Reprinted with permission from the Folding Kayaker newsletter.
Editor’s note: Many thanks to Ralph Diaz for writing this and allowing me to post it here. Any errors introduced in scanning, editing and transcribing are of course mine alone.
The following notes were taken from a collection of articles Ralph has written over the years for his newsletter. The tips cover a number of different kayak models and makes, and not every tip applies to every make and model of kayak- but all folding kayak owners will find something that will make assembly and disassembly easier and more enjoyable. In a very few cases, better ways of accomplishing a task have been found since the tip was published. In those few instances I’ve added a bracketed note.
One reader wrote to ask if this collection of tips meant that folding kayaks were hard to assemble. The answer is, in general, no. They’re just different. Some people find them to be very intuitive and have no difficulty in understanding how they work. Others need a little direction. All will find something useful here. –mike
How To Speed Assembly Of Any Foldable
- This may not seem true to some people who are out there sweating through assembly/disassembly of their foldables, but manufacturers do not lie about how long it takes to put their boats together or the force necessary to do the job. Their estimates, in fact, are on the conservative side and are beatable, i.e. you can not only get your present time down sharply but also shave five to 10 minutes off the time the literature says the process will take.Recently a friend asked me, why bother with faster times? Several reasons. It leads naturally to more hours on the water; the less you spend getting the thing together the more you can be paddling or sailing your craft. Long assembly times are a disincentive to impromptu trips and late afternoon quick jaunts out on a lake or bay Also, perhaps more importantly if you are achieving faster assembly times, it means you have undoubtedly licked those stubborn steps that can hang you up for what seems hours, Your assembly/disassembly times became highly predictable; you can count on catching a ferry or train after a day paddling without panic about possibly missing scheduled departures. Besides, quick assemblies and takedowns puts you in control. It impresses onlookers, something always good for the ego.
I’ve given long thought to the tricks of assembly/disassembly over the years. I see a lot of different model boats, more so than do other people. So, I have to struggle more with things new to me than you might. While manufacturers differ in how their boats put together and there are even differences among models within the same marque, I’ve discovered that there are some underlying principles that prevail in nearly all the foldables. If you grasp these principles and apply them along with the assembly/disassembly instructions that come with your foldable, you will be well on your way to greater speed and confidence in the process.
- 1. The position-is-everything principle.Just like anything in life, you have to be in the right spot. It is always amazing in watching a basketball game, to see just how some small guards pull down more rebounds than taller forwards. They’ve positioned themselves well, used their heads not just their height.
The same is true in assembling or knocking down foldables. You have to be in the right position. Generally that means on your knees (use a seat cushion to go easy on those old joints) or crouched down low. Don’t be in a standing position bent over from the waist (this is tough on your lower back). Be close to the work.
That position need not be a stationary one. The experts at the factory can often do everything from just one spot. They are that good at it. Don’t try to do it their way. We common folk need to move around to gain positions of advantage. Don’t bend into any awkward reaching out position. What you are looking for is a spot that allows you to apply good leverage and dexterity. I find that being on one knee works well for me.
How do you know that you have the right spot for a particular task? Easy. Try another position, say the other side of the boat. Is that side better for dealing with connecting some parts. If so, then make a mental note to switch to that spot when doing that particular process. It really is okay to jump around from one side to another While it may seem to lose time, it really saves handfuls of minutes if the position shift leads to a smooth rather than chancy connection.
You might want to see if there are some other steps you could do on one side of the boat before having to bound over to the other side to do a repeat step there. Generally though there aren’t many such shortcuts.
2. The umbrella principle.
When people insert frame halves into the skin of their foldables, they seem not to realize that what they have in their hands is virtually an umbrella frame (early German brochures for foldables often called the frame an umbrella-like structure). The frame half is trying to expand out to the sides. That’s how it helps keep the hull in tension, It’s the same way an umbrella frame stretches out the nylon covering material.
Some frames don’t snag up when putting them into the hull or taking them out. Others do, and when they do, the frame half either cannot be fully inserted or twists into an uneven, off-center position that can affect later assembly processes such as proper connection of coamings.
