My first kayak build

Submitted bytomcoates onFri, 08/31/2018 - 12:58

Hi. I have been poring over lots of kayak building videos and all the information i can for the endeavor of building my own.  I have decided to build the S&G guillemont, not only because the plans are free but what amazing kayaks nick schade has built and the experience he has developing small craft. I hope to use it for some weekend excursions.  So the final details i have questions about are :

1) what thickness plywood can be used for this kayak?

2) can wood flour be used for thickening the epoxy on scarf joints?

3 )how much epoxy would be needed to build this kayak ( CLC kit for similar length is 3 gallons @ 2:1 ratio).  has anyone used a less expensive epoxy than MAS that works well enough? I am not going to do a clear coat as my final finish. I know i will need non-blush, low viscosity?, slow hardener.

thanks for all your help in advanced


I am getting ready to build my first.  plans for shearwater double are on the way.  plywood already in.  epoxy is coming in as well.  

now the question about fiberglass cloth.   according to instructions I need 20 yards,  50" wide 4 oz plain weave.  would have been no problem in US. 

but I'm not and here just have to cope with "not available" answers.  and here is the question:

- either use 200 g/sqm continuous cloth 1 m wide (it will be short of the edges around hull) and patch it by 150 mm tape on each side?

- or use two pieces 50" wide but 10 yards each (this will be short length wise)?

In either case it is a disadvantage.    might loose strength.   might be ugly on a joint.  Any opinions appreciated.  Buying from US is not an option -

the delivery costs are huge!  Thanks, Eddie

Congrats to both of you for starting your first build.  I bet you can't build just one!

Tom - Boats that size are generally made with 4mm ply although 3mm could probably be used.  If you email Nick he will likely answer within a day or two.  For scarf joints and other structural glue-ups, cell-o-fill or colloidal silica make a better thickening agent.  My first build was a CLC Chesapeake 17LT from kit, which came with the MAS #2 kit (1.5 gal resin).  It was not quite enough and I had to order a little more.  Personally, I have continued to use MAS because all the positives override the marginally higher expense.  As a side note, CLC has a big sale this weekend and the #2 MAS kit is $50 off.  Lastly, I too am a fan of Nick's work.  I built a S&G Petrel Play that I absolutely love and am about to start a Mystery.  I would respectfully suggest that you also take a hard look at the S&G Petrel and S&G Night Heron.  Both are available in kits, which is a great help on a first build.  Another good choice would be the Shearwater 17 which is designed by Nick's brother.

Eddie - Great choice in the Shearwater Double, it is stable, comfortable and relatively fast.  I built one four years ago and it is one of our most used kayaks.  Since that design calls for a second layer of glass on the keel, I would put the seam on the bottom.  Use one run of cloth for each half of the hull, with a solid 4" overlap on the keel.  Strength will be no issue with a good overlap and the seams will be on the bottom where they won't be seen.  Of course, you will need more than the specified length of the narrow cloth.

My Kayaks

I was primarily suggesting that you look at the other boats because kits are available.  If you don't mind spending just a bit more, I think that a kit is a good idea for a first time builder.  Having all the ply precut on CNC machines with the wire holes drilled takes a lot of work and uncertainty out of a first build.  The other advantage of a kit (S&G NH or S&G Petrel) is that they come with artistic puzzle joints instead of scarf joints.  Besides being easier/more accurate, these joints allow you to do neat things with stains.

I am not certain that I would call either the NH or Petrel "better" than the Guillemot, but they are later designs based on the Guillemot.  If you use the Compare Designs feature of Nick's web site, you will see that both are a bit faster than the G and a little less stable.  I would not focus too much on saving a few dollars by using a free design.  Given the money that you will spend and the time that you will devote to building a kayak, saving $100 by using a free design is pretty inconsequential.  

Mark Nye, thanks for comments. 

You gave me an idea.  On the deck I will use overlap (only 3 in) in the place where the the beams for my outriggers are going to be.  This will get the seams out of sight.  On the hull, unfortunately,

the overlap will be seen on sides (no problem around keel area).

