Why Skin on Frame?

There aren't many things these days you can make yourself that is cheaper and better performing then what you can buy off the shelf from some big factory but Skin on Frame Kayaks are one of the exceptions. At around 30 pounds with incredible durability they will out shine many factory made kayaks you can find, not to mention that they can be custom fitted to you and what you want to do with it. 

Give a population of people living above the treeline, surrounded by some of the most hostile waters anywhere a few thousand years to perfect a boat and you get a skin on frame kayak. Traditional built skin kayaks made from found driftwood and seal skins were a matter of life and death, designs and building techniques that didn’t perform well didn’t come home to be replicated. Truly a survival of the fittest situation but combined with exceptional paddling skills skin kayaks allowed the peoples of the north to become masters of their environment.

In comparison, as recreational paddlers we have it easy, however there are advantages to skin kayaks that still make using one enjoyable. At Made Kayaks we strive to keep what we see as the benefits of the traditional kayaks like lightness, flexibility, seaworthiness and combine them with modern materials, computer aided design and precision cutting to create excellent kayaks for today’s users. Did we mention they are also beautiful?

Below are answers to the most asked questions, if you have others please ask here.

DURABILITY? (links to a good example of skin strength but not one of my kayaks)

Often the first question asked about skin kayaks is about their strength, and biggest misconception is that they are somehow fragile. A properly constructed frame wrapped in a high quality urethane coated fabric makes for a very durable and strong kayak. They are strong the same way a palm tree in a hurricane is strong, flexibility. With no rigid connection points and a frame wrapped with a flexible skin, energy from impacts is absorbed and dissipated easily without causing damage. They are durable because the urethane coating used is damn tough stuff. This ability to absorb energy also makes them a pleasure to paddle as they work with the water, not fighting against it. Of course there are limits but if you treat these kayaks the way you would any high end kevlar or fiberglass kayak it will last many years and should something go terribly wrong repairs are much easier on a skin kayak then other types.


Instead of multiple bent ribs our kayaks are constructed using precisely cut cross sections notched to hold the long stringers in place. This construction system is often referred to as fuselage style because of the similarities to aircraft construction. It provides very precise control over the kayaks shape and is a strong and lightweight way to build.

The cross sections along with other various parts are made from Marine Grade Fir plywood while the floorboards, seat pan and coaming ring are made of Marine Grade Mahogany plywood. Solid wood such as Cedar would be the traditional material for the stringers, but due to the difficulties and expense in sourcing the quality of lumber required and our desire to promote sustainable forest industries, we recommend our Baltic Birch alternative which is just as light and a little bit stiffer then the cedar.


With our kits we provide 840 weight Ballistic Nylon which is our fabric of choice although you can opt out of getting a skin with the kit and use what you please. It comes in a few different weights and we have tried most of them but now we recommend the 840 Primo most of the time. Once the urethane is applied even the lightest fabric is as tough as you could want and the kayak will weigh less both from the thinner fabric and the smaller amount of coating needed. 


Adding dye directly to the fabric isn't a good idea, it can prevent the Urethane from adhering properly and de-laminated spots can start to show up after a couple years, especially if exposed to the sun for long periods of time. The better option is add Rare Earth Pigment to the Urethane before applying it or painting on top of the coating after it has dried. Painting on top with a urethane based paint is a great way to add logos, designs, names etc. Leaving the natural white skin colour results in a very nice amber colour as the urithand yellows over time.


There are many approaches out there seal a kayak but the coating isn’t just about waterproofing, it needs to provide durability and strength to the fabric. We exclusively use a two part Urethane coating from Spirit Line’s Skin Boat Store. It is incredibly durable and with a little care will last many years.


The kits come with instructions for the simplest basic build options but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for customizing your kayak to be “your” kayak. Besides adding colour to the fabric you can also colour the frame (it will show through the translucent skin), hand stitch the fabric instead of stapling? Add carved toggles and different style deck lines? Paint on designs? Fancy up the rub rails? It’s your boat, it’s your choice and you can always email us with your ideas for input if you like. Check out the galley pictures for some variations and inspiration.

COCKPIT OUTFITTING? (I have no affiliation with these products or websites)

When ordering you have the option of choosing Keepers Foot Braces and a Seals Back Band to outfit you cockpit. Both are excellent basic choices but if you wish to choose other options you can opt out of getting them with the kit and order what you please. These types of adjustable foot braces are a nice option but this kind that slides won’t work as the cross section will be in the way of them sliding. Snap dragon makes an excellent alternative back band.

The plywood seat pan included with the kit is functional for paddling as it comes but your butt will thank you for adding a Gel Seat Pad. Any brand will do (we like Skwoosh) as long as it is thin enough not raise you up in the kayak and throw off the center of gravity (the lower you can sit in the kayak the better).

Various bits of foam can be added to places in the cockpit like around the hips or under the knee braces as you require to achieve that perfect fit. Try paddling for a while first to work out what you need ~ heavy duty spray adhesive works well for attaching foam.


Made Kayak’s logo is a hand print for obvious reasons. It came about from my habit of pressing my handprint into the wet urethane on my personal kayaks (9 and counting) as a way of signing them as hand built by me. Some other builders have done the same with their own hand prints when building kits. I like the connection of it being a kayak they hand built and my logo and consider it an honor. If you decide to do it you’ll want a bit of acetone on hand to wash off the urethane, it’s way sticky.


Some glue is required to hold the base parts of keel and stringers together but none of the main connections points. If we didn’t need to make the parts short enough for shipping no gluing would be required at all.

At first glance a finished frame seems to be held together with screws but that’s not the case. Screws are used to hold parts like the keel locking plates and gunnel straps in place but they don’t hold the frame together. The main connection points are designed to interlock and retain a bit of flex for durability. All the screws are provided with the kits.


Neither of these things are needed with our kits. The edges are rounded and frame parts are smooth enough when you get them to be left as is without sanding (although some people seem to like sanding so have at it if you want). The urethane is 100% solids with no fumes so, no ventilation needed, no masks required and no worrying about being poisoned while building.


We do our best to keep kits in stock but if not all orders are filled and shipped within two weeks of ordering. Custom modifications may take longer depending on the complexity.


We use shipping brokers to find the fastest and most cost effective ways to get the kits to you. The kits come in three seperate boxes, two that we send from our location and the third containing the Fabric and Urethane we have shipped directly from the supplier, Spirit Line’s Skin Boat Store. Our reason for doing this is cost, if we were to have the fabric and Urethane shipped here and then reship it to you we would have to charge for shipping twice; having it shipped directly is more cost effective. All the boxes usually arrive within a week of each other and you can always get started on the frame while waiting of the fabric if needed. For accurate shipping quotes we need your specific address which you can provide here when ready.

Some counties may have restrictions on importing wood products, please check before ordering.

WABI-SABI “Beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"

Of course you are going to do your absolute best to make this kayak as perfect as you can, the problem is that kind of perfect doesn’t exist. Every inevitable bump, dent, drip or scrape that shows up during the process of building your kayak is what makes it your’s. The designs of the kits ensure they will function properly, the imperfections of the final finish is what the builder adds to make it unique. Once on the water they will be the last things on your mind.