Building physical products – 16-feet sea kayak

Good Product Managers are effective at building bridges, connecting dots, and removing friction from the work of developers.  As a Product Manager, I am a CEO of product, responsible for shipping stuff people love. However, because I work in technology, where ‘building’ is actually done by engineers, I often feel the need to create something with my own hands outside of work. In the past, I founded a community garden in Edgewater, NJ, upcycled my nephew’s unwanted dinosaur toys and sold them on Etsy, and much more!

The project I am especially proud of is building a 16-feet sea kayak in my 1-bedroom apartment in the NYC-metro area.

In the winter of 2014, I attended one boat building class at Village Community Boathouse’s boat where we learned how to repair rowboats. I was so inspired that I decided to make a kayak from scratch, using the same method.

As far as I understand, the easiest way to build a kayak is by using the ‘stitch and glue’ method. This method of building boats uses pre-cut plywood panels that are “stitched” together along their joints and then glued. Sounds pretty simple, huh? I thought so too. That day, I moved my bed into the living room and converted my bedroom into a woodworking garage. I also got all of the tools I needed for the project:

  • Stitch and Glue Kayak Plans
  • Epoxy
  • Fiberglass cloth
  • Marine-grade plywood
  • Zippy ties
  • Jigsaw
  • Circular sander
  • Drill
  • Small tools: carpenters square, utility knife, safety glasses, plastic gloves, pliers

As soon as my plans arrived, I got to work. I first drew the shapes, and then I cut them out using the jigsaw (my neighbors didn’t love that part of the project).  Then, I glued the pieces together using the epoxy glue, which I thickened with sawdust.

Glueing the top of the kayak with epoxy and sandust.

I layered the inside of the kayak with epoxy, covered it with the fiberglass fabric and painted it with epoxy again. Then, I connected the bottom and the top and layered itagain with fiberglass.

Matching the top and bottom parts of the stitched kayak.

After 3 months of sleeping in the living room, weeks of sanding and painting, the kayak was finally ready and the result was quite remarkable.

It looks good, but does it work? Here comes the final test…