Building a Traditional Kayak with Polyester Skin and Plywood

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Building a Traditional Kayak with Polyester Skin and Plywood
Testing the “Kidyak” in the pool

Maker Trevor Akin has been building boats for himself for years. Now with the “Kidyak” he’s built a child-sized, skin-on-frame kayak for his daughter. This is a sturdy, light, inexpensive and relatively easy to build kid version of a traditional Arctic kayak like those used in Western Greenland.

He began by working with plans from his friend and fellow boat Maker, Dave Gentry of Gentry custom boats. It’s built in a way similar to cloth-over-frame aircraft, popular during the early aviation revolution, but the design goes back to traditional methods of the Arctic’s aboriginal people.

The frame is cut by using patterns that are traced from templates onto heavy paper. Once the patterns are cut they are applied directly to marine plywood.

The patterns are then ready to be used as a cutting guide for the wood frame, cockpit, knee braces and other wood structures of the boat. Lightweight woods are used for stringers and they can be assembled without screws using lashing and or glue.

Akin explained that by drawing out a design  and then building a model he could create templates that could be scaled to size. Using this method, a full scale boat can be transformed into a customized kid-sized kayak.

A departure from the traditional covering utilizing skins and sinew from marine animals, Akin used a synthetic fabric skin pulled over the frame. He lashed the frame with artificial sinew. The 8oz polyester cover is paintable and kids can help design and customize the look of their boat.

Akin completes this build with a beautiful, lightweight, traditional style paddle that will be easy for kids to hold. The boat itself only weighs about 15 pounds and can easily be transported by the kids to the water. This build takes 20-25 hours and once completed is perfect for fishing and paddling across lakes and slow moving waterways.

Frame cut from paper pattern templates
Look Ma no screws! Lashing the wood together
Frame and stringers coming together
Placing the skin. This boat uses two big pieces: one for the bottom of the hull and one for the top.
Cockpit frame over the skin
Cockpit, installed and lashed
Carving the paddle
Some close ups of the hull with the bottom skin
Light weight frame
Close up of the cockpit

4 thoughts on “Building a Traditional Kayak with Polyester Skin and Plywood

  1. Michael Black says:

    The classic book about kayaks is “The Starship and the Canoe” by Kenneth Brower, which came out about 1980. It’s about George Dyson, who was living in the pacific northwest making giant kayaks, and his father Freeman, who had been part of “Project Orion”, propelling a ship into space by setting off atomic bombs behind it.
    It’s not a technical book, but I picked up some things about using epoxy, which is why when I had to glue the handle back together on my soldering gun, I lashed it together with nylon fishing line, then applied epoxy.
    George wrote a book or two about kayaks, I think one was about making them, but the time I checked, they were no longer in print.

  2. E. M. says:

    Super awesome kids boat!

    In reaponsr to the previois commenter – George Dyson still supplies most of the nylon and polyester that people use to skin their skin on frame kayaks.

    This style is what I have heard commonly referred to as “Yost boat” after Tom Yost, who designed early variations. Traditional skin on frames have many more steam bent ribs forming the hull, instead of the cut frame pieces. Some people have even used the cut frame style to make folding kayaks that fit into a duffle bag!

    When I was younger, I spent many an hour learning to roll in Yost style kid boats! They’re a fantastic, cheap way to get somebody into a kayak, perfect for kids.

    Check out for more info on traditional kayaks!

    1. rose.beadle says:


  3. Kuldeep Yadav says:

    Love your Ideas and concept “The kids Boat” great work. Keep it up and Great collection too.

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Theron is an educator, business owner, writer, and consultant working within Springfield, MO and the Ozarks community. He enjoys making and building with his 11 year old son and likes to read and write about science, technology, education, sci fi, martial arts, and philosophy.

View more articles by Theron Sturgess


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