I will have to see how bad it is.  As a last resort I can use dark pigment in epoxy on the hull and leave clear only the deck.

Thanks Mark for your continued input, it is greatly appreciated.  $1500 for a kit is not really what i want to spend, the challenge is in the building it from nothing. i made my own coarse wood flour (sifted through a tea strainer, i know a little nuts). for the filleting and yes i would agree now after a small test not good for scarfing. I am hoping to build it for less then $600 including making my own greenland style paddle. i have already built this kayak in my mind and worked trough most all of the short comings i might encounter and how i might deal with them.  I have already lofted and built a scale model to see how the pieces would come together. as far as the epoxy mas through CLC is 2x's more then what the best rated epoxy i have found.  I forgot to mention how amazing the boats you have built look, and i validate your wisdom in trying to direct me to a successful outcome. i spent at least another few hours taking your suggestions into consideration. wishing that there was more information on the shearwater17 to make a better comparison with Nick's designs.

so looking over the stats on the boats you recommended can you explain how the moment of change and the righting moment effect how the kayak feels. which of your kayaks do you like the best, and why? please describe which one you are talking about in your pics, i am not familiar with all the designs.

thanks again



Mon, 09/03/2018 - 08:22

Cabosil or fumed silica is thixotropic (completely non sagging)

Wood flower and many of the fillers you can use will sag or run downhill as it hardens. Many builders have learned this the hard way especially with a slow hardner. Its worth buying some fumed silica for fillets or you have to make your filler viscosity very thick. Wood flower has a tendency to sag although its a great filler for small areas. There's lots of videos on this stuff on YouTube and you can see what builders recommend.


Mon, 09/03/2018 - 13:21

I agree 100% with Jay's recommendation for fumed silica over home-made 'wood flour'. 

Besides the sagging issue, the disadvantage of wood flour and balloons in my experience is that they make the epoxy mixture 'dry' if you add enough to make a thick mix. Silica mixes into a nice 'greasy' texture which sticks better.

You don't need to buy the (expensive) WEST silica if you have a fiberglass supply place handy (or handy online?) - the 'no-name' AntiSag silica products work OK in my experience.

BTW, homemade 'wood flour' isn't the same as the stuff that comes with the S&G kits and is sold by epoxy  suppliers. (I tried using wood sanding dust and  even it was too coarse for me; I'm cheap too... :-) ).

If it helps, I use less than 5 litres = 1.3 US gallons, 4 litres of resin, 1 litre of hardner. 4:1 ratio from a local supplier.

Plywood, 3 mm.

Everything has a coat of epoxy and then finished with paint. Varnish might look nice but we have vicious UV so even though some varnish might survive some time, paint is better. The only fibreglass used is on the seams. Keep it light.

Design? My own. My partner built the first of that design and the one I tend to paddle is a narrow version, designed for short, light, women. I might be light but not the rest of the parameters!!! The design, Mac50, a few around the world but mainly here in New Zealand.

Builds - a modified Kayel - 2 of, a double (circumnavigated Vanua Levu, Fiji), a modified stretched Dennis Davis tortured ply, my present Mac50L and a couple of smaller kayaks for kids.

I see mention of $1200 somewhere. Enough to build two for that price.


Wed, 09/05/2018 - 08:38

i don't see exactly what you are explaining with an issue with the wood flour.  I wonder if they did not mix in enough wood flour as a west marine rep  demonstrated in a video i saw. he mixed it to the point  where the mix hangs on the end of the stir stick without moving at all . He also recommend pre-wetting the fillet area with epoxy and letting it get tacky before applying the fillet.  i was hoping to overcome that aspect by laying the fiberglass over it before it sets off (for the chemical bonding reaction)  or if not then a lot-o-bit of sanding will need to occur. Seeing how voids in the fillets can cause dry pockets in the fiberglass being laid over it can be a genuine concern and will rethink the way i an going to do my fillets.

