duno though, see if you can find some scraps or something and do some testing, would love to find out. Good idea, thanks for the input!
All those beer bottles and glue! I would be flying very high and never get the thing done. Beer and glue wow! Open a window and turn on a fan. I'm flying allready! But excellent project and recycling of trees is great!!!
Hahaha, yeah, if wood glue had anything in it that would cause you to get high, that would have been a problem. However, as far as adhesives go, wood glue is pretty much just a step up from regular white glue, which is really just a fancy version of regular "paste", you know, the kind everyone eats in their elementary school years? And if you can ingest it, when your super young, and it's fine, you know it's non-toxic. So basically, wood glue is pretty safe stuff, i wouldn't go as far as to say it's non-toxic, (only because i'm not 100% sure, and dont want to be liable for someone who takes my word as fact) and there were very little to none fumes at all while gluing it up. The beer was another story.... lol.. Thanks for the comment man, appreciate the input.
Fascinating. Yet I can't find the layout diagram. Saw that you planned to add it as a pdf, but all the pdf buttons seem to return the entire instructable sans layout.
yeah, im still working on it, i'll try to get it up and running tonight, sorry, i work 3 jobs and 2 of them have been crunched to get product out before the fiscal quater ends, so ive been really busy lately. It sadly won't be a PDF, but I will scan a 1:1 drawing of the model, which you can then simple scale up. again, sorry for the wait.
Sorry for the bad break. Your whole article is very engaging. The only thing needed is a scalable drawing. Here's hoping! Good luck.
so my scanner is on the fritz, i can get a photo, but 1:1 scale will be tough.... gimme a few days, again, sorry for the wait.
I wonder if you can make two, and use them as pontoons?

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