Kayaking is an incredibly growing popular sport and leisure pastime. They look like canoes but have distinct differences. Kayaks for example float beneath the water whereas a canoe will rest on the top. This may sound very basic, but there are reasons behind why they are made in such a way.
So, have you ever wondered when you’re out on your kayak – how is thing made and why is it made this way? We’re going to take you down the river on this one.
Let’s dive deeper – how are kayaks made?
Kayaks – A Short History Of Creation
Before we look at how they’re made today, it’s important to understand how we got here. Kayaks have gone through numerous adaptations over the years, almost like an evolution to get to its best design for its uses.
Evidence suggests that kayaks can be as old as 2000 years. They were used by Eskimos for survival methods such as fishing and hunting or logistics. These kayaks weighed in at around 26lbs and their dimensions were estimated as 20 foot long and 20 inches in width.
They were made with bones or wood to create a frame and covered with moose or seal skins and the seams were made waterproof with either moose fat or boiled seal oil.
These early engineers of the kayak used any natural material they could find and use – any limitation on the availability of materials did not cause a problem for them, as they could find and utilize something else.
Contemporary kayak makers have used this young concept of low and covered boats to create the more modern versions which now make them worthy for the sea. The journey to get here though was not easy.
The Europeans adopted the kayak by 900 AD but as time progressed, there was a need to make them more easy to transport across land. The Germans temporarily solved this issue in the 19th century by creating a “foldboat.” This design had a folding frame and a canvas made of rubber.
It was around this time that kayaking moved from survival essentials to a more recreational activity on a lake or river. It wasn’t until the 50s and 60s that sea kayaking had a rise in popularity. This was likely due to the influence of Percy Blanfold who invented a lumber or plywood kayak which was covered by canvas.
In the 50s, a resin that was reinforced with fibreglass allowed for kayaks to be created without a necessity for a frame. This required 2 molds; one for the hull and one for the deck.
A release agent was the method to protect these molds and then the process of layering was the next step, otherwise known as hand lay up. A cloth soaked in resin was used over the molds and after these became dry – the parts of the boat forced together.
The final sealing process was using a tape of fibreglass.
By the 80s, a newer system to build kayaks was developed. This was by using plastics that were recycled and polyethylene.
Modern Kayak Development
Moving away from the more primitive version of bone and wood, the environmentally friendly manufacturing of recycled plastic was a great leap forward. Along with the many advantages of this, one is the majority used material of polyethylene.
This is a highly versatile material that can be made soft or hard by a cooling and heating method. It is strong and has no trouble with water or other chemicals and it is also the ingredient to create the seats for the kayak.
The foot pedals and rudder however are made using aluminium due to its resistance to corrosion. A rope made from nylon is how the grab loop is designed.
The kayak’s body is hollow and lengthy, created by rotational molding. Assembling by hand, the other parts such as the seats are added. This method requires smooth and round contours with no sharp junctions. However, if these are required then a shell of 2 pieces has to be made. You would do this by:
Polyethylene is integrated with agents for coloring and then added to a 2 part mold of aluminium. These are then shut tight.
Mold: Deck and Hull
It is now heated in an oven or station and during this process, the rotation of the mold begins. Overall, the entirety of the surface will be plastered with thick plastic. As this continues, the plastic will strongly be reinforced.
It will then be required to go through a cooling process usually using specifically aimed water and oxygen through rotation and this cooling and heating may need to be done many times before it is complete. Finally, the mold has the deck and hull taken out.
Both deck and hull are made in such a way that they slot together in one seam down the kayak. It is then strongly sealed. Further sealing can be done with a keel stiffener.
Aids for floatation are added to ensure that the kayak isn’t going to turn over in the water. Bulkheads are stuck together with a sealant.
The seat is introduced and put into place by either a suspension system of straps or placed into the hull’s bottom and bonded with foam. Most importantly, a plug for drainage is placed in the shell (an already designed hole.)
That is the most common and least costly method of creating a kayak nowadays. There is another method which involves fiberglass and carbon fiber. This method is nearly the same but introduces these materials which are far more costly and in some instances, difficult to find.
We’ve explored how the human race has evolved with the creation of kayaks. From the days of bone and skins in the attempt to survive, to the enjoyment of the 19th century and even the Olympic entry in the 30s – kayaking has grown stronger and stronger.
Now you know how it’s made – are you going to give it a try?