Monday, October 27, 2014

Skin on Frame Kayak: The Design

Earlier this summer my girlfriend ponied up and bought herself a nice hot pink fiberglass sea kayak, which finally put the screws to me to build the skin on frame boat that I had been dreaming of for the past couple of years.

Skin on frame construction is the way that kayaks were originally built in the arctic waters of their origin.  You make a wooden skeleton that is a framework for a waterproof skin that encloses the boat. Traditionally, the skin was made up of several seal skins that had been sewn together, and then sewn around the boat.  Most modern builders of skin on frame boats opt for ballistic nylon, polyester, or canvas as opposed to seal skin.

I considered building a Greenland style boat, but eventually settled on building an F1 kayak designed by Brian Schulz of Cape Falcon Kayak.  Brian is a paddler and kayak designer/builder on the Oregon coast.  He teaches skin on frame boat building classes and builds kayaks and paddles to order.  He is actually gearing up for an epic round the country kayak class marathon this winter/spring that is probably coming to a city near you.  You can read more about the design, Brian, and skin on frame boats in general here.  Check here to see the current destinations for Brian's traveling kayak workshops.  Inspiring person, inspiring boats.  Here is a picture of Brian paddling one of his F1s out in their natural habitat.

Want one yet?

At 14' long the F1 is short for a sea kayak, but it is playful, fast, and action packed.  Armed with Christopher Cunningham's book for construction techniques, Harvey Golden's drawing of Brian's F1 kayak, and a clear vertical grain 14' cedar 1x10, I took the plunge.


  1. Want one yet? Yep. Looks great Tim. It might just be the inspiration I need to build one myself.

    1. Glen, I'm pretty sure Brian taught a class in Australia several years ago. I couldn't recommend building one more strongly. The whole process has enough similarities with building chairs that it is quite approachable and fun, while still bringing in enough new elements to make it exciting. The end product is the most satisfying thing that I have ever built. You interact with it so much more intimately than a piece of furniture. You lean, the boat turns effortlessly. I couldn't recommend building one more highly.