Maybe a little bit crazy: paper and cloth

Discussion in 'Materials' started by mimstrel, Aug 30, 2010.

  1. mimstrel
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    mimstrel New Member

    Hello! This is my first post, so if you don't mind, here's the short story:

    I love to kayak, and years ago, I fell in love with an elegant little strip-built wooden canoe. I love making things, and I thought, 'I could make a kayak like that!' except, I exist in a perpetual state of having no money: I'm a grad student, and at the end of the month, my bank account tends to be empty. No money for an $800 boat project. Plus, no way to do woodworking in my apartment. darn.

    So I started considering other styles. I looked at skin-on-frame boats and paper boats (yes, that's right, full-sized boats made of paper), and eventually I thought up a plan that should be within my budget, within my skills and resources... and I'm crossing my fingers that it is seaworthy. If it's not, it's a learning experience.

    The idea is to lay out a design on cloth as one would for a plywood stitch-and-glue kayak. Each piece will then be stiffened with paper mache (using both paper and strips of cloth), until it is stiff but still able to bend somewhat. The pieces will then be cut out and sewn together, and more paper mache, cloth strips, and possibly some wood (in strategic places, like the keel and around the cockpit) will be added to strengthen the final product.

    I haven't decided if I'm going to use canvas or polyester/nylon for the primary fabric. Polyester is supposed to be stronger/more puncture resistant, but I'm worried about how it would bond with the paper mache portion.

    Doubt if you will... and if it sinks, go ahead and say, "I told you so!" but as far as I'm concerned, the worst that can happen is that I get wet and learn one new way NOT to build a boat.
  2. wardd
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    wardd Senior Member

    many years ago paper mache boats were made for sale, so it has been done

    and car bodies were made from paper mache once

    during ww2 drop tanks for long range fighters were made of paper mache

    longevity is another question
  3. mimstrel
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    mimstrel New Member


    Well, the question is, how long are we talking? Obviously it won't last as long as a wooden boat, or one of the factory-made models made of fiberglass or whatnot... but whether it will last an hour or a year... (or more or less than that!)
  4. magwas
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    magwas Senior Member

  5. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    It should work fine as long as you waterproof it. Three months ago I built a cardboard canoe and went through rapids with it for a competition. Waterproofing was not allowed. You will find a paper canoe heavier than a wooden one.
  6. larry larisky

    larry larisky Previous Member

    must be fun to do. what kind of tape you use
  7. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Packing tape, that was what the rules allowed. And only at the seams.
  8. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    You could make such an configuration work, but I wonder why you would go to so much trouble. The amount of epoxy would be almost as expensive as building plywood SNG. This would be very time consuming as well, and even as a student with no money, your time has some value (even for flipping burgers or delivering news papers). You also might find that after all the work that moisture gets in the build up and make it all soggy and it falls apart.

    Back in the '70's there was an aeronautical engineer named Molt Taylor who design light aircraft (he was the designer of the Aerocar in 1958, the only FAA certified aircraft that is also roadable on the hwy). He designed little one seat aircraft called the micro imp that was made from paper. The pattern was printed out on the heavy felt like paper, you cut it out, staple it together and than soak in it epoxy. Even at that, it was still not an economical light plane to build compared to tradition wood and fabric aircraft.

    So while it might be possible, it is not very practical way to get you a kayak. That is unless you like experimenting, and having to rebuild and try different approaches a number of times.

    The lowest cost way to get you a kayak (besides buying a old beat up one on Craig's list) is to build skin-on-frame, using all salvaged lumber. I have built 12 small boats, and of the 7 or 8 kayaks I have built, most of them cost me less than $60 in materials, and anywhere from 30 to 100 man hours to build. Even if you buy everything at retail it will still only cost you about $60 to build a nice skin-on-frame kayak, if you shop carefully. It uses the least amount of materials, so it is not only less costly, but also very light (most of my full sized kayaks are in the 20-30 lb range).

    If you salvage lumber, at most you will have to buy the fabric and any glue retail, but even that gives you a lot options. The Wal-Mart fabric department often will have suitable cloth for $1.5 to $2 a yard (it is random luck on what they happen to get in that week, you have check back regularly).

    You also could build stitch-and-glue if you hunt around for plywood from shipping crates or old door skins, select carefully, and most of the material costs will be limited to epoxy and glass cloth.

    If just want a cheap kayak, buy one used. Only build one if you like building, not because it saves you money.

  9. mimstrel
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    mimstrel New Member

    Well that's the thing. I love the process of making things. Almost every time I buy something, I immediately start figuring out how I could have built it. Somewhere, I have plans for a fully keyed concert flute, for instance, but I simply don't have the skills to drill precision holes into copper pipe.

    As for the cost of this project: I'm not planning to use epoxy. There's less expensive ways to waterproof. With that out of the equation and the materials that I already have left over from other projects, I think I can get something worked up for under $50. Maybe I could make a skin-on-frame kayak for the same price, but I don't have any way to cut or bend wood in my apartment (though a regular SOF kayak is on my to-do list). If I was at my parents' place, I could do it in dad's shop... but when I go home I tend to not have much spare time.

    What kind of fabric are you finding for $2 a yard that is suitable for skinning a kayak? everything I've heard about the cheaper fabrics from Wal Mart is that they'll split if you think about them funny let alone take them out and paddle them around a lake.
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