How to build a 'Skin on Frame' boat - and why
Ernie's 'Skin on Frame' advice.
Why Skin on Frame:
Skin on frame boat building can be one of the fastest, most satisfying, skills-rich projects you can do.
It teaches you essential skills to build almost any wooden boat. It's not difficult, and you don't need to already have skills to do the work.
You get a boat you can be proud of, and use.
This is the most basic list of things you need to build a skin on frame kayak.
What It Takes:
something to drill holes with.
materials for frame (wood).
skin material (nylon canvas, nowadays).
Kinda different than the tool list most projects require.
With these things, and a little care, you can construct a boat that will be light, strong, and seaworthy (at least, as seaworthy as its plan and owner).
The down-side of working with the most basic tools is: You pay in time ('til you have become skilled enough to use each of the tools to its full potential).
A Good Book
For your very first boat, a good book is a handy thing.
Even if you are taking a workshop, it's good to have a book. You can read the whole description and know what's coming, so you can do each step with more confidence.
This is perhaps my favorite book on the subject:
Building Skin-on-Frame Boats by Robert Morris.
Most books on building skin-on-frame boats have plans, tools, and methods the author worked out for a specific kind of kayak or boat. Mr. Morris's book has plans, tool lists, and easy to follow, step-by-step instructions. He also does not stop at kayaks; he goes on to European-style boats (all skin-on-frame) so you can learn from each type.
Any book will teach you things that apply to most of the different kinds of skin-on-frame boats. There are many kinds, from the small 'sneak koryaks' to big umiaks.
For those who want to branch out, or don't like the look of certain kayaks, you can try Mr. Zimmerlie's web site. He has drawings of several types of kayaks: http://www.arctickayaks.com/plans.htm (Explore this site, it has more information than one would think.)
There is also a nice juicy site with museum-replica pictures by Harvey Golden here: http://www.traditionalkayaks.com/index.html, which I mention only for purposes of inspiration. You don't need bone rub-strips or baleen spacers to make a workable boat, and you probably won't want to try it out for the first time in that much surf!
To get answers to almost every question you might ever ask about skin on frame building, this is probably the most comprehensive group of kayak builders and users around: http://www.qajaqusa.org
For even more information, and step-by-step instruction, you can go here: Skinboats.org http://www.skinboats.org/skinboats/home.html
Skinboats.org is also where most of us S-o-F builders get our stuff. Fabric, sinew, dyes, other materials, plans, books, and whatnot at your finger tips. (Unless you can hunt down a walrus, or have a local manufacturer who gives you insider deals.)
OK, you would rather read through this whole article than go get started. I'm touched. Seriously, that's all there is to it. Get a plan, get the materials, and start. But it speaks well for your stick-to-it-ive-ness that you are finishing this first, so I'll give you a few more tips.
Pick nice straight-grained lumber, cedar if you can get it. Grain stacked perpendicular, or flat, is best. (Not diagonal like for other woodworking projects.) See how it bends in the yard, asking "does it 'want' to be a boat?" Allow 10% extra for scrap.
Soak your ribs overnight to get decent pliability, whether or not you are steaming them. Especially cedar.
Fair your boat often (stand back and check that its curves are smooth, symmetrical, and pretty)
Follow the step-by-step instructions from your book or workshop.
If your instructor and the book, or two books, say two different things: They're probably both right. Pick one and stick with it.
A little note on learning:
You don't learn much from never making a mistake. Go ahead and make some while building these boats.
You can test them before you do the most expensive part (the skin). Wrap the frame in palette-wrap or Syran-wrap. Take it out and float it. If you test in the shallows, all you have to worry about is getting wet.