I was doing some scaling up from the free drawings  of the guillemot and found some conflicting information on the location of the opening for the cockpit (a stated measurement of 7'-11 1/2" measured from in front of the bow and 7'-2 1/2" from the front of the flat  cut plan). seems like a crucial part and i am not sure the front of the boat will be 9" past the end of the deck plans, but it is 7 3/4" shorter than the longest piece. was really looking forward to lofting out the boat but may have to purchase the plans.


Wed, 09/05/2018 - 13:30

Tom said:

I wonder if they did not mix in enough wood flour as a west marine rep  demonstrated in a video i saw. he mixed it to the point  where the mix hangs on the end of the stir stick without moving at all . 

Do you have a link to that video? I don't think WEST sell (or recommend) wood flour, but I may be wrong about that. WEST Filleting blend is 'wood-toned' but is a (proprietary) blend which seems to include a thixotropic component. It's very nice stuff to work with, though a bit expensive, and is probably the best choice for a beginner. 

I think the point that Jay was making, and which I 'seconded' is that wood flour or balloon mixes can seem quite stiff when freshly mixed, but get much more 'saggy' as the epoxy warms while curing. 

Adding the glass over a fillet in a 'one step' process can work if things are 'just right'. I have had fillets sag even with glass added. A two step system is probably safer though slower. Fillet and rough sand to knock off any little 'spikes'. Brush on a coat of thickened epoxy to fill any uneven-ness or small voids. Then add your glass and wet out carefully.

Adding peel-ply can improve the finish, but make sure you can get good access to the area later, as it can take a fair bit of muscle to remove peel-ply.


Neat fillets look easy when I'm watching a skilled craftsman on video; not so easy in my hands!


Thu, 09/06/2018 - 16:52

John you are right it is not wood flour it tricked me because that is what i started searching for and it does look like it but with white powder in it as well.  west system filler 407 ingredients

Phenol-formaldehyde polymer microballoon

Sodium potassium aluminum silicate

Synthetic amorphous pyrogenic silica

Fumed silica is not priced too bad $20 for a gallon

I am going to take your advise and leave the fillets and fiberglass as a two step process.

thanks again



Thu, 09/06/2018 - 17:53

Be careful with the silica -it's fine when mixed, but can get airborne easily, so best to wear a dust mask and not work in a breezy spot.

As for epoxy brands, one of my favorites is  RAKA.  I use the 127 Low Viscosity resin, and the slow "non-blush hardener" . It costs a little more than half what MAS costs. They're not kidding about the "slow" part, but that may actually be to advantage for a new builder. When saturating glass, the epoxy should not be 100% cured when adding fill coats, and this epoxy won't cure 100% overnight. 

I've used US composites epoxies for everything I do.  I buy the 3:1 mix and have only had one issue with amine blush.  It was a little cheaper (haven't checked prices for any other brands lately).  I would expect 3 gallons to be way more than actually needed though new builders use more than experienced ones.   

As for wood flour, I don't have nearly the amount of experience the other posters have but I've never had an issue with it.  I did use silica for my scarf joints but that's the only place I used it.  All other fillets, for hull joints, skeg box, bulkheads, etc, are all wood flour.  I've never had an issue with sagging except when I deliberately made a thinner mix.  Nor have I ever noticed it being "dry" when mixed.  Again, my experience is limited to a couple of boats.


Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:45

I’ve just started thinking about building my first wooden kayak. Looking for information I found this forum. Great that it exists, I found a lot of useful information.

I am an enthusiast of kayaking from Tenerife, a Spanish island in the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve started up a blog for kayak lovers in Tenerife and I will recommend this site. Regards.