To virtually guarantee that the frame doesn’t go in badly, squeeze that umbrella inward toward its center. For example, with the Feathercraft K-Light, hug the open end of the frame half with your arms. Depending on the length of your arms, the lower stringers should be resting in your hands while the upper stringers are either alongside the inside of your forearms or in the crook of your elbows. Squeeze inward on the frame with your arms while inserting the half, It will slide perfectly into position. If it starts going in crooked you can adjust the angle by squeezing inward some more on the tubes resting on the inside of your arms, This principle works also for Nautiraids and Pouchs. The reverse works too. When removing a frame half on these boats, squeeze in the open end with your arms to reduce the outward pressure that is sticking the frame half in the hull.
3. Toothpaste tube-and-cap principle.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people suspend precepts of physics that they use in everyday life when it comes to dealing with assembly parts of a folding kayak. Simply put, would you try to remove the cap on a tube of toothpaste without hold the tube itself with your other hand? Of course not.
Use both your hands when doing anything around your foldable. Grasp both pieces of the work. Steady or position apart with one hand while connecting another part to it with your other hand.
The biggest offenses against this principle seems to occur when dealing with aluminum tube connections such as those on the Feathercraft K-Light. For example, when connecting the center rods (those resting in the sling seat) to their bow and stern mates, people often fail to grab those bow or stern rods when trying to insert the center ones into them. Often what happens then is that the collection jams while only partly or halfway seated. About the only place I’ve seen where you can get away with not holding end rods when connecting center ones is in the Klepper Aerius I and 2000. The connecting point is under deck but you can usually slide the center rod into position holding just one end. I think it has to do with the more generous tolerances in Kleppers at the joining spot.
4. Different angle/different order principle.
This applies to aluminum tubes connections mainly but also to the wooden frames of some models.
Let’s start with the trouble with some wooden frames. Klepper singles, either the Aerius I or the 2000, often give people trouble when connecting the numbers 2, 3, 4 ribs to the gunwales. This is particularly true when the boats are spanking new and the gunwales have not taken a set or curve to them. What needs to be done is, using the two-hands principle, grab the gunwale at the bottom and pull it innards to twist it into an angle in which the gunwale’s fitting lines up properly with the mating fitting on the rib. It doesn’t necessarily take strength, just leverage which you will have if you are in the right position (Generally this is the opposite side of the boat. But as can seen from the photo above, sometimes the near side position works too). If this still doesn’t seem to work, then change the order of ribs you are working on. For example move to the center open top rib aria another end. There is usually a prescribed order for a particular model, but, in the real world, wooden ribs and gunwales have a mind of their own and you may find it easier to defy the suggested order of rib placement.
On aluminum tube frames the same process applies. In the Feathercraft K-Light, using the two-hands principle, adjust the angle of connection. Say you are trying to move the slider at the center of the boat so that it bridges two tubes (Folbots have a similar situation for their stringers at the center of the boat). First see if the slider will simply slide fully into position without sticking part way. If not, then pull the aluminum tubes toward the center of the boat; does that allow the slider to seat fully. If not, lift or lower the tubes slightly; try the slider again. It is a matter of feel. It helps if you were a safecracker in an earlier life. Finesse and feel not force. A good thing to try is to make the connection without looking. Do it by feel alone, i.e. close your eyes. It is amazing how often your fingers can “see” better than your eyes when it comes to such motions.
Whatever you do, don’t ram the slider into position, It will likely only get stuck. If it gets stuck, do not waste energy trying to loosen it. Instead, move to another set of tubes and their slider Getting others set up properly often makes the errant slider behave better when you go back to it.
5. Mountain to Mohammed Principle
This is not to take the name of the Prophet in vain, but rather to get across the idea of moving bigger objects to smaller ones. A case in point in assembling or knocking down foldables is the K-Light. I’ve seen people have trouble snapping rods into their holders on the ribs. If you look at the video, the individual is doing it with just finger pressure. But some of us do not have that finger strength or knack. In such cases, reverse the procedure, i.e. press the rib down against the rod to get it into the holder.
Doing it this way gives you a lot of leverage. You have a full hand grip on the rib, you press your weight down to press the rib to the rod. It also can save you getting your knuckles scraped. If you reach around the rod to pull it to rod holder you can rub your skin against the boat’s skin and its skin is a lot tougher than yours. [In the photo shown earlier on page 3, I’m pushing the whole boat down to snap a rib to a rod rather than getting my hand inside against the skin to position the rod.]
