Building the Greenland Kayak: A Manual for its Construction and Use

Review of Chris Cunningham’s book, by John Gerlach

March 2003

Caveat – I plan to use this book to build a boat with my daughter this summer but I haven’t yet built a boat using its directions.

General: This book is written to provide the first-time builder with everything necessary to build a successful boat as well as brief introductions to launching, paddling, and rolling techniques specific to this type of kayak. Directions for scaling the boat for children and building a folding version are also provided. Cunningham has developed construction techniques using jigs and his unique rib technique that will just about guarantee a successful boat for the first time builder. If you are going to build a skin boat you need to own three books - this book, and the books by Brinck and Morris. If I had to describe the approaches of the three books I’d say that Brinck’s book is reminiscent of the old Foxfire series, Morris’ book is like Fine Woodworking magazine today, and Cunningham’s book is like Fine Woodworking magazine in its black and white days.

Chapter 1: The Design – The boat is one Cunningham has extensive experience with and he credits H. C. Petersen’s book, Instruction in Kayak Building, as the inspiration for the construction methods although he has added a number of his own technical solutions.

Chapter 2: Tools – Pretty much standard stuff with a cutting template for a nice steam box build out of one sheet of foil-faced insulation foam.

Chapter 3: Materials - An overview of the materials you’ll need.

Chapter 4: Fastenings – Cunningham prefers to use artificial sinew for lashings and has developed lashing techniques and knots specifically for this material.

Chapter 5: Milling – Cunningham’s mantra is jigs-jigs-jigs….. In this chapter, as in most others, he gives you alternative methods that range from purely muscle powered, to a minimalist set of hand power tools, to a shop equipped to rival Norm Abram’s. The essence of this chapter is ripping and scarfing.

Chapter 6: Getting Started – Designing your boat using anthropomorphic dimensions and building forms that will fix the boats rocker to give you a boat that will track well.

Chapter 7: The Framework – Everything to get the gunwales cut and mortised for the ribs and the deck beams installed jigs-jigs-jigs……

Chapter 8: The Hull – Cunningham’s unique technique for cutting the ribs greatly reduces the need for a trained-eye to establish a fair hull with the correct cross sectional shape for a beginner. Yes, I’m being a bit cagey by not disclosing how he does it – at a street cost of $14 for this book I think you owe it to Chris and to yourself to buy it to find out. Details of using a rib gage, lashing, bow and stern blocks, installing the chines, and jigs-jigs-jigs…….

Chapter 9: Finishing the Frame – Stem plate installation, making and installing a masik (knee brace), deck stringers, the cockpit hoop, and floor boards.

Chapter 10: Skinning the Kayak – OK, Cunningham uses nylon and two-part Urethane so see the list archives for the discussions on skin material and coating preferences. Cunningham’s use of temporary staples and gunwale seams are unique and appear to make it easier for a person working alone to stitch the skin on the boat although the seam will be twice as long.

Chapter 11: Deck Fittings – Some thoughtful ideas from a guy who has a lot of water under his keel.

Chapter 12: The Paddle – Enough detail to get you a serviceable Greenland-style paddle.

Chapter 13: Clothing – How to make a tuilik and spray skirt.

Chapter 14: Float Bags, Hunting Equipment, and Skegs – How to make a rolling stick out of a throwing board. Everything to outfit the traditional hunter with a throwing stick and hunting float. And lastly, not that Cunningham thinks you’ll need it for this boat, how to make a variety of removable and non-removable skegs.

Chapter 15: Eskimo Rolling – A very nice chapter on how to roll this type of boat using a variety of techniques.

Chapter 16: Getting In and Paddling – How to get into the boat from the shore and from a dock and some nice photos illustrating how to use the Green land paddle.

Chapter 17: Variations of the Greenland kayak – How to make a rolling kayak for rolling contests, how to make a folding kayak, how to scale down the kayak for kids with a balance sack for added stability, and finally a balance stool for balance training.