Paulownia for kayak building

(/pɔːˈloʊniə/ paw-LOH-nee-ə) Paulowniaceae, the order Lamiales. This is from Wikipedia.

All we know is that it’s light and might be nice for building a kayak. Not easy to get hold of in Sweden though. Supply is limited due to it being imported from Laos, Vietnam, China and other countries not by any paddling distance, this year at least. Until now.

Building SOF kayaks with Spruce (Gran)

So, support globalization or use plain ol’ Swedish Gran? If you look for straight grained Spruce and are willing to scarf it because of knots, you need to get good at scarfing. Gran/Spruce (Picea Abies) might be one of the best we have around for Skin On Frame kayak building, were it not for all the knots (kvist). It’s fairly light but even small knots can make the tiny beams of a SOF kayak fragile. You don’t want your kayak to break in half in a decent surf…

Which wood is best for building a kayak

I have built SOF kayaks from Spruce, Fir and Red Cedar with various building methods. The naked wooden frames have been between 7 and 9 kg, more depending on kayak volume than the wood used, although Western Red Cedar takes a slight lead so far for being light, knot free and easy to work with. It is however nasty to breathe in small spaces and you need a mask and protective goggles.

Good Fir is by far the easiest to find in Sweden and easy to work with too, but heavier. If you compensate with smaller dimensions, I think the resulting kayak is just as good.

You could find boat builder’s grade Spruce but you need to physically go to the mill and choose your planks. Look for quarter sawn planks (kvartersågat, kvartssågat). In hardware stores like Bauhaus, Byggmax, Hornbach et al, you probably won’t find good quality Spruce but take a look if you feel lucky, punk!

Anyway, I got in contact with the nice folks at iPaulownia who distribute Paulownia wood from Europe and we might strike a deal going forwards, if there will be demand for kayak building with Paulownia. There are of course minimum amounts to order, shipping costs and what not, so contact me and we can order together!

Comparison between Paulownia and Western Red Cedar according to The Wood Database. Here is an interesting rundown of Paulownia for strip built kayaks compared to Western Red Cedar and Balsa.

As a sidenote, Nich Shade at Guillemot kayaks has a great tool for you strippers out there 😉 He also recommends the Robo Bevel, a groove tool.

Leave a Reply