6. Remote Solution Principle.
Sometimes if you are having problems in assembling a folding kayak at the middle, you can tackle it by doing something somewhere else on the boat, seemingly too far removed to have any effect. For example, if you are finding it difficult to finish attaching the last bolt on the coaming on a Pouch, you can improve your prospects by lifting one or the other end of the boat a bit. Do softy propping up an end on a life jacket if you are alone and don’t have a partner to pickup one end slightly. The same trick sometimes helps in disassembling the stringers on a Folbot where the slider bridges the central joining point of the aluminum tubes. What this principle alerts you to are alternate ways of relieving pressures at the center that are complicating assembly or disassembly.
Another Look At Assembly/Disassembly of Foldables
- “The Aleut is a comfortable boat for a two to three times a month summer paddler like me. The major gripe I have, however is the difficulty of disassembly in 1) pulling the floor tubes out the aluminum sleeves and 2) unlocking the deck tube from the plastic rib. It’s almost impossible. Surely modern design techniques should allow for a better approach.”
- “If you ever rewrite your article on assembly again, please add one important point- First assemble your boat and let it stand in its assembled condition for one week. This allows the boat to adjust and stretch, When I went to try to disassemble and assemble the K-Light after a week away from it, it was 100% easier I also made notes after each of my sessions to record different mistakes that I was making and that helped a lot.”
(Reprinted from Folding Kayaker, May/June 1995)The other day I was knocking down a demo K-Light when a K-Light owner came up to me saying “I want to see how you get the halves out; they always seem to get stuck inside the hull on me”. I showed him the simple trick based on the umbrella principle, one of six covered in an earlier article in Folding Kayaker (March/April 1994) He was astonished how simple the solution was. The episode got me thinking about some follow-ups, including a suggestion from one reader and a question from another. Here they are.
1. Fitz Pannil of Woodbride Connecticut writes about his Folbot Aleut 1.
These processes can be a problem also for the Greenland II. The solutions are fairly simple. First, Fitz and others having troubles with these disassembly steps should heed the advice about lubricating these areas. The tolerances on the floor tubes, as Fitz calls the stringers that meet in the middle and are secured with aluminum slider sleeves, are loose enough not to normally stick. Lubrication is just some added insurance that they won’t.Next, follow the advice from the six principles, namely the position-is-everything principle and the different angle/different order principle. In Folbots that would mean working from the opposite side of the boat, which would give you a better position to apply the proper force. And apply a different angle on the connected tubes by pulling them up a bit and toward the center of the boat, You’re aiming to get the aluminum sleeve and the connected stringers to align in a straight line. This will relieve pressure on the sleeve from the slight bow shape created by the connected stringers. When you get that straight alignment, the sleeve should slide off easily.
Regarding the spring buttons that hold the deck bars to the crosspieces at the front and back of the cockpit: They are a pain, no question about it. But, they will yield, First, make certain to lubricate the spring buttons with some WD-40 or better yet, Boeshield T-9 which was developed by Boeing Aviation (see writeup below). It is important that the spring remain free-moving. Next, don’t try to do it with your fingers. Often, it is much too hard to depress with a finger tip alone. Instead, use the tip of a house key to press the button down to free the deck bar I hope that this is enough of a “modern design technique” for Fitz.
[A few notes: There’s an easier way to remove the two ribs that attach to the deck tubes that doesn’t require any tools. Harry Shin wrote to mention this technique that a lot of Folboters have discovered on their own: Unlatch the rib, rotate it 90 degrees, and bring the bottom up. (In other words, you’re rotating the rib around the deck tube). The rib will pop loose from the deck tube. I discovered this accidentally while reaching for a key…!
As for the sleeve couplings that join the floor tubes: Getting the little detent button into the hole in the sleeve can be a little bothersome, as can getting it out again. The answer? Don’t bother. Friction between the hull and the sleeve and tubes seems to keep it in place just fine without the detent. Think of the detent rather as a useful feature that keeps the sleeve from getting lost when the boat is disassembled.
