Plywood Kayaks

Recently I became interested in building small boats out of plywood. This was partly due to the relatively low expense of such projects, partly due to my unfulfilled nautical inclinations while living in the midwest, and partly because I don’t have nearly enough unfinished projects going already. I initially was thinking of a small plywood cuddy cabin cruiser, around 16ft or so. This would fall just under Minnesota’s title requirements, and be small enough to transport by trailer with my Rustmobile (estimates of its towing capacity range from zero down into the negatives by informed teenagers on plastic spoiler forums).

Another interesting fact related to this project: When my Dad first started commercial salmon trolling in Alaska, he built a small hand trolling dory out of plywood. It was barely large enough to sleep in, was powered by a 7.5hp outboard, and eventually made him enough money to buy a larger boat. Here’s a picture of the dory, in what looks like Soapstone cove:

I got together with some friends and decided that a 16ft cruiser was probably a bit much for a first boat project, so we began with small single-person kayaks instead. I did manage to pick up another antique Johnson outboard on craigslist for the eventual cruiser though!

The kayak plan involved quite a bit of research into online boat plans, plywood construction, and similar projects created by other people. In the end I just decided to fake it as I went along, cutting out rough hull sections and combining them into simple flat-plane shapes. No fancy compound curves or chines for us! I did use a lot of reference photos of plywood canoes and kayaks online, but I didn’t feel like spending $20-$100 on plans that I could sketch out on bar napkins for free.

Some sketches, and an attempt to remember trig.

Finally we just went ahead and started slicing up sheets of plywood, our first boat is a little rough, was initially very topheavy before we cut down the freeboard, and is too short for me to fit in.

The second try is a little better thought out. We stuck two pieces of plywood together to make longer hull sides and a bottom, and made multiple bulkhead/brace pieces for a smoother shape. Like the first design, this boat will be sealed around the seams with fiberglass cloth and waterproofed with epoxy. I plan to put top decks on both of them as well, leaving kayak-style cockpits for the paddler. That way we’ll have sealed dry compartments for storage and flotation, as well as be able to take some rougher water. I don’t expect these to be high-performance or anything, but they should work well on the midwest’s rivers and lakes.

We dumpster-dived part of the plywood, and ended up with one bulkhead that proclaims “Jason is cool hot!”. We also dumpstered enough PVC pipe to make a wicked potato cannon, which will be another update whenever I get around to uploading the photos.

A recent test of the larger kayak. As usual, updates will come (maybe) as the project progresses.



For those who are interested in more details, here are a few websites that offer plans, design ideas, photos, and other info on small plywood boats:

Bolger Boats: Lots of great simple designs.
One Ocean Designs: Some more complex designs.
Glen-L Marine:Another simple design with plans for sale.
Simplicity Boats:And even more simple designs for plywood boats.
Two-part rowboat: An easy-to-transport rowboat design.
Duckworks Baby Canoe: A really fancy miniature canoe.
Lake Pepin Messabout: A whole lot of homemade boat enthusiasts.
Hannu’s Boatyard: A lot of “one-sheet” plywood designs.
Free Boat Designs: A few more one, two, and more sheet designs.

One Response to Plywood Kayaks

  1. […] building. Long-time readers of this site will recall some of my boat projects like the S/V Pagoo, plywood kayaks, and the Craigslist sailboat (update: I sold the small sailboat to the St. Paul Saints as a […]

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