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Building the Ultimate Expedition Kayak

Cutting the Stations

I ordered the plans for the King on New Year's Day, and they arrived on my doorstep just four days later. Not wanting to wreck the originals, I photocopied the station templates, laid them out on 5/8-inch particle board, and glued them down with spray adhesive. The local hardware store recommended Elmer's Extra-Strength Spray Adhesive, which supposedly forms an excellent bond on wood and paper. To my dismay, however, I found the glue to be rather unpredictable. No matter how evenly I applied it, it randomly held in some spots and peeled in others. Regardless, with a bit of vigilance, I found it easy enough to re-glue the corners of the station templates whenever I caught them lifting from the board. With some careful handling, I decided I could keep the station templates in place long enough (and accurately enough) to line them up on the strongback later. Next time, however, I'll use 3M spray adhesive.

The station templates, glued to 5/8-inch particle board. A few of the stations after cutting.

To the left you can see some of the templates laid out on 5/8-inch particle board. To the right are some of the stations after cutting. Since the building process could not actually begin for another several weeks (when garage space would become available), I decided to cut out only a few stations each day in order to reduce the potential for cutting error that would otherwise inevitably result from moments of frustration or impatience.

It's amazing how small the cut stations appear to be. I keep worrying that the finished kayak is not going to have sufficient cargo space, but several builders have assured me that the stock plans will produce a very spacious, expedition-capable kayak. Even so, I keep wrestling with the temptation to add an inch of height to the deck, especially aft of the cockpit.

It's difficult to tell from the picture, but I tried to cut the particle board about 1/16" to 1/32" larger than the actual template outline called for. This way, the edges could be sanded down later to a flat, accurate edge, perfectly sized to fit the paper template. A belt sander, turned upside down and fastened securely in place, seems to be the ideal tool for sanding the edges flat, although a smaller palm sander or random-orbit sander will also work.

I cut out the stations with a Skil 5-amp orbital/scrolling jig saw, model #4580. The manual scrolling knob on top of the saw gives me full, 360-degree control over the orientation of the blade. In actual use, I only turn it a few degrees at a time, but this extra degree of control makes it easier to follow some of the more dramatic curves of the station templates. It also contains a built in light and dust-blower just in front of the saw blade, making it easy to see and follow the lines of the template. If you use an orbital-capable saw, be sure you lock out the orbital cut function so that the blade moves only straight up and down; otherwise, your edges may come out rougher. On the other hand, a little roughness isn't really a problem considering that you really ought to sand the edges smooth and flat regardless. Just keep in mind that the rougher your edges are, the more time you will need to spend sanding later.

Later, I had a chance to use a heavy-duty Bosch scrolling saw, and I was amazed at how much more accurately the Bosch was able to cut, apparently due to the noticeably lesser flex in the drive shaft. Although I received satisfactory performance from the Skil saw, I now definitely prefer the nicer Bosch model.

Bosch T101AO blade.

For blades, I recommend the Bosch T101AO scroll-cut blade. At 20 teeth-per-inch, these blades cut substantially smoother than many other "fine-cut" scrolling blades. Before you buy them, however, be sure your jig saw can accept T-shank blades. If not, look for another scrolling blade with the most teeth per inch you can find (more teeth equals smoother, more accurate scroll cuts). Whatever you use, be sure the blade is new so that it cuts cleanly and accurately.

Before trying to cut along the line of any template, first cut the template free from the rest of the particle board sheet so that you have a smaller, more manageable section of particle board to work with. Then cut into the edge of the board in line with one of the long, straight edges of the template. When you get to a curve or corner of the pattern, you can try to follow it around, or you can cut back out to the edge of the particle board to free the scrap you have already cut. This latter practice works well when you come to sharp corners or dramatic curves of the template because you can resume cutting the particle board at a more suitable angle to follow the curve. Alternatively, you can "rough-cut" the corners (i.e., cut an angular approximation of the curve slightly outside of the template lines) and then sand them down to smooth, continuous curves later.

Regardless of the technique you adopt, always proceed slowly when cutting. The harder and faster you try to force the blade through the wood, the more "wavy" and imprecise your cut will become, especially along the bottom edge of the wood. At best, this will mean a lot of extra sanding to get it smooth; at worst, it could wreck your work and force you to re-cut the whole template from a new piece of particle board. Trust me, the slower and smoother you proceed, the more accurate and smooth your cuts will be. Besides, considering that the stations determine the curves of the entire kayak, this is not the place to get hasty or cut wrecklessly.

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