How are Kayaks Made

Does Construction matter and what are the differences?

We are going to take a look at how kayaks are made and the difference in the construction process. Also why construction is important and how it is relative to the plan you have for your kayak.

4 Basic Types of Construction

We have come a long way from the original kayaks made out of tree bark and animal skins. Not that they were not effective. In todays world, they are not efficient, economical or practical.

There are 4 types of construction or materials that kayaks are made out of. Each type will determine things such as weight, durability, pricing, and what you are going to use it for.

Kayak Construction Materials

  • Rotomolded
  • Thermoform
  • Fiberglass/Composite
  • Wood

Rotomolded or Rotation Molding

This is a process that has been used for a long time to produce many plastic or polyethylene objects and products. Many of the products we use in everyday life and is not just contained to kayaks.

The process is done by pouring a plastic powder into a hollow mold and continuously rotated while the heated plastic forms to the sides of the mold. The rotation continues through the heating and cooling phases. Eventually after cooling the product shrinks and pulls away from the sides of the mold allow easy removal.

Advantages Of Rotomold

  • One solid piece polyethylene or plastic
  • Durabilty, flexibility and can handle quite an impact
  • Consistant wall thickness
  • Budget Friendly

Cons to Rotomold Kayaks

  • Weight, they tend to be the heaviest kayaks
  • Hard to repair
  • Susceptible to UV damage

Rotomolded kayaks are very popular, because they tend to be less expensive and are easily found. A couple of the popular brands are Ascend, Perception and Lifetime Kayaks.

Rotomolded kayaks tend to be very durable and come in a variety of lengths and widths. They are used for recreational kayaks, whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, touring kayaks and surf kayaks.

Thermoform Construction

Thermoform is another form of molding plastic or polyethylene. In this process thin sheets of plastic or polyethylene are heated till they are pliable then formed over a male our female mold. Thus, creating two pieces that are then molded together. Then, once removed from the mold the product is trimmed to increase usability.

There are two types of Thermoforming.

There is Vacuum forming and Pressure forming.

Vacuum forming is accomplished by heating a sheet of plastic, then placing it over the mold. Once it is at the desired temperature a vacuum is used to apply the pressure needed to form the plastic into it’s desired form.

Pressure forming has many similarities to vacuum forming, but has the benefit of added pressure. This is great when extra detail is needed or wanted for additional aesthetics value.

This technique is used in many different applications. Everything from kayaks, car parts to disposable food containers.

Advantages of Thermoform

  • Budget Friendly
  • Light-Weight
  • Impact Resistant
  • Durable
  • Outer Layer is UV Resistant
  • Recyclable

Cons

  • Acrylic outer layer can break down over time

There really aren’t any cons to this process. Many popular kayak manufacturers use this process. Pelican and Hobie to name a few. This process is relatively new and provides a product that is also pleasing to look at.

Again, this process is used for a large variety of kayaks. These kayaks are great for beginners and are typically easier to transport due to weight.

Fiberglass/Composite Construction

This process is used for a lot of your higher end kayaks. It is an expensive process and takes a long time to complete. But it does produce a beautiful kayak.

It is a constructed of layers of fiberglass, Graphite or Kevlar, or a combination of the three and resin to hold it all together. Think of it as making lasagna. They build them in a mold one layer at a time. Due to the lengthy process they are quite expensive.

Advantages of Composite

  • Ultra Light-weight
  • Highly Responsive, great tracking and fast
  • Fairly Durable
  • Fairly easy to repair
  • Many configurations are available

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Susceptible to damage in impact situations

Not sure I would recommend for general recreational kayaking.

Composite kayaks are beautiful to look at and if you have the budget, they are high performance kayaks. I would imagine a long-distance journey in one of these kayaks would be a lot like riding in a Cadillac.

Wood Construction

For that purist kayaker or that person that just loves art, the wooden kayaks are glorious. They are stunning to look at and there is just something about them that brings out the naturalist in a person.

Wood construction is a lengthy, expensive process and really requires patience and a loving hand. Although, they do sell a few DIY kits for that person that wants to give it a try.

