Build a Greenland Kayak Part 7




Introduction: Build a Greenland Kayak Part 7

About: skin on frame kayak builder since 1987

In this Instructable, part 7 of the Build a Greenland kayak series, you will be putting the skin on your Greenland kayak and attaching the coaming to the skin.

Step 1: Materials

Measure the length of your boat along the keel line and get that length plus one foot of fabric.
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

2 straight sewing needles

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

If you are using nylon, all the skin work should be done in a cool environment out of the sun since heat shrinks nylon. The opposite is true if you are using cotton for your skin. That should be sewn on a warm dry day since cotton shrinks with moisture and cold.
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

Sew a few inches around the pointed bow using a straight needle. The idea is to make a small pocket that anchors the skin at the bow so you can pull from the stern of the boat to make the skin tight in the longitudinal direction.

Step 5: Stretch the Skin Lengthwise

Position yourself at the stern and see how far you can stretch the skin lengthwise. You will have to brace yourself against a deck beam to do this. You should be able to get at least 4 inches of stretch out of the fabric. Make a mark where the fabric intersects the stern at maximum stretch.

Step 6: Sew a Pocket at the Stern

Sew a little ways down at the stern maximum stretch position. You need just enough stitches to hook over the stern. Stretch the skin and hook the pocket of skin over the stern

Step 7: Pin the Skin Down the Keelson

Use some push pins to pin the fabric to the keelson. These pins will keep the skin centered when you stretch it around the hull.

Step 8: Lace Up the Deck

Flip the boat upright so you can work on the deck. Using some strong synthetic twine, lace back and forth across the deck to pull the sides of the fabric together. Start near the bow at a point where the deck is about 6 inches across and lace up to the cockpit. Use a straight sewing needle to catch about a quarter inch of fabric for each lacing back and forth. The lacing twine should be about 18 foot long. You want enough to zigzag from the bow all the way to the cockpit. When you have reached the cockpit, tie off the end of the line or clamp it to a deck beam. Starting at the bow, tighten up the line all the way to the cockpit. You can now permanently tie it off.
Repeat this process for the back half of the boat

Step 9: Trim Excess Fabric

With the boat rightside up, trim one side of the fabric right up to the centerline of the boat. Trim the other side of the fabric so it overlaps the first side by half an inch.
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

Install the bow and stern decklines before you sew up the seam in the center. Once it is sewed up, you will no longer be able to tie off the ends of the deckline on the inside of the gunwales. The decklines around the cockpit can wait until later since you can reach them from the cockpit. And varnishing the boat is easier if they aren't installed yet.

Step 11: Sew Up the Seam

Start at the stern and work toward the cockpit. The reason for starting at the stern is that your sewing will improve as you do it and it is better to have your best work on the front deck where you have to look at it all the time.
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

With the cockpit coaming set on deckbeams 6 and 7 and centered right and left, mark about 3 inches inside of the coaming. Trim off the fabric leaving a hole that is 3 inches less in radius than the coaming

Step 13: Sew the Coaming to the Skin

Clamp the coaming to the deckbeam in front and back of the cockpit if you can.
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

The flap of skin that was on the inside of the coaming is now pulled up against the inside middle of the coaming. Trim off excess on the top to within 1/2 inch of the stitches

Step 15: Sew Another Pass on the Cockpit Coaming

As you sewed around the cockpit on the first pass, the thread snaked back and forth between holes, covering the coaming alternately on the inside and on the outside.
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

If you are using nylon fabric for your skin, soak it down with water and let it dry. As it dries, it will tighten almost drum tight.

Step 17: Paint the Skin

Paint the skin using your favorite medium. I use exterior satin polyurethane varnish on nylon.
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

Once the varnish is dry, install decklines on either side of the cockpit. You can reach through the cockpit to tie off lines. Toggles are pieces of wood or plastic with holes spaced 2-1/2 inches apart. As you slide them toward the gunwales, they tighten up the deck lines.

Step 19: Install Rub Strips at the Bow and Stern

Rub strips are a good idea to keep you from rubbing the paint or varnish off the bottom of the boat.
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!

Step back and admire your boat from all angles.
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

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    94 Discussions


    9 months ago

    I just returned from Inari, Finland and visited a Sami museum while there. The native Sami people built their kayaks exactly the same way for hundreds of years as outlined here ...only using natural materials made from reindeer and local trees. Nice place to visit and thanks for the instructions.


    Question 2 years ago

    Hi, where can I obtain a good set of plans? Preferably as a .pdf download, as I live in South Africa. Thanks for your instructions.


    3 years ago

    Can polyester have a translucent finish like nylon? I really like the green color.


    3 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I can't wait to build mine I got a Kayak growing on my head right now.


