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  • Jeff Russell

Can you actually build your own boat?

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

(Or... how to fill free time when not remodeling)


This post is a departure from our usual remodeling post, and we hope you enjoy learning about one of the side-projects I have been working on. Remodeling is both an an art and a skill, and I have found after doing this for thirty plus years that most of the people drawn to remodeling love it because it offers a chance to work with your hands, learn to do construction well, gain skills with wood and a variety of products. But most enjoy remodeling because it involves learning and problem solving. My family likes to tease me because of the the wide range of projects and hobbies I take on, and this will give you a small window into one of those projects.


Early in our marriage I had the opportunity to go on my first Boundary Waters trip with a good friend, Kevin. Kevin introduced me to the BWCA and we enjoyed an annual trip to the Boundary Waters for almost 10 years. But child rearing took over our lives and that chapter closed for a season. During those years I discovered a love for quality built canoes and paddles, so in 2020 when my now high-school daughter asked me about cedar strip canoes, I think she stirred a long dormant desire to build my own boat. We began to research options and plans, and we settled on kayaks instead of canoes. If we were to each build one, we could enjoy them together or take them out on our own. So the journey began...


Chesapeake Light Craft has been making kits and products for boat building for more than 50 years. We settled on their Shearwater hybrid design which combines the quick, strong plywood hull construction, and still allows you the freedom to design your own kayak, with the cedar strip top construction. We ordered our kits, and soon a couple of boxes of parts arrived.

A package of wood parts
Chesapeake Light Craft Kayak Kit

It looked a little daunting as we unwrapped the parts.


The kit came with all the epoxy, fiberglass, and parts needed. We had to supply the labor, a design, woodworking tools, and some misc. items, like paint brushes and rollers.


This design starts with the hull pieces that are assembled using the stitch and glue method. You use small pieces of wire threaded through holes and then twisted together to stitch the hull.

Building the stitch and glue hull

Then the seams are glued with epoxy. After the glue dries, the stitches are removed and the entire hull is sanded and then fiberglassed. The fiberglass is fabric that is spread smoothly on the hull, and as the epoxy covers it, it becomes clear. The hull has one layer of fiberglass inside and three on the outside.

fiberglassing the inside of the hull






Fiberglassing the hull

Once the hull is complete, forms are installed for the

top construction, and the strips are installed by carefully cutting and shaping them one at a time.


Starting the varnishing of the kayak

Each piece is glue and clamped, and then tacked in place to dry. This is where the artistic side comes through. Different colors are created by using different wood - nothing is stained, it is all clear coated. I learned a great deal about using a block plane and various sanding and shaping methods to fit each strip into the top. When the last piece is in place, the top is sanded until it looks perfect, then removed, sanded on the inside, and fiberglassing begins again. The forms are removed, and the top is fastened to the hull. More finishing, sanding, varnishing, and more sanding, and more varnishing. Last on the list is installing the seat and hardware. I opted for a design using rare earth magnets to hold down the hatch covers, so that no fasteners are seen. It added a lot of time, but I'm very pleased with the results.



A hand made cedar strip kayak on the water
Finished Kayak on the water

My kayak is complete, and now I'm helping my daughter complete her kayak. Senior year and first year of college have made it hard for her to invest the time into construction, but we have managed to make some good progress this summer, and hopefully she can finish hers and get on the water next year.


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