We’re Building a Skin-on-Frame Kayak!
Volunteer Artisans Russ Parker and Andrew Major are building a Greenland-style skin-on-frame kayak in the museum’s new Living Tradition Gallery.  They’re working on the kayak Sunday afternoons at the museum, but I’ll be posting their progress, and Andrew’s photos and notes as they go.
Here’s a drawing of a similar kayak, so you have a sense of what they’re building:

Here are Andrew’s notes from the first weekend:

Day 1: Jan 21, 2012

Saturday afternoon couldn’t come fast enough this week. I always look forward to Saturday afternoons but this week was different. This week, and for the next several months I get to assist in the construction of a 17 foot Greenland skin-on-frame kayak!

I usually spend my Saturday afternoons carving canoe paddles in the preserving skills gallery at the museum. That’s where I met Russ Parker, a fellow artisan volunteer and accomplished wood worker. Russ and I spend Saturday afternoons working alongside one another carving canoe paddles and interacting with the patrons of the museums. Over the next several months, Russ and I will be explaining and demonstrating to patrons of the museum the process involved in the construction of traditional Greenland wood frame kayak.

The first task that Russ and I needed to accomplish in starting this new project was to cut our gunwales stock out of a 1′ x 12′ x 18.5’ piece of clear red oak.  We then planed the gunwale stock to ¾” x 2.5” and reduced the length to 15.5”. The reasons for cutting the length to 15.5” is to accommodate the bow stem piece which will be added later and extend the total length of the kayak to 17’.

Russ preparing what will become the gunwales of the kayak frame.

We then needed to establish our deck beam and rib locations across the length of the gunwales. It is worth noting that all measurements required in the construction of a Greenland kayak are anthropomorphic and can be accomplished without the use of rulers or measuring tapes. For instance, to determine the ideal length of a kayak, the builder need only measure out three fathoms in length and extract a cubit. Easy right? But what the heck is a fathom? A fathom simply represents the distance between one’s outstretched arms; whereas a cubit is merely the distance between your elbow and tip of your finger. Determining the width of your kayak is as easy as making a fist alongside your hips and measuring the distance of your waist (including your fist). Russ and I made sure to take our time measuring and labelling all the appropriate markings on the gunwales as they are the backbone of the kayak. As opposed to most boats, it is the gunwales of a skin-on-frame kayak that provide the structural strength.

Deck beam and rib locations marked on the gunwales.

Next week, we’ll continue working on shaping the gunwales and build the required temporary braces – don’t miss it!


You can read Part 2 by clicking here.