As for lubricants: It may not be a good idea to use WD-40 anywhere around a folding kayak. WD-40 is basically kerosene and DMSO and has no real long-term lubricating properties. It may not be good for some synthetic hull and deck materials,. either. –mike ]
2. Tom Anthony of upper New York State, a happy owner of a Feathercraft K-Light, e-mailed me the following.
Thanks, Tom. His suggestion for keeping the boat assembled so that it take a set is an important one. It is something I often mention on the phone especially for a tight boat like the Klepper Aerius I or the 2000; If it has not appeared in print before either in this newsletter or the book, here it is, it should have been mentioned. It is amazing how well this works. All foldables, be they of synthetic or wooden frame, benefit from this. Rods get a bow to them, which in turn, makes them easier to connect to each other Fittings give a little as they establish a desired position.Leaving the boat assembled is your first step before you try changing anything. Recently I saw an example of a brand new Aerius I in which the new owner filed down fittings and sanded down some wooden parts because they were not mating properly. If he had just forced the assembly and allowed the boat frame to sit around for a week or more along Tom’s suggestion, much of that tightness would have begun to disappear If you loosen an Aerius I or 2000 too much at the outset, you may have a boat that is too loose as it takes a set later Be patient.
Next, I like Tom’s suggestion about taking notes, He is a scientist, so this comes naturally to him but we can all benefit from such a systematic approach. Make not only a mental note, as I suggested in the six principles article, but also some written ones. This is particularly important if you don’t make your foldable often. Six months later when you go to assemble the thing, you’ll be happy you have a written record what works well to get it put together.
Getting Faster With the Setup of Your Folding Kayak
- (Reprinted from Folding Kayaker, Nov/Dec 1991)How fast can you assemble or knock down your folding kayak? Most people with Kleppers, Nautiraids and Folbots take in the 15-20 minute range for their doubles (it’s a bit longer for the Feathercraft double because of the distinct cockpit coamings and hatches), Or at least that’s what we say when asked by a doubting friend.
What’s the hurry? Lots of reasons. Quicker assembly means less reasons to put off going out, more time on the water a chance to socialize with friends while gathering at a put-in. If you want to improve your time for what ever reason and have more fun with your foldable, enter a folding kayak race, or organize one yourself.
Folding Kayak Races
- When I first got my folding double a few years ago, I became intrigued with an event that was part of the West Coast Sea Kayaking Symposium held every September at Port Townsend, Washington. It was mentioned in the Ecomarine catalog. The folding kayak race was held for about four years or so from what I’ve been able to learn. It was won by Nautiraid and Feathercraft in the 15 minute range in alternating years. That included assembly from carrying bags (or bag), run 30 ft to a beach launch, paddle 80-100 yards or so around some buoys, and back to disassembly and stuff the thing back into its bag or bags. Then Eric Stiller of the Klepper distributorship in New York and Howard Rice of soon-to-be Cape Horn fame teamed up using, natch, a double Klepper. Very competitive types (some think maniacally so). They took the total time to below 9 minutes. And the race hasn’t been held since at that symposium.Last year I was approached by the New York Harbor Festival. They were looking for an event with which an ordinary person could identify unlike the world-class sailing yachts that are the Festival’s main event out of sight in the harbor I thought of the folding kayak race from Port Townsend and, suddenly we were on the schedule. Being New York, the race took on colossal proportions. Assemble the boats at the South Street Seaport before a crowd of a few thousand onlookers. A 100 yard run that included snaking through a fence and launching off a high pier (remember this is the cruel big city). Then a mile round trip to Brooklyn and back across the treacherous East River with a [??] knot beam current, while maneuvering among the many tugs and speedboat traffic of a July weekend, Then, back up the pier the land run and disassembly back into bags. A Klepper won, but, then again, no other type boats had entered. Eric Stiller with a friend Craig Uher did the whole thing in just 22 minutes; their actual assembly of the boat was under 5 minutes. I was in the race with a partner Al Ysaguirre. We assembled the boat in just over 7 minutes including putting on the tuck-under spray deck and rudder. But we were knocked out of the race when we collided with another Klepper team on the water and came dangerously close to being chewed up by the screw of a cruise boat.
