Here is a great project that can be done in a single weekend (but will probably take two). It will cost way less than buying one, and the cost per kayak goes down if you make two at once.
The plans can be found on various places on the internet (see below or search for “boy scout folding kayak plans“), but the plans from Macscouter.com are the ones we used. Another good source is this video from Phil Gershwin.
I’ll show you what we did that was different from the plans at Macscouter…
NOTE: The information on this page is provided as-is and without warranty. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. Always wear a life-jacket and practice safe boating skills. See disclaimer at the bottom of this page.
Step 1: Cut and sand Plywood
One major change we made was to use a 4 x 8 piece of underlayment. Several people on the internet had done this successfully, so we went for it. Turns out using the shorter plywood works just fine if you weigh about 165 pounds max. If you weight more, you would probably want to go for a 10 foot version (but it will be a lot more expensive).
What we actually used instead of plywood was 1/4 inch SurePly underlayment (from Lowes). This material is durable, flexible, and has no internal voids, and it is made with exterior glue.
You can get it cut at the store. We had it cut into four 11.875 (eleven and seven eights) wide strips that were 8 ft long. Be sure to have them trim the last piece to this size. It is important that all four pieces are the same width.
(CLICK THE IMAGES FOR FULL RESOLUTION)
I used this template to round the ends out to an elliptical shape. You can print out the PDF full scale and tape the pieces together as shown. Then trace the pattern onto the plywood and cut it out. Only the two sides get the inside cut out (panel E).
Here is how the template pieces should be put together. The shaded area is the plywood.
Cut the template and transfer the outline to the wood…
We used a saber saw to cut the profile out…
Then we sanded the sides to have the exact same profile. We also used the sander to round the outside edges. It is at this point that you need to decide what is the inside and outside of the boat. We used the “top” side (with the X’s) as the inside.
Mask and Paint the Interior
As you will read in the plans, contact cement WILL NOT stick to paint. It will react with the paint and remove it making a sticky mess ( I have seen it happen). So you need to mask the areas on the inside where the cement will go.
We used Kilz 2 Latex primer. Then we used grey Rustoleum paint for the interior. I like this paint because it performs so well. We will use latex for the exterior because it will be in contact with the glued canvas. But: DO NOT PAINT the EXTERIOR yet.
When the interior is painted, you will need to let it dry at least 24 hours. This is given as “homework” in the plans.
Clamp and Mark
The plans require that you make a couple of clamps like the ones shown below. They are pretty simple and work well. Clamp the four pieces together with the unpainted sides out.
You will need mark the areas where the contact cement will go (don’t try to just “wing it”). We used canvas that was 3.5″ wide. This is a little wider than what the plans call for. This meant we needed to mark 1.5 inches inside the profile of the wood to get the right glue line.
A compass is really helpful to get the line drawn correctly…
It’s also HIGHLY recommended that you mark where the center of the kayak is. This will help when you lay out the canvas.
Cut Canvas Strips
We used a razor knife to cut them. Be sure to do this neatly.
Also, we rounded the ends of the canvas with scissors to minimize fraying.
If you are using the elliptical outline, your canvas strips need to be at least 3.5 inches wide. This is because of the tendency of the front panels to pull apart slightly as seen here:
Glue Side Pieces
Apply glue to the canvas side pieces, then to the wood. Then apply a second coat of cement to the canvas then to the wood again. You really do need two coats. Let it dry until it is tacky before you assemble. Read about using contact cement before you begin. It really grabs when you put the two pieces together.
I use a piece of PVC pipe to smooth out the wrinkles and get a good bond.
Installing the canvas is really a two-person job…
I trimmed off the stray canvas threads when the glue was almost completely dry.
Glue the End Pieces
When the sides have been glued, you can glue the ends. Mark where the glue will not be applied (in the center where there is a gap between the two sides). Putting glue here will make the canvas stiff.
Be sure to work on some kind of plastic to keep things neat.
Be sure you can get to the top and bottom of the kayak when it comes time to apply the canvas. I used an old door on my table to give some space underneath the kayak.