Fri, 09/14/2018 - 09:38

Thanks frank and jim for the heads up with those epoxy companies, both have excellent prices. working on making space in the garage for the build. i got 2 cedar boards and made my first  greenland paddle. white cedar 2x4, shown, and will be making a red cedar storm paddle as a back up, but i won't make that one until i go visiting parents around thanksgiving. link for paddle build  -->



Sat, 09/15/2018 - 11:24

Current Designs Solstice GT (High Volume) sea / touring kayak. This fiberglass kayak . There is minor wear / scuffs on the hull, but no gouges or anything like that. It has always been stored under cover.Length is 17'7". Weight is about 54 lbs. I will throw in a new, never used Seals spray skirt, a large Stohlquist life jacket, and bilge pump. $990.

found this which would probably equal my build cost.  any comments on this boat?

would have to build a strip kayak if i bought this. 

thanks in advanced


Sat, 09/15/2018 - 12:25

Tom said:

found this which would probably equal my build cost.  any comments on this boat?

would have to build a strip kayak if i bought this. 

Did you mean 'would not have to build a strip kayak if I bought this'?

Anyway, a couple of thoughts:

It's almost always cheaper (around my area in BC) to buy a decent used boat than to build a boat from scratch. So you need to be motivated by other things like getting a design that isn't available commercially, or just the fun of building something that is unique (and hopefully beautiful as well..).


I've never paddled a Solstice (GT or standard) so can't comment on that. Current Designs certainly sold a lot of them.

Also, paddling (and owning) some commercial boats will refine your ideas about what type of boat you'd like to build, if you pick a strip or S&G project. It could save you quite a bit of work.

Also, a commercial boat will be much easier to sell if you 'fall out of love' with it, vs a strip or S&G boat.



Sat, 09/15/2018 - 13:21

just as an edit buying a prefab would take me out of the S&G kayak mode into strip built mode at a much later date. i was trying to get into a sea kayak for not a lot of money, and something like the S$G guillemot i was thinking i could build for $600 now looking like $900-$1000 with skirt and pfd.  A good  point buying this prefab would give me some experience in a larger boat and easier resale if i didnt like it or didnt suit my initial ideas.

thanks again for the input



I had a friend build me a wooden Kayak using epoxy resin and kevlar with a really nice coat of paint on one side, carbon fiber on the other. It was gorgeous, one of the best looking water-craft I had ever laid eyes upon. Sadly I quickly found out just how fragile this construction is. It's not fragile in the sense that it will puncture easily, it may actually resist that a little better than plastic in terms of impact for impact, but longer term it's very fragile and does not stand up to the abuses that the Kayaking puts upon the hull in terms of getting dragged into and out of the water in any which place, especially rocks.

The truth is that the wood hates water and makes it fall apart. So you need the kevlar and epoxy to shield the wood from water, but they are liable to scratch and the gouges from using it get deeper and deeper with time; it doesn't take long. Add the fact that exposed Kevlar and Epoxy get damaged by sunshine, but then you need an expensive coat of paint to protect these materials, and the paint pretty much scrapes and chips off every time you look at your Kayak, never mind actually move it or drag it anywhere. This means it will involve a yearly resurfacing and repainting or before you know it you can have much more difficult to repair damage and delamination. This is a lot of work to do yourself every year, or you can pay somebody but that is not cheap.

After an expensive mistake I just wanted to share my costly tuition to what people call the school of life. There are two types of Kayakers:

1. Those who enjoy the durability, low cost and maintenance free of plastic which lends itself to the nature of Kayaking in that you can just drag it into and out of just about any body of water you want. Plastic is a little heavier but most of us could easily shed 10-20lbs by eating less and exercising more which is all you're going to save in all but the biggest Kayaks. 

2. Those who insist on using other materials who after paying more to get something less reliable and much more maintenance intensive learn exactly why Plastic as a whole works best.

That is not to say you couldn't use fiberglass, composite or wood or a combination thereof in other nautical craft but the joy of KAyaking is just plopping your craft in any which body of water and exploring for the least expense and highest convenience. Plastic is really the only material that allows full use of that term. Once you use these other materials you are starting to take on the obligations and drawbacks of a boat and the price differential gets closer to boating so why not just upgrade and get a real boat?


Mon, 09/24/2018 - 19:19

CA139 said:

Plastic is a little heavier but most of us could easily shed 10-20lbs by eating less and exercising more which is all you're going to save in all but the biggest Kayaks. 

Generally we don't have to lift our bodies up on to the roof rack of the car; that's when a lighter kayak really is nice!

