Inuit Skin on Frame Kayaks
Inuits were the original kayak builders

Kayaks were traditionally a boat which the paddler would build himself. Kayaks were developed by the Inuit and Aleut peoples of arctic Americas and Greenland (popularly known as Eskimos). These people needed to build a boat with limited materials that would let them paddle in some of the most dangerous waters of the world. They built kayaks. 

The traditional Greenland Inuit kayak or Aleut “baidarka” was built “skin-on-frame“. A frame constructed of driftwood, lashed together with whale baleen or seal ligaments was covered with scraped seal skin.

These boats were used to hunt for seal, walrus and whales in the open ocean and among the ice floes of the high arctic. The original kayakers could travel through fierce storms and strong currents to catch haddock and cod. Early European explorers were duly impressed with the kayak and kayaker’s ability to navigate in dangerous conditions. They were amazed at the speed and sea worthiness of the seemingly delicate boats.

People continue to build kayaks today, although skinning seals to make a boat is no longer considered politically correct. And now the selection of materials available to the would be homemade kayak builder has increased. However, wood is still a material of choice for the home kayak makers. Now, there are high tech, long lasting, super strong glues such as epoxy. There are also light weight, rugged and easy to use reinforcements such as fiberglass. As a result, a home handyman can build a light weight, strong, low maintenance, inexpensive kayak in their basement shop or garage which is as good or better than what can be purchased premanufactured at the local outfitter.

Common DIY methods for building kayaks

Strip Built

Also called “cedar strip”, “wood strip”, or “wood-strip epoxy”. This method uses thin strips of lightweight wood, edge glued together and covered with fiberglass and epoxy to make the kayak. It gives the builder a lot of freedom in the shape of the boat the choose to make. Artistic patterns can be incorporated into the strips using different kinds of wood.


Sometimes called “tack and tape”, in this building method, flat panels of plywood are cut out to specific shapes, then “stitched” together using wires, tape or cable ties. The panels are then permanently glued together using epoxy and fiberglass. This technique is particularly good for “hard-chined” or “multi-chined” designs

Skin on Frame

Occasionally called “wood and canvas”. This is basically the traditional method used by Aleuts and Inuits. Now the frame is sometimes made of aluminum and the skin is usually canvas or nylon. Some builders cut frames out of plywood. Others, cover the frame with plywood

Common Manufacturing Methods


Alternately called “composite”. This method is generally limited to commercially manufactured kayaks as it takes a lot of work to make the first kayak. To make a kayak this way fiberglass is laid into a mold and then wet out with resin. This is also the same technique used to build kevlar and carbon fiber kayaks.

Roto Molded

Today more kayaks are made this way than all the other methods combined, but it is strictly a commercial method. A two story tall machine lifts and spins a large aluminum mold as it is heated up to several hundred degrees. The hot mold is injected with 60 pounds of colored polyethylene plastic beads. As the mold is spun, the beads start to melt and stick to the inside. If you have several million dollars to purchase the machine you should be able to make several kayaks every hour.