    5 years ago on Step 20

    If the boat has loose dirt on it, wash it with water or soap and water. Abrade the current finish with some of those scouring pads - they sell them in hardware and paint stores. They don't clog up the way sandpaper does.

    and then varnish with exterior varnish.

    Although it doesn't look as good as varnish, I prefer latex house paint over varnish. It's more durable and easier to apply and you can get it for free as long as you are not particular about color.


    5 years ago on Step 20

    Wonderful detailed instructions! I just purchased a skin on frame from a friend who had no longer been able to use it and he suggested adding another coat of varnish. Would I have to sand it first? Also, would I need to clean it first, as it has been in storage for awhile and only in the lake when I demoed it, and what do I wash it with? I am beyond excited to own it!! Thanks in advance for your help!


    5 years ago on Step 20

    Thank you for these detailed instruction. I have built a boat in the past but never one without any glue. I was thinking of building this boat but using glue and a fiberglass resin skin. I thought it might make a very durable boat which would last virtually forever. Have you ever tried this?


    5 years ago

    Are all 8oz nylon fabrics the same?


    I have read that nylon becomes loose when it is placed in the wate. Does this happen to all nylon? Or does the sealer help with that?


    Reply 5 years ago on Step 20

    Yes, the nylon cloth expands when wet or cold and shrinks when hot or dry or both. The sealer probably helps some but won't defeat the expansion and contraction entirely because it has some flex to it as well. The biggest problem with nylon is that it can shrink enough to distort the frame of your boat when left out in hot sun. If you live in a place with hot sun, I would recommend polyester cloth which does not expand and contract much with temperature or moisture. It is harder to work with than nylon since it doesn't stretch, but stable once you get it on your boat.


    6 years ago

    Dear Nativewater,
    I wanted to thank you for all your hard work and thorough explanation in your instructable. I have had a lot of fun following your DIY project. I just put my last coat of varnish on the skin today! I am amazed at what I have accomplished with your help. I now own all the tools to build all sorts of stuff and with the steam box I built as well I am ready for boat #2. My girlfriend now wants one. I couldn't and probably wouldn't have done it with out your step by step process. Thanks from Alaska,

    14, 12:25 AM.jpg

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, I have used this kit and it works fine. It's a convenient source for both fabric and sealer. Don't know if I would call the urethane all natural though unless you call stuff that comes out of a chemical factory all natural, like plastic and gasoline.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi! Thanks a lot for the insight! I have just recently inherited a skin kayak and won't to equip it with deck lines and repaint the boat. But how do I keep the kayak watertight with the holes in the skin for the decklines?


    7 years ago on Step 20

    Thank you for the extremely detailed blow-by-blow instruction. I have a rather outlandish idea, which nevertheless I'd be very glad if you took the time to consider and give your own opinion.

    As follows - completely dispensing with beam fabrication and using a strong nylon rope, lash and knot together the across from one gunwale through the stringers and kelson across to the opposite gunwale ... giving a completely different shape - an angular appearance. Very outlandish, I repeat, but potentially workable, manageable in the water? Be glad for your opinion. Thank you very much. Cheers


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 20

    Anything is possible if you can make it work. The reason for the deck beams is to fix the shape of the deck and also to support gear on deck. If you eliminate the deck beams then you have to stiffen up the ribs quite a bit, otherwise the boat won't hold its shape. The boat would then end up being quite a bit heavier.


    8 years ago on Step 17

    What would you think about creating a suspension of clear silicone in white gas then painting or spraying that on the skin? The silicone will seal the skin yet be very tough and flexible after the white gas has all evaporated. I have used this to waterproof ripstop nylon for tarps and tents. I am not certain how well this would fill in the weave of the fabric, however, silicone sticks to itself very well so a smoothing coat of straight silicone could be added after the seal coat has dried. Thoughts?


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 17

    It will work as long as it sticks to the skin. It doesn't have to penetrate the skin. The main benefit to a sealer penetrating the skin is that it will still keep the skin water-tight even if you have surface abrasion.
    You can always do a test patch of fabric and silicone and then hit it with some sandpaper to see if the silicone hangs on.
    I tried some clear silicone caulk, the kind that comes in the tube for caulking guns once and it wouldn't stick to the skin very well. But I already had a base coat of varnish on the skin. I don't know if this is the kind of silicone you are talking about.
    As for paint or any sealer which is a mix of liquid and suspended solids, the fabric acts like a filter and keeps the solids on the surface and limits how much of the liquid medium can penetrate into the fabric.
    How much filling of weave the sealer has to do depends on how smooth a weave the fabric has. A lot of the synthetic fabrics have a pretty smooth weave and don't require a lot of coats to fill the weave.
    In the end, if you have a new idea, there's no substitute for trying it to see how it works.