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Building the Ultimate Expedition Kayak

Making Cedar Strips

A strip of Western Red Cedar and a bundle of Northern White Cedar.

After some careful searching through the bins of "A" Cedar at the local lumber store, I finally found enough boards to supply the strips for the hull. Estimating that I could get approximately 20 strips out of a 1' x 8' board, and approximately 15 strips out of a 1' x 6' board (a calculation that turned out to be dead-on later), I bought six of the darkest Western Red Cedar boards I could find. I wanted the hull to be very dark, while the deck would be as white as possible. With a little luck and a lot of diligent searching, I finally found exactly the lumber I was looking for: six flawless boards with a beautiful, dark, chocolate-brown color. A couple of weeks later, after hours of trying to track down some white lumber for the deck, I had the unbelievable luck of running into someone with an ample supply of "A" Northern White Cedar sitting in his yard only a few miles from my house. Needless to say, I seized the opportunity and purchased 70 bright-white 1/4" strips at a fantastic price. As you can see, the dark Western Red hull is going to contrast stunningly with the bright Northern White deck.

Ripping the Cedar Boards into Strips

To cut the boards into strips, I tracked down a table saw, the thinnest-kerf blade I could find, and two helpers. After setting up the saw to cut the boards just a hair thicker than 1/4", and running a couple of test scraps, we started feeding the boards. The process went amazingly smoothly. One guy fed the strips in; another guy used a finger board to hold the strip tightly against the saw rail; and a third guy stood on the receiving end to pull the strips through. About an hour later, we had approximately 90 strips and a mountain of sawdust to clean up. But the process couldn't have gone better. If you have a couple of willing friends, I highly recommend enlisting their help for this part of the process. It really speeds it along. But be advised: the saw kicks up tons of very fine cedar dust. Everyone involved should invest in a good dust mask, or perhaps even a full respirator. Also, for convenience's sake, stop after you finish ripping each board and bundle the strips together. That way, you will end up with bundles of strips that all came from the same board and all match relatively closely in grain and color. This will help things later when you strip the hull because it will make it easier to keep the color and grain consistent from strip to strip.

Beading and Coving

Our makeshift router table, complete with finger boards and adjustable fence.

Next on the agenda was to bead and cove the strips. Although I had access to a router, my friend Bryan had to rig up a makeshift router table. Some particle board, a few sawhorses, and a trio of machine screws was all it took. We started the process feeling skeptical about how well it would work—especially since none of us had attempted anything like this before. But after a few test strips, our makeshift router table did the trick perfectly. Only the first test strip was eventful. Bryan had heard that feeding the strips with the router would help speed the process along, so we tested the theory. Big mistake! The instant we flipped the power switch, the strip got sucked into the router and launched across the room like a missile. Needless to say, we decided Bryan had heard wrong, and we reverted to my original advice: feeding against the rotation of the router.

Bryan's garage, fully converted into a makeshift kayak building workshop.

With one guy feeding the strips and the other guy pulling them through, we tore through the whole batch of strips in just a couple of hours. Again, this part of the process created a mountain of sawdust and filled the air with fine cedar particles. Make sure everyone has a good dust mask or respirator while working with the router. Also, put the bead on the strips first. The coving process produces some extremely thin, fragile edges which are very easy to crack, so the less you handle them, the better. If you were to run the cove first, most of the edges would probably crack off as soon as you fed them back through to cut the bead. But by cutting the bead first, you can avoid this problem altogether. Also, use care when bundling the strips after you finish coving. If you handle the strips too roughly, you'll crush the edges on all your coves.

When the sawdust cleared after beading and coving, I found myself with enough wood to make approximately 50 dark, full-length, Western Red Cedar strips for the hull, and approximately 35 bright, full-length, Northern White Cedar strips for the deck. By using 11 and 13 foot lengths, I allowed myself room to vary where the strips would be spliced together later, so as not to have all of the butt joints conspicuously lined up in the middle of the deck and hull. The only other option was to avoid butt joints altogether by using full-length boards of 18+ feet, but in retrospect, I think boards of this length would have been much harder to manage during the ripping, beading, and coving stages—unless, of course, I had access to a fully-outfitted workshop with unlimited space. But alas, I had only the garage (okay, glorified carport) at my friend Bryan's apartment to work in. (Thanks Bryan!)

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