Kayaks Wave Eaters

Kayak Construction

Kayaks were designed to be quite and agile, yet they had to be sturdy enough to withstand heavy seas.

They had a framework of wood that was either cut from available stands of timber near the tree line or, as was commonly the case in the Far North, found as driftwood. Made by men, the frame was held together with wood or bone pegs and rawhide lashings. Major lengthwise support came from the gunwales (the upper corners where the sides meet the deck), thus eliminating the heavy keel found in other types of boat.

Frame of a Netsilik Inuit kayak,
showing the thin gunwales and slender ribs and stringers that contributed
to the lightness of kayaks from the Central Canadian Arctic

Central Canadian Arctic
Pelly Bay, Northwest Territories, 1974
CMC IV-C-4546
Frame of a Baffin Island kayak,
showing the thick, wide gunwales and strong, wide stringers
that contributed to the heaviness of Eastern Canadian kayaks

Cape Dorset, Northwest Territories, 1961
CMC IV-C-5625

Skins from which the hair has been scraped completely covered the frame. The skin cover, usually from seal or caribou, was sewn in place by women, who made waterproof seams with braided sinew.

A hoop mounted on the frame formed the outline of the manhole, and the skins were lashed to the hoop with thong.

Model of a Netsilik Inuit kayak outfitted with lances for spearing caribou in lakes and rivers
Pelly Bay, Northwest Territories
CMC IV-C-3982

Construction stages

  1. Assembling the framework of the deck.
  2. Bending and inserting ribs in holes along the bottom of the gunwales.
  3. Bending and lashing stringers to the bottom of the hull.
  4. Spreading the sealskin cover on the completed frame.
  5. Trimming the cover with an ulu (woman's knife) before stretching.
  6. Sewing a skin cover on the deck.
  7. Using hot water to bend the forward shield of the cockpit.
  8. Lashing the cockpit to the cover.

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