Try to stretch the canvas out from the middle to prevent as much wrinkling as possible. This video is very helpful.
If the cement is still just a little tacky (very close to almost dry) you will be able to work out most of the wrinkles.
Make & Install Spreader Boards
Home Depot sells small pieces of 3/4 inch plywood that are perfect for this. We used the exact spreader design as in the plans. Be sure to round the edges. We used a router with a .25 bead bit.
To install the spreaders, put one in the middle of the kayak, and spread it open. Then put one at the end (where it will actually go). When you have the end installed, remove the one from the middle and put it at the other end.
Glue the Center Strip (Bottom only)
You really need to use one, long strip of canvas to do the center strip. Follow the instructions in the plans, but your will be shorter if you are making the 8′ version. Dry-fit the canvas and mark where the glue should go.
I found it easier to glue the bottom first (one half at a time) and then glue the top.
Notice the kayak has been flipped upside-down. You will need to mark with a pencil where the glue goes.
To do the other half of the bottom, I put plastic under the canvas as I coated it with cement.
For the bottom runners, we used solid PVC molding instead of mahogany. It is flexible and pretty durable. Also, when we did our second kayak we made them a little shorter than the plans called for. They don’t have to bend as much.
We used a table saw to rip the PVC. Use a belt sander to round the ends nicely.
Then we removed the masking tape an drilled pilot holes in the plywood where the fasteners would go. Be sure to NOT DRILL the canvas or the top panel. Only drill pilot holes for the four T-nut fasteners inside the cockpit.
Then we glued the inside strips in place. Be sure they are centered on the hole locations.
We flipped the kayak over and drilled back through the pilot hole to match it in the strip.
Next, we glued the PVC running strips on the outside being careful to center them on the pilot holes. We then drilled through the pilot holes through the PVC. Then we used a countersink drill from the outside to drill the final screw holes.
Put the T-nuts in place and screw the runners on. Then use the countersink to add screw holes near the end of the runners (BE CAREFUL not to drill through the top or the canvas!).
When you are done, the PVC will b glued in place, and each piece will have 4 screws holding it on (2 in T-nuts and 2 in nylon stop nuts).
Glue the Top Half of the Canvas
Be sure you are done working on the inside at this point, because when you glue the top half, it is hard to get in to access the fasteners at the ends.
You do this the same way you did the bottom.
Install the Edge Rails
These install in a similar way to the bottom runners except they are easier.
You might need a c-clamp to get the T-nut to go in place.
Notice that both sets of runners (top and bottom) make a sandwich with interior and exterior parts.
Use wood filler to fill the holes in the top, use caulk to seal the holes in the PVC.
Install Tow Strips
You can see the tow strips in this photo below. They are useful not only as a place to attach a tow rope or handle, but also as a way to cover any wrinkles that may have been captured in the end or top canvas.
It is a really good idea to sew a loop in the strap so you can have a solid glue joint.
Make the Floor/Seat
The floor should as long as the distance between the spreader boards as it helps hold them in place. We used a canvas strip as a hinge instead of using real hinges. They seem to be holding up just fine.
Prime and Paint
You really need to use latex-based products as they will stay flexible and waterproof and will not dissolve the contact cement. Use exterior latex. I found the glossier the better. Don’t get the cheapest paint, it is an important part of the waterproofing (it is the waterproofing). You will want to paint the interior of the canvas as well as the exterior.
Let the Paint Dry & Hit the Lake
But not the ocean or the whitewater. These kayaks are great on still water, but not on rocks or waves. The paint needs to dry at least a week before putting it in service.
For added safety and comfort, we added a floating cushion from Wal-Mart. There are also fancier ones from Amazon. We got a pretty good deal on kayak paddles at Sports Authority. They are Lifetime brand. They are cheaper in winter.
Here are some other versions of the kayak out on the interwebs. We borrowed ideas from most of these.
- http://www.macscouter.com/CubScouts/PowWow06/KAYAK/PLANS.PDF (the ones we used)
- http://www.vintageprojects.com/boats/folding-kayak.pdf (original plans)
USE AT YOUR OWN RISK
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