Even in the age of plastics it is still a great material for sailing dinghies, rowing skiffs and flat-water racing kayaks.
Wood absorbs impacts, crushing forces and vibration which would shatter a plastic composite. If you don't mind some extra time and expense, you can make a plywood kayak as tough (and heavy) as a plastic one. On the other hand, an unsheathed plywood boat made of 4 mm marine ply can be half the weight of a fibreglass boat, very rigid and easily strong enough for estuary and fine-weather use, or more.
He finds that a single kayak in 4 mm meranti weighs about 25 kg, including 2 kg of rudder and pedals, and says "do it in gaboon and probably 21 kg. Fortunately, some of the best Greenland kayak designs have a boxy cross-section which is perfect for simple plywood construction. If you were to cut a Greenland kayak in half at the middle you would see that the bottom is a very flat V-shape and the sides are nearly vertical.
If you are building from plans, you will probably start by acquiring two large sheets of top-quality plywood 4 millimetres thick, and a third either 4 mm or 6 mm thick. 4 mm plywood usually consists of three layers of wood veneer, glued together in a sandwich so that the grain of each layer runs in a different direction to the layer alongside it. At one time, you could be confident that plywood stamped with British Standard 1088 was of reasonable quality but lately there seems to be a lot of rubbish with that BS 1088 stamp. The only real way to be sure is to buy plywood made by a reputable manufacturer and sold by a specialist timber merchant. Exterior or marine plywood are usually made from veneers of certain tropical hardwoods which have a natural resistance to rot. As we all know, many logging companies disregard local laws, drive indigenous people off the land and fell indiscriminately, wasting huge quantities of timber and leaving entire hillsides exposed so that the soil is washed away, causing rivers to silt up further downstream.
An increasing number of European timber suppliers subscribe to a scheme for responsible management of forests, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These tropical timbers are good because of their resistance to decay, but you don't necessarily need them for a kayak because you will not be leaving it afloat or on your roofrack for months on end. According to WoodenBoat magazine, if you buy an Arctic Hawk sea kayak kit from Chesapeake Light Craft it comes with an instruction manual 457 pages long.
Use a boatbuilding adhesive such as urea formaldehyde resin supplied as a powder which you mix with water. Then screw and glue a pair of long strips of wood, say 15 mm by 10 mm, to the top edges of the pair of panels that make up the top half of the hull. Before you stitch each panel to its neighbour, take a hand plane and put an angle (a bevel or chamfer) on the edges of the panels. Drill small holes every 7 cm - 30 cm around the edges of the panels that make up the bottom of the hull. Put on gloves and use abrasive paper to roughen the parts of the panels you intend to tape. When you have done this to each panel, place the two bottom panels of the hull together, face to face, and simply tie them together using individual twists of wire.
After taping one side of the hull seam you will remove the wire using wire cutters and taper-nosed pliers. Some people prefer to use just a few twists of wire and do most of the stitching with continuous nylon monofilament fishing line. Using a roll of glassfibre tape, half a litre of resin (mixing up a little at a time) and a paint-brush, tape the inside of the hull joints.
Some say that only epoxy resin will stick well enough to wood, but we find that polyester resin is fine for taping. If you want a really tough kayak, cut out an extra set of plywood panels slightly smaller than the bottom hull panels and use epoxy resin to glue them inside the hull so that the bottom is 8 mm thick. Use stainless steel (not brass) screws and waterproof adhesive to attach a pair wood strips, say 15 mm by 5 mm, along the outside of the top of the hull.
If you like getting up close to rocks, it may be worth sheathing the lower part of the hull with fibreglass to give it some protection against gouging and impact.
If you want a really tough, durable kayak and don't mind it weighing 25 kg or thereabouts you can sheathe it entirely in fibreglass, including inside the bottom of the hull. You can buy a complete kit from the Internet including pre-cut plywood panels, copper wire, glass tape and resin, and a plastic seat.
You will probably still have to bevel the edges of the panels, obtain materials for sheathing, decklines and hatches, and decide where to fit them. Ken Abrahams built "Wooderaux", and is holding up his main sail, the 90% jib is furled on the deck. She is from 2 sheets of luan plywood, the plans were called "Jam 8" and came from boat builder magazine. Since it has such a small opening to get in and out, Ken has capsized it twice while launching, and almost did it again while getting in. The paddle is a very simple home made one also, he cut a V shaped slit in the blade and then pulled them together to make the scoop shape.
Plans to build your own specialty wooden kayak, including plans for racing kayaks, surfing kayaks, and fishing kayaks.
One nice thing about the Glen-L shown (I think) is it's resemblence to the lovely Culler model shown on the next page.
