Building a Kayak (Pygmy Pinguino Sport)

This summer, I bought a kit from Pygmy boats to build my own Pinguino Sport kayak. This is the shortest of their boats.

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It was a really fun process! You start with impossibly thin and weak-looking quarter-inch flat pieces of plywood, and over time you glue and bend them into a boat shape, “stitching” them together with bits of wire (which is later removed).

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I won’t go deep into the details of the process; you can see everything in Pygmy’s excellent videos here. But for the sake of people who are contemplating a similar project, here’s my quick summary and advice:

  • Almost all the steps are: apply some epoxy – sometimes over fiberglass, sometimes along a seam, sometimes just painting it over wood. Come back tomorrow.
  • The project took me 10 weeks, putting in about an hour each day. All told, it took me about 80 hours.
  • You need a pretty big space; I took over our garage for most of this time. There are enough fumes that I’d be leery of doing this inside the house.
  • This isn’t a criticism of the instructions – they’re as well-written as they could be – but some HUGE steps are embedded in the middle of paragraphs, e.g. to to flip and apply another coat of fiberglass and wait for it to cure – which will take a whole day until you can continue. I’d suggest you carefully mark up your instructions to call out “chunks of work” so you can plan accordingly, since it’s not immediately obvious which
  • For fun, try tracking all different names the give for various epoxy + wood flour blend ratios. Honey, peanut butter, molasses, until a stick can stand up in it, etc.
  • An orbiting sander was super-helpful. I gummed up a lot of sandpaper, so make sure you’re well stocked – especially with 120 grit.
  • You will go through a lot of disposable items in the course of building the boat, even more than the instructions say. Amazon was a great place to buy these in bulk. In particular:
    • Two boxes of latex gloves (you need a LOT of gloves)
    • Foam brushes. You want at least 40 of them. They are 89 cents a piece at my local hardware store, but Amazon sells a 20-pack for $4.19 – so buy lots of these! Impossible to have too many.
    • Lots of foam rollers – I used about 18 of them.
    • Extra dental irrigation syringes (for injecting epoxy into cracks). You’ll need more than the 3 they provide, it’s so easy to gum them up.
  • General purpose items that were invaluable include:
    • Good scissors – fabric or craft ones would be ideal.
    • A metal yard-ruler (in addition to a carpenter’s square)
    • As many clamps as you can get your hands on.
    • At least two sawhorses (4 is best)
    • I found a painter’s cutting/scrapping tool to be useful for all sorts of random tasks, like getting rid of drips of semi-cured “green” epoxy, and also for wedging between plywood boards to force them into the right shape.

I had plenty of extra fiberglass tape leftover when I was finished, and ample fiberglass cloth. The epoxy was entirely used up; I finished the last step with my dregs. Might be useful to get an extra pint to get a bit of extra “breathing room”.

Even though the boat is a pretty narrow 28″ and the recommended paddle for my height (6′) is 220cm, the cockpit is higher than most other kayaks; I might suggest a slightly longer paddle (I’ll try a 230cm next).

I did make one huge screw-up, and cut the front hatch much too close to the cockpit (I mis-read the directions). The boat is still perfectly useable, it’s just that the front hatch is pretty much useless. I lose all bragging rights, and it makes me sad.

Maybe I’ll have to make another boat and do it right this time. 🙂

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