Building a Caspian Sea Kayak

In the summer of 2003 I started on a Caspian Sea Kayak, another John Winters design. This kayak is a 15' kayak that can either be outfitted as a day kayak (without hatches) or as a light touring kayak (with hatches). I obtained plans and a license to build the kayak from Green Valley Boat Works. I used the System Three Clear Coat epoxy that I had on hand, and the light-weight fiberglass cloth as well.

Cutting the Strips

I bought Western Red Cedar and some White Pine from a local lumberyard for the strips. Some of the Cedar was 1" by 6" by 16' and the rest was 2" by 4" by 14'. The Cedar had considerable colour range, which I tried to incorporate into the design of the kayak.

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The first task was to cut the 2-by-4s into 3/4" slices. This was quite easy on the table saw, using a simple infeed, outfeed and fence setup.

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The next task was to cut the 3/4" slices, and the 1-by-sixes into square strips, again on the table saw. I decided to use thinner, 3/16", strips instead of the usual 1/4" strips for this kayak. (I don't think that I would do this again, however.)

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This resulted in a pile of square strips. You can easily see the colour variation within and between the strips.

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The next step was to mill the bead and cove. I used my router on an improvised router table, which worked fine. I did find that it was considerably different setting up to mill the 3/16" strips than my previous efforts to mill 1/4" strips.

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This all resulted in a pile of bead-and-cove strips. I tried to keep adjacent strips together in various ways, including labelling the strips by their initial position in the boards. I found that this worked very well.


Setting up to Strip the Hull


The next step was to make and set up the forms for the kayak. I cut the forms out of particle board, which I found excellent for the task. I used two special shipping cartons I received from Classic Boat Kits as the strongback.

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I attached the forms to the strongback using shelf brackets, based on an idea from Jim Kozel.

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Instead of cutting the bracket short in the middle (where otherwise two brackets would overlap), I used two brackets offset. I think that this is an excellent idea. Next time I will use two brackets in more locations, partly because it makes a very stable base.

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I had previously made and bent the internal and external stems. I used steam to bend the stems the same way I bent my Winisk stems. (No pictures available.) The next step was thus to put the internal stems on the end forms and then taper the stems appropriately. I used my random-orbital sander with a coarse sanding disk for this process, but started out with a spokeshave.

Stripping the Hull

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I stripped the hull using my regular method, suggested by Classic Boat Kits, involving dowels and fibertape. I used the lightest Red Cedar for the sides of the hull, with the strips that had some slightly darker sections nearest the shear. I generally placed adjacent strips on opposite sides of the hull, but sometimes deviated from this for better matching.

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On the bottom of the hull I ran out of light Cedar and had to use some of the darker Cedar. I also did only one side of the bottom, then marked the center line and cut back to the line, finally sanding with a sanding stick to make the center line straight and square.

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Then I stripped the other side of the bottom of the hull, trimming the strips as a went to achieve tight fits. To make the strips bend the way I wanted them to, and to keep the two sides flush, I used some straps that I had previously acquired.


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I then cut out the recesses for the outside stems, and glued the stems in. This did not go as well as I had hoped, probably because the stems had unbent somewhat, so I had to fill in some gaps with glue.

Smoothing the Outside

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Before I flipped the kayak over to do the deck, I smoothed the hull. This was a bit of a mistake as the sanded hull later acquired a few dents, some fairly serious. Next time I will leave the hull smoothing until after the deck is done. I used a spokeshave in combination with my random-orbital sander to smooth the outside of the hull.


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I then flipped the kayak over onto some temporary supports. I left these supports loose, which contributed to the dents the hull received. Next time I'll attach these supports to the strongback.

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As I was flipping the kayak over, most of the forms fell out, so I decided to go ahead and smooth the inside of the hull. I did this because I was alreading planning on an unusal glassing schedule, designed to permit me to do all the glassing and fill coats on fresh expoxy, with no intermediate sanding required. I did most of the inside smoothing with cabinet scrapers, which I find work better than sanding.

Stripping the Deck

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I taped the forms back in the kayak, and also taped them to prevent the deck from sticking to the forms and to provide a good surface for the fiber-tape to adhere to.

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I stripped the deck from the inside out for two reasons. First, I wanted the deck to be symmetric around the center. Second, I wanted most of the deck strips to be parallel to the center line but with the two outside strips parallel to the shear.

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I used the darker Cedar on the deck, with the White Pine for contrast. I alternated two Cedar strips with one White Pine strip, starting with two pairs of Cedar strips along the centerline.

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I then used my router, with the hull of the kayak as a base, to trim these strips parallel to the shear. This was considerably more difficult than I had expected. I then put two square-edge White Pine strips on the edge of the hull. This was again difficult, for two reasons. First, White Pine is considerably less bendy than Cedar. Second, there was no bead and cove to help align the strips. At the end several places where the deck does not conform to the forms. Next time I think I would use thinner strips as well as using all my straps, instead of fiber-tape, to ensure that these strips conform to the forms. (I thought that I took pictures of this process but I can't seem to find them.)

The next step was to build up the coaming, using short strips in the manner advocated by Nicholas Shade (sp?). I alternated dark Red Cedar, light Red Cedar, and White Pine. This was actually quite easy, using hot-melt glue to tack the tops of the strips together and wood glue for the rest of the length of the strips and between the strips and the deck.


Glassing the Outside of the Deck

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After smoothing the outside of the deck (no pictures available), I put a seal coat on it. This was followed by two layers of the light-weight glass.