You can paddle most canoes with a double bladed paddle, but if it was intended as a double-paddle canoe, you'll find that they tend to have the seat set low in the boat and the amidships depth is typically lower than a single paddle boat. I don't think that Cuyahoga Chuck [#8] has a clear grip on the scale of the GlennL he so criticizes. Second, the bow and stern give some buoyancy lift over the chop you find crossing open bays - quite valuable in an undecked boat that will be used to get someplace. Fourthly, while not solely the result of the flared ends, these models are wonderfully easy to turn if you lean out on the turn putting the boat on her bilge and getting the bow and stern out of the water. MacGregor's double paddles had carrying capacity for camping gear and proved - continue to prove - well suited to riverine and litoral camping and exploration, as well as day romps. MickG, no one interested in solo canoes should overlook the late Platt Monfort's Geodesic airolite canoes . It is tough, very resistant to fatigue and comes in a range of densities which makes it possible to select a material with exactly the right strength-to-weight ratio and rigidity or flexibility for most tasks.

Some of the world's best flat-water racing kayaks are still made in wood veneer by Struer Kajak in Denmark, because it can be used to make a more rigid, durable hull than plastic composite.
Die-hard lovers of plastic and glass such as race yacht builders often use wood for prototypes, as a core material and in production boats for gunwales, transoms, backing pads, shroud plates and mast steps.
A plywood kayak can be considerably lighter but a fibreglass one will have better resistance to abrasion, need no painting and be almost unaffected by water and sun. He has used them extensively, mainly around the northern half of the South Island of New Zealand though he has paddled parts of NZ from Stewart Island to the mid upper North Island. Avoiding surf launches as far as possible, he does not find it necessary to sheathe his kayaks with fibreglass. Where the bottom and sides meet there is a sharp angle called a chine, running nearly the whole length of the hull.
It is nobody's idea of a good shape for a serious racing kayak, but many people feel it has have advantages for sea kayaks which do not aim at ultimate flat-water speed. Although intended for strip-plank construction, Bryan says it could easily be adapted for plywood. If you intend to use your kayak in exposed waters, it is worth getting really good materials.
Satisfying all three isn't too much of a problem in the US or New Zealand but is difficult in Britain.
If you cut out a panel with a pointed end, the tip disintegrates before you get a chance to use it. It may be enough if the sheet is stamped to certify that it is both BS 1088 and Lloyds approved. There are many sub-species of which Khaya ivorensis and Khaya antotheca are arguably the finest.
One Japanese company which is a major supplier to Japanese and European timber merchants has an appalling record of illegal destruction in the Amazon. This does not necessarily mean that the plywood they sell comes from sustainable sources, but it makes it more likely. This is a little under half the length of most sea kayaks so the bottom panels of the kayak have to be made from two shorter pieces and joined together end-to-end. It is often worth covering the floor with a couple of sheets of cheap hardboard before you start. These are more craftsmanlike, but in a long slim sea kayak they are seldom better than butt joints. When you have assembled your four long thin hull panels, clamp corresponding panels together in pairs, back to back, and use a long hand-plane to reduce them to the precise size. Generally the bevel is about 45 degrees but it is a more acute angle towards the ends of the panels. The distance between holes depends on the force required to bring the panels together at that point. From now until you have taped the panels, wear gloves when handling them so that oil from your skin does not get onto the surface where it might reduce the strength of the bond between glassfibre and wood.
Copper wire is best, because probably some twists will remain permanently embedded in the hull. This has the advantage that when you have taped the inside of the seams, you can simply plane the outside of the seam flat before taping the outside.
When the resin has set, you can remove the ties and surplus resin from the outside of the seams and tape them too. They will help the hull keep its shape until the deck is fitted, support the deck, and create buoyancy compartments to make your kayak safe. These will protect the side panels against abrasion when the kayak is on the water alongside a dock.
You could put on an extra layer of fibreglass under the hull, one metre fore and aft of the seat, because that is where most rock damage happens. These full size plans include patterns for all the plywood panels and forms needed to build a stitch and glue surf kayak.
These full size plans include patterns for all the plywood panels and forms needed to build a stitch and glue kayak. These full size plans include patterns for all the forms needed to build a strip-built kayak. To get WoodenBoat delivered to your door or computer, mobile device of choice, etc, click WB Subscriptions. Most have reasonably flat keels so both stems are well in the water when trimmed properly and their sheerlines are almost flat. SOF kayaks are much tougher than you might think, can be very light, but won't long withstand being dragged over rough surfaces.
It is very easy if you buy a pre-cut kit, in fact well within the ability of a practical 12-year-old. Your editor's first kayak was a plywood one he built in his parents' living room and had a lot of fun with for several years before switching to fibreglass. He once used 6 mm marine ply for the bottom of the hull of a double kayak which did a 40 day circumnavigation of Vanua Levi, Fiji, but generally prefers 3-4 mm. My previous 3 mm kayak (no glass sheathing) has done ten years with lots of multi-day trips. You can bend it into a semi-circle; you can twist it into what is, geometrically, a section of a cone. A baidarka may have a triple chine hull, with performance almost indistinguishable from a round bilge hull. To make the seams rigid and waterproof, lay fibreglass tape along each seam and brush plastic resin onto it. The design is not free but it's nice, and the plans come on paper from WoodenBoat magazine. It is too stiff to twist through nearly 90 degrees as required for the bottom panels in most kayak hulls, but it makes a very good rear deck. Beware the terrible rubbish that is sold by most UK builders' merchants under the label exterior ply or even marine ply.