Wooden kayaks can be just as durable if not more so than composite kayaks. They are typically coated in fiberglass, resin or varnish to protect the wood underneath.

Advantages of Wood

  • Beautiful to look at
  • Light-weight
  • As Durable or more so than composite
  • Fairly easy to repair
  • Great DIY project

Cons

  • Requires some woodworking skills
  • May need to be put together
  • Custom-made is expensive
  • Not really recommended for rough conditions

Here is a short video to show the process.

Wow, Who Knew

Now you know what goes into making a kayak and what to look for depending on what you are going to do with your kayak. Rotomolding and Thermoform are ideal for most kayak applications. If you are looking to go on long tours maybe you would be better suited with a composite built kayak or even a wooden one.

==>Click here to learn about the different styles of Kayaks<==

Either way, in the modern world there are affordable kayak options that are durable, nice to look at and easy to transport. Construction really does matter depending on what you are using your kayak for.

There are also inflatable kayaks that are obviously not built in any of these constructions styles. We will save that for another day.

If you have any comments or experiences you would like to share about your kayak and it’s construction, please share!

Until Next Time!

12 thoughts on “How are Kayaks Made”

  1. I love this…. learning about kayaks is so intriguing.  I don’t know much about them but it looks like fun and adventurous.

    The photos on your site make me want to go and kayak today.  Can you pick the color when they kayak is being built?

    I read the about me page and find it very exciting how you got started.  How long have you been kayaking?

    1. Most kayaks come n a range of colors. However, with the right budget I am sure you could get anything you want, LOL.

      If you have never been, you should definitly go and give it a try. It is so much fun.

  2. Thanks for such in-depth information about how and what kayaks are made from. I had my eye on the wood one and see through the video. A handmade kayak is definitely not easy and a lot of hard work is needed. I tried once during a vacation in Asia last summer. It is such an interesting topic to know there are some other different types of kayak out there, thanks for the post.

    1. Josh I am glad you found my article enlightening and useful. While I think the wood are beautiful, I myself would never have the patience to take on such a task.

      I have seen some that were hand-crafted and all I can say is wow.

  3. The article on the type of construction for Kayaks was a surprise to me how the kayak is used, should dictate which of the four different types of construction should be used. I am sure the average person who thinks Kayaking in a river would be accomplished with a rubber one would be making a big mistake. They need to read your article to understand why. Hopefully, wherever that person goes to buy a Kayak, the sales person refers to your article to read before they buy. Thanks for picking something to comment on as I feel it will save some lives if they read your analysis.

    1. Dwayne,

      The construction of your kayak or canoe is very important when you consider what you are going to use your kayak or canoe for. As for rivers, depending on the type of river you are traversing most kayaks will work. Whitewater being the exception of course.  You are certainly going to want some thing durable and easy to handle in whitewater.

      They do, however, make some pretty incredible inflatable kayaks that can more than handle anything you throw at them as long as you have the budget.

  4. Hey Annette,
    This is awesome stuff. I did not know that there are different models. It would be great if you can do a different post on types of Kayaks their best uses. That would be great to learn since you said it is important. It is also fascinating to see how these are made.
    Keep up the great work.
    Rjaith

  5. Hey, Wow what a nice niche that is. Thank you for sharing this informative article. I know one of my friend doing kayaking as a sport. I will surely share this website with him. I don’t know much about Kayak but this kayak construction process is really interesting. Keep up the good work. Cheers!!..

    1. Thank you for stopping in and visiting my sight. I am so glad that you found my article informative and helpful. Please come back and visit again. The construction process was very interesting for me and I enjoyed being able to share the inforamtion with everyone here.

  6. Hello, I must say that I am very amazed, I have often thought of how kayaks are made but haven’t taken time to check it out until now, you just gave a detail description of how kayaks are made and i have really learned a lot here, how I wish i know when to get every material so I could make a sample for just design in my house LOL.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Jonata, thank you for visiting my sight and spending some time. I think a wooden kayak would make a lovely decoration in a house, as long as it was a small version, LOL.

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