"Traditional" kayaks -
Gathering the Wood
First weeks of February, 2016
I have a plan - a plan to paddle the length of the Willamette this
summer - the navigable bits, anyhow, from Eugene to Point Kelly
in Portland. I decided to see how much I can learn about kayaks
along the way, and see how much I can learn about the people and
resources of Oregon.
The design criteria was both simple: The boat had to be big enough
to carry me and about a week's worth of gear, and complex: I wanted
to use a design from the Pacific Northwest. A quick Google search
for kayak designs from the Pacific Northwest shows . . . nothing.
It seems like skin and sticks don't last too long in the archeological
The good news is, I am acquitted with Harvey Golden, the man who
wrote the BOOK on kayaks from the Pacific Northwest - AND he runs
Street Kayak and Canoe museum in Portland. As it is winter time
and not a lot is going on, it was time for a road
He emailed me a picture of a kayak and gave me some pointers and
I started experimenting.
When I got to the Boathouse, I saw we had a new resident, the tug
Thea Knutson. That's a purty boat.
The Teak Ladies were wintered up and sitting pretty.
Inside we had a new set of lockers. I like the colors, but . .
. we'll have to see what we need lockers for,
I wanted to get an idea of the shape of the kayak, so I pulled
some sticks down from the rafters. There's a lot of sawdust up there.
Layout, from back to front. 150 inches from inside point to inside
point, 28" wide to the outside edges at the maximum beam.
View from the side. How would I fit inside? Let's see.
This is the picture you get when you set the timer and the camera
falls off the table, so you run over to grab it.
And this is the picture you get when the timer is set properly.
OK, close enough. Time to go a-hunting for wood.
Traditional kayaks use a lot of ribs, and everyone says ribs are
best cut from green White Oak. As luck would have it, there is a
small, independent, oak mill not too far away: Zena Wood Products.
ZWP is 15 miles outside the capitol of Oregon, and it might as
well be in the jungles of the Amazon. Go up 221 to the town of Lincoln
(In the 1860s, Lincoln had a dock 1/2 mile long to handle all the
wheat being shipped out of the Willamette Valley. Now it has a Quik-E
Mart.) and take a left on Zena Road.
Things start getting weird towards the end of Zena Road - that
barn represented a major investment at one time, now it is caved
in and useless. Maintenance is important, folks.
You can probably get this for a little less than the original price.
It needs a little TLC.
Turn on Oak Grove Road from Zena. It is a gravel road. Go on it
a ways until you see the mailbox for Zena Wood Products.
This mailbox. By this time, you've surmised Zena Wood Products
doesn't need a lot of walk-in business.
A mile and a third down this "road" gets you to . . .
. . . the mill itself. It's a fairly impressive structure, not
too old, built from local wood.
The workers had no time to talk, they were milling lumber. They
motioned me to go upstairs, where I met Ben, the owner. Ben grew
up in the area and when he graduated college, returned to build
the mill and work the forest.
Here's the man himself. He loves what he does and he knows his
wood. I picked up a few planks - Ben picked 'em out and I paid for
'em. Cash or check only. Like I said, Zena Forest Products isn't
set up for the casual walk-in business.
The oak is for ribs. For the big, longitudinal, pieces (gunnels,
keel, and stringers) I needed spruce. And there's no better place
for spruce than Siletz Lumber Mill, over near the coast.
That's my plank. 16' long and 5/4 thick. A mighty piece of wood.
That's it - enough wood for two, maybe three kayaks. Now it's time
for more research.