Elsewhere in Europe and in north America, additional possibilities include Joubert, Shelmarine and Boulter.

It has attracted the attention of environmental activists worldwide and millions of dollars in fines from the Brazilian government.
In the UK there is the timber giant Timbmet Silverman which sells Bruynzeel marine ply and has a specialist division called Severn Ply. Bruynzeel produces 4 mm and 6 mm gaboon marine ply as part of its Hechthout range, made from timber grown sustainably in Gabon. Some reputable designers and builders like to use high-quality plywood made from softwoods such as Douglas fir, Finnish birch, Baltic pine and Siberian larch. To take advantage of that, make sure that the straight ends of the pieces lie precisely on the edge of the sheet.
Cut gently and hold the saw as near horizontal as possible to avoid splintering the surface layer of veneer on the other side of the sheet. We get our copper wire by stripping a short length of industrial copper cable and unwinding the strands. Leave each twist slightly loose and use a screwdriver inside the hull to press the wire inside the hull down into the seam. This sort of sheathing is likely to add 5 or 6 kg to the weight of the kayak, or 10 kg if you also use epoxy resin to encapsulate all surfaces. On any water where the wind can get at you the upjutting stems of the Rob Roy would make the boat hard to steer.
You can build a kit kayak in three four weekends, but accessories and painting take as long again. Plywood can be more eco-friendly than composite or plastic but that's not necessarily so. The outer layers of attractive veneer are often literally paper-thin so they add nothing to the strength of the core. Even if your kayak is painted with epoxy resin and sheathed in glass, the wood will get damp and the glue of bad plywood may dissolve, causing the panel to delaminate after which it will have the strength of wet cardboard. A good name for quality does not always mean clean hands when it comes to the natural environment. These are grown sustainably in Scandinavia and Russia, so you're not complicit in major damage to the environment.
You need a bevel only on the inside half of the panel, just enough to make the panels sit together easily when you stitch them together with twists of wire. Some people report good results using very thin steel wire with a plastic coating, available from garden centres. You will use two to support the back and front of the cockpit and the other two about 40 cm closer to the ends.
If you are making the decks from 3 mm or 4 mm plywood, consider cutting an extra panel to double their thickness around the cockpit. White-water canoes have a lot because survival requires dodging rocks and logs and other junk that's in the way. You can veer away from that some but not by much if you are after a pleasant paddling experience. However the best marine plywood made from them is both awesomely expensive and difficult to find in Europe. Consider using a Japanese handsaw as these cut when you pull the handle, not when you push, so the blade can be thinner. The main butt plates will be under the seat, just where the hull needs extra strength anyway.
If the panel edges are sharpened into a real knife edge, it may get broken during the construction process and will easily be damaged when you bump a rock at sea.
If you are building a design with a small cockpit, the deck beam at the front of the cockpit will also be your knee brace, as in this photo of the masik in a skin-on-frame kayak. In particular, just behind the cockpit, where the rear deck will have to support your weight when you get in and out, and for 3 feet in front of the cockpit if the front deck may ever have to support the crushing weight of a flooded kayak during an X-Rescue. A white-water boat out in the open will be hard to steer if an unfavorable wind is blowing. You could easily construct a box with plywood, but if you wanted to construct a rounded bowl you would need a lot of glue and patience. The core ought to be made of smooth sheets of veneer, carefully trimmed to eliminate gaps (core voids) but in cheap ply the core is often made up of lots of little pieces, of varying thickness and density with big core voids, cheap filler and even factory waste such as sawdust, paper and steel staples. Robbins Timber specialises in wood for boatbuilders and in August 2009 they were offering two thicknesses of FSC-compliant marine plywood, both too thick for kayaks but they intended to add to their range. Apparently in the USA is is quite easy to find marine ply at a reasonable price, made of Douglas fir. A few people even find they can cut plywood panels precisely to shape, with none turned into sawdust, with a craft knife. Still, there is a certain satisfaction in making perfect scarf joints, and the only tools required are a ruler, T-square, pencil, a very sharp hand-plane, glue and a few clamps. It may be a mistake to use polyvinyl acetate (PVA) wood glue even if it claims to be strong and waterproof. Notch the top edge of the deck beams so that they do not prevent you draining all water out of the cockpit when the kayak is upside down. I have enjoyed the boat in all kinds of conditions although she has to be treated carefully around rocky beaches. One of the reasons that kayaks have overtaken canoes in popularity is their low profile allows even old ladies to paddle without being captive to the winds and the waves. So canoes like the Rob Roy and the Six-Hour have too much rocker and, while they may be fun to build, are not what you want if you are going to be paddling in a wide variety of weather conditions. Unless you're very confident about your ability to cut precisely to shape, cut the panels out about 3 mm oversize all round except for the side which is going to join onto the neighbouring panel. Notch the inwales slightly so that you can slot the ends of the deck beams into the notches, and attach the beams with screws and glue.

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