The first time you ever plunge a knife into the skin of your kayak, you wince. Eventually you’ll find it’s quite fun!

Alas, despite how durable and tough skin-on-frame kayaks are, the time comes when you have to accept your fate and tear that old nylon skin off your boat. The process runs smoothly and easily, with a few things you must pay attention to. Dave Wescott demonstrates the process here, taking only about 20 minutes to remove the skin in its entirety. Refinishing and adjusting the frame took a good while longer.

Removing the Deck Lines

Your first step is reaching inside and carefully untying your stopper knots on your deck lines. A fid, marlinspike or awl will help with this greatly, as untying a tight knot in a hard-to-reach space is a bit like removing your underwear with your pants on. Then simply unthread your deck lines and stow them away for later.

Removing the Coaming

Removing the cockpit coaming on a skin-on-frame can be tricky. If you want to preserve your coaming, you have a lot of work ahead of you. You must carefully knife off and grind off the nylon, which has been basically glued to the wood. I typically make a new coaming for a fresh start. In any case, you will have to cut the coaming out and be careful when you pull it off to not rip out hunks of the stringers where the coaming might be firmly attached by polyurethane.

Cutting off the Decks

The next step is the tough one. You must take your knife and plunge it into the fabric along your deck stringer, then using your knife, slide along the length of your boat. Yes, cut through all your stitching but remember, you cannot rip the fabric even if you’ve got a hole started– you’ll need to actually cut through the skin.

Peel the skin away carefully and try to use a knife to separate the skin from the wood anytime you see a splinter trying to split off. Along the ribs if they are bamboo (like all Seawolf kayaks) the skin will remove easily.

You should be be able to peel the skin away almost entirely, until you run into the rub strips on the bow and stern of the boat. Waiting until this step to remove them makes it easier.

Taking off the rub strips

The rub strips can be quite tricky if you’ve nailed them in. If you’ve used stainless steel screws, you’re in luck and can easily unscrew them. If you’ve used metal that’s now corroded, you’ll have to cut the skin off first and then cut off and grind the nails/screws flush with the keel.

Seawolf’s kayaks use bronze ring-shank nails for attaching rub strips and they can be removed fairly easily by inserting a chisel under the rub strip and slowly working and prying softly. The cedar is soft enough that with time the rub strip will pop off.

Frame Damage

Inevitably, your frame will show some damage in places where the polyurethane just would not let go of its precious grasp on the kayak’s frame. Usually this won’t be a big problem, as minor blemishes can be sanded out. You can split, reinforce or replace major problem areas. Remember, now that your kayak is just a frame again, you have enormous leeway in the changes you can make to it!

Also a reminder before you re-skin: it is crucial to realign your bow and stern stems before final skinning.

2 responses to “Re-Skinning a Skin-on-Frame Kayak

  1. Dasan, to realign the stems you just have to turn the boat over and sight down the keel line, making sure the stems are in line with the keel, right down the center of the boat. If they're off (and it's likely they are a little), then move them into place and add a lashing or two to keep them in their new position. You can also get creative with pegging if the stems are too loose for your liking!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields required.