I had a friend build me a wooden Kayak

That was your first mistake. :)

Wooden kayaks are not something you get someone else to build for you.  Wooden kayaks are something you build yourself because you want to build a wooden kayak.

Plastic kayaks may need to be dragged.  Wooden ones can easily be built light enough so that you don'y have to drag them.

You are obviously happy with plastic.  I am happy with my collection of wooden kayaks, none of which have suffered the problems you describe.

Etienne Muller

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 03:13

I'm kind of wondering why CA139 is here at all. It sounds to me as if he has zero interest in DIY kayak building. "What thread of circumstance led him to arrive in this forum?" I ask myself. "Could he become our resident devil's advocate?"

I would ask him, but I don't know his name.


Etienne Muller

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 03:21

Maybe CA139 is Tom's or Eddie's wife in disguise, making a valiant attempt to avoid becoming a man-cave widow, or perhaps she has lots of jobs around the house and yard that she knows will never get done if he starts boat building?


Without sharing too much info on the net I am from Rhode Island which is full of rocky beaches. I went on an ill advised venture with a friend of mine and the product that came out was, well wood and paint and lots of scratch prone epoxy and kevlar. I was happy with my thermoform but wanted to support him launching his boat building business and was hoping for something a little faster, lighter and stable than what I already had. Given the rocky beaches, especially what is accessible to me I found my Kayak difficult, inconvenient to use and ultimately it was so prone to scratches and the ongoing maintenance needs were very high that I just gave it back.

I wasn't prepared for what the wood Kayak experience really entails and it's not out there unless you read between the lines. You read that it's supposed to be light and strong but it's not the high level strength that seems to matter because in the end you don't get big collisions against rocks, at least not in an ocean going capacity and there are no rapids around here. No one really prepares you for the wood's greatest weakness: resistance to abrasion and the ongoing maintenance!

I think one has to have a very devoted handy streak to enjoying wood working otherwise the wood experience can be daunting. When my friend who is the type who loves to polish things all day for the sake of polishing without ever accomplishing anything (I think he has OCD now as his mental illness is clear but that's another story) was building it I wasn't quite aware of what this expense would entail. I attribute the result to my naivete but in the end, I wish I had known that wood really isn't that much lighter than a higher end plastic (thermoform) but the tradeoffs for durability are greatly understated. YMMV.

[q]The truth is that the wood hates water and makes it fall apart[/q]

Yes, it is rubbish. The plywood dinghy my father made for us kids 60 years ago is going to fall apart in a 100 years from now.

[q]So you need the kevlar and epoxy to shield the wood from water,[/q]

What is the kevlar for? And the dinghy? No epoxy anywhere near it, ever.

My partner's kayak that she built 20 years ago I can see it falling apart sometime in 100 year's time too, maybe 200 years. Epoxy but no kevlar. Dragging it up stony beaches? She always does that.

As for plastic, the sun eats it. A decade old and it is getting brittle. The fidge-door type plastic ones are fragile. Don't go bouncing those on rocks. Or not the way we do with plywood. How do you fix the gouges in a plastic kayak, one that has been dragged up beaches?

Delaminate? What is he talking about? Good plywood does not delaminate - ever.

Weight - 30 kg for a plastic kayak, less than 20 kg for a good strong plywood kayak.

As for cost - ~$600 for a good plywood one, ~$2000+ for a plastic one. Building time and effort - some people pay to be allowed to do woodwork. The rest of us do it in our garage for the fun of it when it is too wet and cold to go paddling.

It sounds like CA139 had a badly designed kayak (or he lacks skill), badly finished and blames it all on wood, not the builder or his paddling skill.

When my partner drags her kayak up a stony beach it leaves grooves in the rocks. So that means it is knowing how to build, how to use the right materials and in the right places. And you don't need expensive kevlar. The only fibreglass cloth is on the chines and keel.

I certainly wouldn't want to abuse a plastic kayak the way we can with our wooden ones. Our ones are tough and light and I designed them.

