Skinning the Qajapak

Qajapak is an Inuit word which loosely translated means fat kayak. This seems a very appropriate name for the Recovery Qajaq.
With the frame completed I spent a couple of days learning how to sew the skin onto the Qajaq. I used 9oz ballistic nylon which I purchased from the Skin Boat Store. The nylon surprised me. It is a tremendously strong material, which gives me confidence that the finished qajaq will be able to withstand the pressure of paddling.
I used a hot knife to trim the material to the rough size and shape needed. All the reading that I had done then suggested that longitudinal stretching was the next step. I anchored the fabric at the stern with three nails and then heaved with all my strength to stretch the material along the qajaqs length. While I held the fabric taught my wife hammered in another set of nails to hold the tension at the bow.
The process of stretching then educated me on how to injure myself in yet another innovative way. I lost the skin off my knuckles as a result of the friction created by pushing down hard while stretching the skin. Next time I will wear gloves.
With the skin stretched along the qajaq’s length I righted the qajaq and set to work sewing zig zags along the decks. At first I sewed them about 8 inches wide. I later discovered this was too wide as it did not stretch the deck. About 4-5 inches apart is a good distance as this allows the skin to stretch and also applies tension across the majority of the deck material as well as under the hull. Under each stitch I slipped a small off cut of wood to help spread the load across the fabric and to protect the skin from the tension caused by heaving on the stitches.

Cutting the fabric

I stretched and re-stretched the fabric three times. Wetting down the nylon each time. With each pull I could hear and see the fabric molding to the frame and soon the underside of the hull was looking excellent. The deck looked a bit of a mess with wrinkles and sagging between the zig zags. I was apprehensive that the skin was not looking good. I posted a few pictures on line and people assured me that this was fine for the stage I was at.

Foredeck sewnI trimmed the fabric using a pair of battens along the deck and running a hot knife along the excess fabric, and then started to sew the central seam along the foredeck. I had originally planned to use the stitching method that Maligiaq had demonstrated. I sewed about 3 inches this way but I was unable to get the stitches to disappear and rather than continue I removed the stitches and went back to the drawing board. I watched some of the videos on the Skin Boat Store’s tutorial section and decided that I would try the welting cord method. Using welting cord gives a very nice clean look. It does however create a bump along the seam that is about an 1/8th of an inch high. As I was sewing along the length of the foredeck I started sensing that I was creating a large number of creases along the deck spreading towards the gunwales. I kept going until I reached the bow (I started at the cockpit). The end result was not great looking. I was reassured by comments from experienced builders who reminded me that fitting the cockpit rim and the bow would allow me to pull out the slack. I sewed the aft deck in the same manner as the foredeck. The flatness of the aft deck compared to the foredeck seemed to allow the fabric to take the shape easier and so it was smoother. I then decided to sew the bow and stern seams. I used a basting stitch to allow me to pull about half an inch of fabric towards the ends and then finished with a flat seam with a blind stitch. This approach removed the wrinkles from the first third of the deck.


The cockpit rim I used was a gift from my father. He made it last year when we were building the Kraken together (See blog post for info on this build). It is a low profile rim made using quilting hoops bonded together with a rope edge to allow the tuilik to slide over. Very strong and light and finished in black epoxy. I drilled holes an inch and a half apart around the lower circumference and started stretching the fabric through the hoop. I used aluminum pop rivets pushed through the holes to hold the fabric in place. I kept circling the hoop pulling harder and wetting the cloth with each pull. I also used my fingers to push and smooth the wrinkles along the center seam towards the hoop as I went. After three rounds I had achieved what I didn’t think was going to be possible; a virtually wrinkle free foredeck and aft deck.


I am looking forward to learning how to apply the two part urethane which is the finishing technique I am planning on using.

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