The Shear Clamp

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Now that the deck had glass on the outside I could take it off the forms. Before working on the inside of the deck I glued small shear clamps on the inside of the hull. I just used a 1/4-inch strip as a shear clamp, as I was going to glass the hull and deck together on the outside.

Smoothing the Inside of the Deck

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I then put the deck on some supports screwed into the sawhorses that held up the strongback. This allowed me to work on both the deck and the hull at the same time. The first task was to smooth the inside of the deck. Unfortunately, the epoxy outside of the deck was still green when I did this, and received some damage, which shows up as small whitish areas on the deck. Next time I'll give up on doing all the glassing quickly and let the epoxy cure before working on the other side.

Glassing the Inside

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I then put a seal coat on the inside of both the deck and the hull.

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This was followed by two layers of glass on both the deck and the hull. During the glassing of the inside of the hull I added an extra layer of glass to the inside of the deck around the coaming and a layer of glass to both the inside and the outside of the coaming. I also put the holes for the carry handles, by drilling out the core of a 1-inch dowel, cutting it to size, gluing it to the hull, and drilling a hole through the hull.

Joining and Glassing the Outside of the Hull

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Now that the inside of both the deck and the hull were done, I joined the deck and the hull together. I used all my straps to ensure that the deck and the hull fit well, but even so, I ended up with some small gaps that had to be filled with glue, as the deck had bent considerably fore and aft. This was probably another effect of taking the deck off the forms when the outside epoxy was still green.

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The next step was to put two layers of glass on the outside of the hull. Because the hull and deck were already joined, these layers could run up to the deck, helping to bind the hull and deck strongly together.

Coaming Lip

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I had planned on using some thin Cedar and Pine strips that I had left over when cutting the regular strips to make the coaming lip. However, I found that the Cedar strips cracked when I tried to bend them up and down to match the deck contours. So, I bought some Poplar and cut it into 1/8" by 3/8" strips to make the cockpit rim. (I tried to buy Ash but couldn't find any.) I bent the strips using a heat gun, which worked quite well, and dry-clamped them to the coaming rim

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I then glued these strips to the coaming, using spacers to ensure that the lip remained a constant distance above the deck. I then cut the coaming flush with the top of the coaming lisp and sanded both the coaming and the coaming lip smooth, giving nice rounded edges to both the coaming and the coaming lip.

Next I put epoxy fillets on the inside corners. I then applied a layer of bias-cut fiberglass to the entire coaming. This application was tricky, even with the bias-cut fiberglass. Next time I think I'll use the method suggested by various builders and apply the fiberglass to a wet epoxy surface.

Final Tasks

Final Fill Coats

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I then put a final fill coat on the deck (and the hull near the shear) and flipped the kayak over again, after waiting for this fill coat to cure.

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Then I put a final fill coat on the bottom of the kayak and let it cure.

Seat and Footrests

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I bought a seat and backrest (and footrests) from Chesapeake Light Craft. I needed to install attachment points for the backrest, which I did by gluing in three layers of strip scrap under the deck just behind the coaming and over the sheer clamp strip on the sides of the cockpit.

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After installing the seat and backrest, I had my wife sit in the kayak to measure the correct footrest location for her. I then installed the footrest bolts by epoxying them to the sides of the kayak with a layer of glass over them. I used the footrests themselves to ensure that the distance between the footrests was correct. (By the way, be sure to take the footrests off the bolts, as I didn't the first time and the bolts tilted over when the kayak was bumped during the epoxy curing process.)


finishing 1 AAAA After a long break to start on my Delta-V dinghy, during which I hung the kayak from the garage ceiling, I coated the kayak with System 3's two-part polyurethane. So that I could work on both the deck and the hull of the kayak at the same time, I bought some steel rods, placed them through the handle holes, and hung the kayak from them. I put three coats of polyurethane on the kayak.

Roof Rack Cradles

The last task was to build cradles for a roof rack. I built cradles somewhat in the style of the roof rack cradles that John Schroeder built.

cradle 4 cradle 3 cradle 2 cradle 1 I decided to use outdoor carpet to cushion the kayak, and thus the first step was to cut pieces of carpet and attach them to the kayak at the appropriate places and cover with plastic wrap to protect the finish of the kayak. The next step was to build up several layers of carbon fiber and fiberglass into the actual cradle. I think I used two layers of carbon fiber tape and five layers of fiberglass in between them. I mixed carbon dust with the last layer of epoxy, to provide UV resistance and give the whole unit a nicer look.

cradle supports I then cut out two sections of plywood to the shape of each of the cradles and glued them together with a spacer of plywood in between, arranged so that the bottom bits of the plywood would just fit around my Thule bars and there is a bit of space between the spacer and the cradle. I used epoxy with carbon dust for all the gluing, and painted this mixture on the plywood as well. I then glued the plywood units to the cradles.

done cradle bolts I installed bolt hangers on the bottom of the cradles and cut and drilled steel plates to fit over the bolt hangers. I made up straps from stainless steel buckles and 1-inch polypropelene webbing I bought from Seattle Fabrics. The entire units mount very securely to my Thule bars, and the straps, wrapped three times around the kayak, hold the kayak very firmly to my car. I took the kayak (shown) and my Peterborough canoe almost 600 miles with no movement at all.


Unfortunately, while I was building the cradles, some epoxy got around my plastic wrap. I sanded this epoxy off, but, of course, it left a blemish. I'll fix this up during the repair of the inevitable scratches that paddling in Georgian Bay results in, at the end of the season.

Updated 23 July 2004 by Peter F. Patel-Schneider