     When you get into serious rock play off of Newport or The Narrows and you are surfing and sliding between rocks at 7-8 knots is that not similar to white water? When I do a seal landing in3- 4' surf on rocks that is a collision.

    Be careful dragging your plastic kayak. Keels wear down real fast and I can't repair them myself. I don't worry about scratches too often but will attend to the deep ones. One of the nice things about wooden kayaks is a hull that shows many play days....


No I just used mine in the Sakonnet River from Portsmouth where some relatives live on the water. They have a lot of nice beaches there but it was hard on the finish. Nothing bad actually happened to the wood Kayak but being used to the upper end plastic I wasn't ready for all the headaches with wood. 

I am not particularly handy with wood, the only thing I know how to do with it is start a fire so being spoiled with thermoform the handling benefits seemed small with the introduction of the need for long term care as what we do with our Kayaks is just leave them beached outside my inlaws house half the year. Yup, we just leave them there on the Sakonnet river exposed to the elements from spring to fall behind my inlaws house! After 13 years the only maintenance we did on them was expose them to 5-6 months a year of UV light and sea spray and they still work. Considering how little effort I put into caring for them and how inexpensive they were at under $1000 new, and the tandem we bought on Craigslist for $200 of equal to slightly greater quality the wood came to me as a shocker. 

All I am saying is that going wood doesn't really give that much in performance, a little bit yes it does but unless you like working with wood for the sake of working with wood the difference in money and time vs plastic is gargantuan. I did not expect that and would warn anyone considering their own build to think about how much they really dislike their PVC or thermofoam Kayak. The technology has evolved to make them lighter and more durable than ever before whereas wood has pretty much stayed the same and the bridge has closed enough to where you need to ask yourself do you want a slightly increased performance but giving up zero maintenance for yearly headaches and cost?





Wed, 09/26/2018 - 09:18

When I built my first kayak, I never analyzed the costs difference, longevity differences or any of that. I was just excited about the thought of building a kayak. I was a woodworker but learned an enormous amount of things over the years because of building kayaks. Plastic is good. Most trash cans are plastic. And the fact that cheap plastic kayaks have introduced people to paddling is good.

Woodworking is an art form and some people have it and some don't. It's the calling to do things like that which is the gift. Not just the outcome.

Well, I think we are very guilty of that but at least it's less than 6 months a year, also because my inlaws aren't getting any younger and when they want to go out they have a hard time taking the Kayaks from under their porch down the steps onto the local beach so they asked us to leave them out, and we did.

When you see how rocky the shores are on the Sakonnet river, you'll understand why wood was such a bad choice for me, especially there, but really just about anywhere in RI. If you see a red and yellow set of Kayaks along the shore, that's ours!


Wed, 09/26/2018 - 16:01

I thought and looked and found a few kayaks that seemed what i was looking for.  chesepeke17 LT i went an saw for $600, looked great but sadly was poorly constructed.  Then a couple of other boats and settled on a kevlar sealution with carbon fiber paddle for $600.  i must say that their is definitely a lot to learn to efficiently pilot a 16+ foot kayak. weather cocking is a real pain.  can this be lessened by adding  weighting the boat, if so where and how much is a good start? 

thanks in adavanced



Wed, 09/26/2018 - 23:13


A new discussion thread would be a good idea, since the topic of conversation has changed.

A good forum for general paddling questions as well as west coast info (mostly BC,AK,WA,OR) is WestCoastPaddler.

The Mariner kayaks website (still maintained online, though the company stopped business in 2007) has excellent general info in their 'Manuals'.

Getting some lessons is a good idea - it can prevent a lot of wasted time and also keep from developing bad habits.

All good kayaks will weathercock to some extent. More weight in the stern will help to 'anchor' the back of the boat in the water and reduce weathercocking. Dropping a skeg or rudder will also reduce weathercocking.

"weather cocking is a real pain."

You start another thread on good rudder design. KajakSport and Sea-Lect both use our concept though not as well conceived or well built or strong as those I produce. Good rudder pedal design is also important.