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. Not to be confused with a canoe. Check out my article about the difference between a canoe and a kayak here.
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 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 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
- Impact Resistant
- Outer Layer is UV Resistant
- 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.
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
- 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.
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
- As Durable or more so than composite
- Fairly easy to repair
- Great DIY project
- 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.
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!