Stage 3 of kayak build: the skin

The kayak build was about 80% woodwork, and 20% sewing and painting. With the frame built, next was the skin. We couldn’t find any seals or walrus skins, so we used ballistic nylon, the kind they use for bulletproof vests. If you took a knife or hammer to that stuff, even without coating, you could not put a knife point through it. Coated with 4 coats of 2 part urethane, it became a whole different material. If epoxy had been used, it would have been brittle.

We started with one huge piece of nylon, and draped it over the upside down boat. Once it was centered, I sewed a stitch around the bow of the boat. Then we pulled the nylon toward the stern with all the force we could muster, then we clamped it to a place near the rear. Then I sewed it around the back edge of the stern. When the clamp was removed, the nylon was still pretty tight along the keel of the boat, which was our goal.


Next we flipped the boat right side up, pulled the edges of the nylon over the centerline of the boat, and cut both sides to about 1” past the centerline. The stitching then started from the cockpit toward the bow and stern. The stitching acted like a zipper, and pulled the fabric tight, so when it was done it was as tight as a drum. Lastly, the coaming was put in place, and excess nylon inside the coaming was cut away. The stitching was made with a big needle and artificial sinew, which was waxed nylon.


The front edge of the coaming sat on the first deck brace, and the back edge of the coaming sat on the first deck brace behind the coaming. The sides were left to float, attached to the skin on all sides. The coaming had been predrilled with holes at a point 1/3 of the width of the coaming. The coaming was made by placing a long strip of wood around a form, clamping it in place, and then stitching it together.


After the skin was sewn in place, it was lightly sprayed with water, and the top was ironed to shrink the nylon. Then the skin was painted with 2 part urethane (Corey’s proprietary stuff that he sells through the Skin Boat Store). One day the top was painted with 4 coats of paint (mixed with a powdered red pigment). The next day, the boat was flipped over and the bottom coated with 4 coats, using a roller. When I put the first coat on, I thought “oh crap, I have a pink boat.” The second coat made it look more salmon colored. The third coat made it look like moose hide. The 4th coat made it look like copper. In fact when I first launched a guy came to the shore to see if it really was covered with copper.