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How Kayaks Are Built

The material that a kayak is made from is really important as it can determine its overall performance, durability, weight, and more. You want to ensure that your kayak is going to be all of these things. 

kayak with a deck bag

The different materials that are used will have different processes when it comes to making kayaks, which is something we will explain for you in this article. This way, you will be able to choose a kayak construction that is the best for what you need.

If you are wondering how kayaks are made, we are going to answer all of your questions here, and explain the different processes of making kayaks.

How Are Kayaks Made

This may vary, depending on the materials that have been used to make it, but by the end of the article, you will be prepared with knowledge on the different manufacturing processes.

What is the Main Material Used to Make a Kayak?

One of the most commonly used materials for making kayaks is polyethylene, which is used for making plastic kayaks.

two kayaks on the shore near tents
Parc de la Vérendry, Réservoir Cabomga

Polyethylene is made from recycled plastics, which is something to keep in mind if you are conscious of your impact on the environment. It is a tough and waxy material that will not be affected by things like water and chemicals.

A great feature of this material is that it can be continually softened and hardened through heating and cooling, which makes it perfect for the purpose of manufacturing kayaks.

Polyethylene has excellent strength and durability to ensure that it will last for a long time, and it can also be used to make the seats inside of a kayak as well as the exterior.

canoes and kayaks lined up on the ground

Another material that is used during the manufacturing process of a kayak is closed-cell foam, like etha foam, which is often used for flotation devices, bulkheads, and padding.

Rubber pedals and foot braces will typically be made out of a lightweight metal, like aluminum, which will also be resistant to corrosion. 

How Are Kayaks Made?

The manufacturing process of a kayak can vary, depending on the materials that have been used to make the kayak.

kayaks lined up on a beach

We are going to explain some of these processes for certain types of kayaks for you below.

The Manufacturing Process of a Polyethylene Kayak

The body of this type of kayak is made through a process that is called rotational molding.

person white water kayaking

Once the shell has been made, the seat and other parts will be added during the manual assembly process. The shell will either be molded in one piece, or two separate pieces. 

The process of rotational molding will require rounded contours, so one-shell pieces will not be able to have sharp intersections between surfaces.

If the design requires this, then a two-piece shell must be used. We will explain the entire process below.

Loading the Mold

Polyethylene plastic will be measured and mixed with coloring agents, and then loaded into the bottom of a two-piece, thin-walled aluminum mold. The mold will then be closed, and the two halves will be secured tightly.

family kayaking

Once the mold has been loaded, it will be moved to the heating station, where it will be heated to between 480 and 840 °F.

Once the heat from the mold starts to melt the plastic, the mold will be slowly rotated in two directions.

Gravitational force will then cause the melted plastic to flow to each side of the mold to cover the entire surface with plastic. It will then be heated further to fuse the plastic into a solid layer that attaches itself to the mold.

Cooling Chamber

The mold will then be moved to a cooling chamber, and it will continue to rotate. It will gradually cool through carefully directed sprays of air and water, and the mold will harden further.

kayaks lined up on the beach shoreline

The plastic will shrink away from the mold, and it will then be removed.

Making the Shell

The hull and deck will need to be carefully sealed together to ensure that they both become one unit.

Final Assembly

After this point, closed-cell foam flotation aids or flotation bags will be added to the kayak and held in place with adhesive. If the kayak features bulkheads, then these will also be added and sealed using a polyurethane sealant.

kayak carrier for car

Foot braces or rubber pedals will then be attached to the inside of the hull using non-corrosive metal fasteners. The final step is then to install a drain plug, which will be inserted into a molded hole in the shell.

How Are Composite Kayaks Made?

A composite kayak will include those that are made from laminates of fiberglass, aramid, carbon fiber, or a blend of either of these fabrics and other fabrics. Gel coat will be sprayed into separate deck and hull molds, which will be followed by hand-laid layers of cloth.

kayak next to a tent

As well as this, vacuum bags will be added, and then an injection of resin. Both fiberglass tape and resin will work together to rejoin the deck and hull to make them one.

How Are Wooden Kayaks Made?

A wooden kayak is less common, but it can be made using either a stitch and glue or strip-built construction.

a wooden kayak

The first of these methods is much faster and requires less skill, but the second method offers you more freedom when it comes to the overall design of the kayak.

Once either of these methods has been used to make the kayak, the wood will usually be covered in a protective layer of fiberglass, resin, and varnish.

How Are Thermoform Kayaks Made?

The process of thermoforming will use a vacuum to suck heated plastic sheets over a mold. The sheets will be made out of impact-resistant ABS plastic that is bonded to a thin outer cap of glossy acrylic.

How Are Kayaks Made

These two plastics will work to produce finer edges and more complex shapes, but they will also use fewer materials than some other methods.

As with many other techniques, the deck and hull will be formed separately, and joined together later on with adhesive and tape.

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it. Hopefully, this answered all of your questions about what goes into making a kayak.

As you can see, there are several different materials that are used to make kayaks. It all comes down to personal preference because any kayak is better than no kayak, regardless of what it’s made out of. Just make sure you get the right size paddle!

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