How to find wood for kayak building?

There are many options and materials to work with. The best for you might not be the best for someone else. What do you appreciate the most in a kayak? Is it durability in large waves and rock-gardening? Maybe it is lightness for easy lifting on and off your car roof rack? Here is a short list of what to consider:

5m lengts or scarfing? Scarfing takes time and makes for stiffer wood in that region. Also, you probably shouldn’t have a lot of mortises for ribs in the middle of the Gunwhale scarf. Usually that is not a problem with a little planning.

Is rot in wood a common issue where you paddle (humid, warm air, no dry storage)?

Is your budget small or large?

So, in Sweden generally you would wear out a kayak’s underside before rot ever comes into play. Then Spruce (Gran) or Fir (Furu) might be your cheapest and easiest available choice. Spruce, however, comes with knots (kvist) and will probably need scarfing. If you would find it knot free, it is fairly light and durable. Fir comes in a wide variety of lengts and widths and you can get it almost knot free, but it weighs more. For the weight not to increase, you will need to use narrower dimensions. Spruce gunwhales and fir stringers/keel might be a good middle ground, because the Gunwhales are not as sensitive to knots. With the keelson and stringers, you can’t have any knots.

Be stringent when choosing planks and you will build a great kayak! The straighter the grain the more durable the skeleton.

If you follow many American SOF-builders, they build with Western Red Cedar which is easily available and cheap over there. In Sweden it is 10x as expensive and increases your build costs accordingly. However, it is very resistant to rot, light and comes mostly knot free. It is nasty to work with and you will need a mask indoors. It is allergenic and cancerogenic.

In our building class lately, we decided on Paulownia grown in Europe, mostly Spain. Shipped to Sweden, it is 1/3 of the cost of Red Cedar, lighter, knot free, non-toxic and a bit less brittle. With Paulownia, you might need to come up a size in thickness for your kayak’s longitudinal beams. The scientific formula says 6% which is 1mm thicker than our Western Red Cedar builds. Our Paulownia supplier only ships 3m lengths so we will have to scarf-a-lot.