Building the Ultimate Expedition Kayak
Constructing the 30-minute Strongback
A lot of kayak builders and master boat-craftsmen will tell you it is vitally important to have a flawless strongback on which to build your kayak. From a certain point of view, I suppose this makes sense. After all, won't any boat built on an imperfect foundation turn out imperfect as a result? Well, honestly, the answer is no. True, aligning and plumbing the stations will be somewhat easier and quicker after you've spent several painstaking hours building the "perfect" strongback for your foundation. However, a quick glance at the detailed, tedious steps which many kayak-building handbooks provide for building strongbacks will expose the rest of the truth: that you'll almost certainly end up wasting more time than you save. In the end, even if your strongback is less-than-perfect, you can achieve perfect results when building your boat. How? Well, it actually boils down to simple geometry. It sounds unbelievable, perhaps, but regardless of how mis-aligned your strongback may be, as long as you plumb all of the stations carefully with a level and a stringline, they will end up level and perfectly aligned no matter how twisted the thing is that is holding them up. Period. So unless you're going into the boat-building business and you need a strongback that will last without warping or twisting for years to come, you can save yourself a lot of hassle by building a simpler, less labor-intensive strongback that will still serve its purpose without any compromises to the quality of your finished kayak.
Having decided I didn't need to waste hours building a "perfect" strongback, I went to the lumber store and bought two 2 x 8 boards 16 feet long, and two 1 x 6 boards 8 feet long. Since I didn't want to make the strongback any more imprecise than necessary, I spent some time searching through the lumber bins to find the straightest boards I could. For the 2 x 8 boards, I sighted along the narrow edge to make sure this edge of each board was as flat and straight as possible. A little curvature to the left or right was acceptable, but the narrow edge needed to be as flat as possible. Also, there could be no "twist" in the board, as this would distort the flatness of the narrow edges as well. For the 1 x 6 boards, I sighted down the wide face of the boards to make sure this face was, again, as flat and straight as possible. Again, some curvature to the left or right was acceptable, as long as the wide face of each board was relatively flat. Of course, following my own logic that the strongback need not be "perfect," even these precautions are partly unnecessary. However, a substantially twisted or warped board will restore the "hassle" to the strongback-building process, so it's best to at least begin with the straightest boards you can find after a quick glance through the lumber bins.
Having gathered all of the necessary boards (plus a couple of 2 x 4 boards for making the strongback legs), I took my lumber home and prepared to build the strongback. Here, it probably bears mentioning that many carpenters and wood-workers recommend storing the lumber in your garage or workshop for up to four weeks in order to let the wood acclimate to its new home before you use it. This practice helps ensure that the wood will not significantly warp or twist later. Alternatively, if you have access to old lumber in usable condition, it should have finished settling long ago, and the potential for warping shouldn't really be an issue. It is not absolutely imperative that you follow either of these recommendations (I didn't), but be aware that the wood in the strongback can "settle" after you've built it. Again, following my logic that an inaccurate strongback is not the problem popular wisdom has made it out to be, the issue of "settling" wood is only a problem after you have set up your riser blocks and stations. Then, the warping or twisting will not just affect the strongback but everything else attached to it, meaning that your stations will be rotated or twisted out of alignment to a greater or lesser degree. In this case, inaccuracies will be introduced to the finished kayak if you don't notice and correct the problem before you build. Since I stripped my hull to completion within two days of building the strongback, settling was not really an issue for me. However, if you let your strongback sit for several weeks before building, wait to set up your stations until the day before you actually begin laying strips.
Determined to get the boat-building process underway, I set my strongback up as follows:
Congratulations! You've built a 30-minute strongback! It may have taken you slightly longer than 30 minutes once you factor in the time required to build the legs, but rest assured you've saved yourself a lot of tedious measuring and gluing and whatever else is suggested by popular wisdom on this subject. The only downside is that your 30-minute strongback won't look quite as lovely hanging over your mantle when you're done, but I'm doubting you would hang it there anyway.
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Copyright © 2004, Wesley Kisting