Lumber Selection

Selecting wood

When picking the type of wood you want to build your boat out of you should consider several factors.  The weight, color, workability and even the ability to absorb heat from the sun may be of interest to you.  Carefully balance your need for color, grain, weight and patterns to reflect your skill level at building strip boats.  Selection of your lumber is going to define the look of your boat but it is also going to define the ease of the building process and weight of the boat as well.  Select lumber by color so you can build a patter or design into your boat but also choose the lumber based on the weight you wish to target as well as by the difficulty level you wish to take on.

cedar strip kayak and canoe wood and lumber

Image 1. Cedar varies in color.

Cedar, basswood, and mahogany are light and easy to work with but can be expensive and very hard to find in the quality you need.  Pine, poplar, and hemlock exhibit some nice qualities such as clarity and color but are heavier and more difficult to work with.  Hardwoods such as purple heart, walnut and cherry are beautiful but are a real challenge to mill and strip with and add weight quickly.  It is fun and easy to dream the BIG BOLD patterns and exotic wood designs but application of these dreams can result in nightmares or at best sleepless nights.


A 60lb kayak is a pretty light boat as boats go but a 35lb kayak sure makes placing it in a car rack easy.  Cedar is very light and will keep the weight of the boat to a minimum.  Hardwoods vary greatly and can quickly add pounds to your build.  Use the chart on the next page to determine the wight of your species.

Stripping your hull with light weight cedar and then adding hardwood detail to the deck pattern is a good way to compromise on weight/decoration issues.   Use hardwood in a few thin strips to add accent lines or if used in stems and cockpit cowling they add beauty in places that can use the extra strength of hardwood

The variation in wood color is amazing and will no doubt eat up many hours of the average builders day while contemplating a deck pattern.  Keep in mind that colors fade over time and change under an epoxy wet out and change even further under marine varnish.  I suggest keeping it simple.  Simple is often more and a beautiful wood boat does not need complicated inlays to impress viewers.  Image 1 shows the variety of colors you can choose from just in cedar boards.

When selecting a board for your build based on color you need to take a look at all sides and the entire length to assure that the color does not change too much for your needs.   If color consistency is important to you then pick lumber that does not vary in color along one piece.  However, some boards may have color change that will suit your build and can be a great addition to your pattern.

Dark decks can heat up in the sun which may interest you depending on your climate.  Dark decks hide simple building flaws easier than light colors but can overheat the epoxy and glass if left out in extremely hot conditions in the direct sunlight.   A kayak that is both a little heavier and has a mixture of wood for color may be what your artistic side demands.  You can do all the above but probably not all in the same boat so, consider what you want to see in your finished kayak before you begin your build.

Think about what you want in your boat and select one or a combination of wood types to build your kayak.   Using hardwood sparingly in thinner strips for accents or localized decoration may be a nice addition to your deck.  Reducing strip thickness is also possible if you wish to use heavier wood but still want a light boat.  It does not take a great deal of material to alter the weight of your build but it does not require a lot of material to add a pattern either.

Clear Lumber

Select clear lumber. The definitions vary based on locality, species and finish of the lumber but what you want is a board free of damage, knots and with a consistency of color.  You are going to be milling the board into smaller boards (strips) so remember the side of the board you choose is going to be the front of the strip as you strip your boat.

Try not to get drawn into the exact grade of lumber but do inspect your board.  Stay away from knots, water damage, warped boards and anything that shows any damage.  You need very little lumber for this project so save yourself time and money by buying the best and having usable lumber.


Building with striaght grain stripes will help easy your build during stripping.  The straightt grain will cut, plane and sand more evenly.  Image 2 provides a look at the face of the type of wood you will be looking for in the lumber yard.  Figure 1 shows the straight grain you will be working with once you mill your boards. The thin edge of the board will become the thicker face of the strips you mill from the whole board.

cedar strip kayak building

Figure 1. The side of the board will become the surface of the boat after milling strips.

cedar strip kayak building, boat construction

Image 2. A quarter sawn board will have strait grain on the side.


Try to select a single thickness of the boards you wish to use to ease the stripping process.  Difficulties may arise when you switch from a ¾” wide strip to 5/8” wide.  Different sizes will work but will need extra attention when stripping.  The thickness of  your board will become the width of your strips after milling the board.  Different width strips will not make accurate butt joints as you splice your strips together.

Accent strips and decorative stripping often use different strip width so different widths can be used just take care to keep the materials separated and take care to place them carefully while stripping the boat.  Thin strips of hardwood are a great way to add color and keep the weight down.   Remember when you cut your strips; the thickness of the board will become the width of the strip.

Strip Lenght

cedar strips

Image 3. Different colors and lenght of wood strips.

Length of the strips is not as problematic as some like to make it.  You can strip your hull with full length strips or with shorter strips spliced together. Splicing strips can be done before stripping or while stripping the boat.  This is primarily a cosmetic issue and even more importantly it is relevant only to the builder or owner.  Joining strips lengthwise is not unseemly and done properly is not an issue either cosmetically or structurally.  The strength of your boat is going to come from the glass and epoxy coating. Consider the wood hull a shell upon which you build the kayak.  You first job is to create a pleasing and practical shape for the glassing process.

You do want to offset your splices so do not purchase all your wood at 50% of the length of your boat or all your spices will be in the middle.  For example if your build is going to be 18 feet and all your strips are 9’ all your splices will be in the middle of the boat.  If you have 8, 10 and 12 ft lengths to choose from then you can make sure you can offset your splices by at least a foot.  This will be further addressed in the stripping section.

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