Skin on Frame
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Greenland Kayak

Aleutian Kayak


Skin on frame canoe

The Greenland Building Process Illustrated

Paddle making

Skin on Frame Construction

Skin on frame is the building method used by all arctic boats. Skin on frame construction economizes on the use of scarce building lumber and also produces the lightest weight boats possible for their size, an important consideration for an environment where harbors were in short supply and boats had to be hauled up on land at the end of a journey. Hunters quite often had to portage their boats across bodies of land or ice to get to the next body of open water.

While skin on frame construction is light, it is nevertheless strong enough to do the job. In boats that use wood planking as a skin the framework has to be built more solidly and more heavily to support the greater weight of wooden planking.

The greatest concern that people seem to have about skin on frame boats is that something should puncture the skin and sink the boat. These concerns are mostly unfounded. While it is possible to puncture the skin, doing so is unlikely, and if it does happen, it is invariably near shore not in open water where there is nothing to do the puncturing. In any case, if you intend to paddle waters with protruding rocks, wooden spikes and rusted steel rods, you can go to a heavy weight skin and coat it with a rubberized paint to give you a skin that is well neigh impenetrable.

One of the reasons that skin on frame boats can be built so lightly is that many of the components are lashed together. The advantage of using lashing to join boat members over fixed methods such as glue, nails, screws or rivets is that lashing lets the boat parts move relatively to each other under stress. Fixed joinery methods concentrate all the stresses at the fixed joints where the frame members are most likely to break. Consequently, inflexible boats have to be built more stoutly.

All content copyright © 2004 Wolfgang Brinck. Personal non-commercial use permitted.