- While we didn’t finish the race (we were great in practice with about 30 minutes for the grueling course just two days before), Al and I managed to half the typical assembly claim of most people. How did we do it? Simply some practice and a set of the military assembly plans that Klepper has worked out with clandestine forces around the world. Eric shared these with us since he knew he was going to beat us no matter how much of a boost he proffered us. (However, we didn’t share the plans with the team that collided with us. Who says folding kayak racing is an honorable pursuit?)Take a look at the accompanying box [see below]. While it is aimed at the double Klepper the tips and approach work equally well with the Folbot and Nautiraid. In fact, the Folbot may have a head start. The zippered decks help the process as does having some parts already connected to the keel ends. Scott Walter of Queens, NY and his wife Michelle practiced with their Folbot for an aborted race this year. Even with their two preschool daughters climbing all over them, they still managed to get assembly down to around 1O minutes with just a few tries and a systematic team approach very similar to that of the military. Special considerations for the Folbot include Michelle making sure the frame pieces fit into the metal groove in the hull, her zipping up and velcroeing while Scott works on the cockpit ribs, etc.
Military Speed Assembly Plans
- A empties longbag, B the hull and rib bags.
- A sorts long pieces into front and rear piles. B sets out ribs in sequence alongside and lays out skin.
- A assembles front half of frame, B rear half. Both insert their halves into the skin. Together they join frame halves and puffin long stringers.
- A puts in Rib #3 and grabs coaming, B ribs #4 and 5.
- A puts in masthead end of coaming. Both connect snaplocks of ribs and tuck in black edge piping into coaming grove. Whoever gets to rear first puts in the boomerang piece.
- Each puts in respective seat and seat back. Each inflates pre-agreed upon port or starboard air sponson, 2/3rds full.
- A inserts foot pedal assembly. B places on rudder yoke, pins and cables,
- A attaches front of tuck under spray deck, B the rear. Each tucks under one side. A and B then finish inflating sponsons.
(Reprinted from Folding Kayaker Nov/Dec 1991)
These instructions were specifically designed for Klepper doubles but they can easily be adapted for other foldables [especially the Long Haul — mike]. Decide who is team member A and B. Person A is responsible for the long bag with keelboards, gunwales, etc. Person B is responsible for the hull bag and ribs. The duties below determine who should be A and who B. For example, whoever is handiest with the several steps of rudder assembly should be B. Place identifying red tape on all front pieces, blue or green on rear pieces. Here goes:
- This may not seem true but manufacturers do not lie about how long it takes to put their boats together. If you take to heart the principles of assembly that start on this page and helpful hints on page 4, what times can you reasonably expect with the three most popular models? Here are what ordinary people have accomplished, not factory teams. The times below start from alt in-bag position, i..e., parts still in their bag or bags.Klepper Aerius II: Two people can assemble the basic boat in about 7 to 8 minutes. (See above for tips on speed assembly instructions used by the military. They would also apply to the Folbot below.)
Folbot Greenland II. Two people will take about 10-12 minutes for the basic boat.
Feathercraft K-Light. One person can make this boat in under 12 minutes.
- Get the assembly video for your model if at all possible. The best way to learn how to assemble a boat is to see it done in person by a knowledgeable individual. The next best thing is ‘the video: its pictures are worth thousands of words of written instruction. After watching it a few times listening to the voice over (if there is one), turn the sound off not to be distracted by the music or voice. In particular, watch how the person is using both hands to position the work, the angles he or she is moving parts at, etc. Don’t be discouraged by the individual’s seeming lack of effort in spots that are proving tough for you. Remember, often the demonstrator is working with a doctored boat, i.e. one with a particularly loose skin, “tuned” fittings and the like.The first few times you are trying assembly make just the frame. Without the resistance of the skin, which the frame is trying to stretch out and keep in tension, everything will go together easier. You also have more room to see what is going on without having to deal with deck overhang obscuring the process. This will also convince you, for example, that, indeed, those sliders do slide over those rod ends in the middle of the boat; i.e.,, the manufacturer has not made a mistake and shipped you mismatched parts. That confidence will help you when you are struggling when working with the frame inside the skin.
Mark every part with color-coded tape. Manufacturers are getting better all the time at making it easier to identify what goes where. But, you can always improve on even the best factory-provided identifiers. Keep it simple and easy to see. Make it so that an onlooker can immediately discern the pattern of your color-coding, You may want to indicate even starboard and port sides on gunwales such as Kleppers. While these can go on either side, the wood does take a set eventually. Why not have the advantage of that proper curve when assembling the boat?
Lubricate everything that can be lubricated. Aluminum framed boats benefit the most from this procedure but so too do their wooden frame brethren. Feathercraft generally provides a tube of SuperLube with its boats. Use it at every male-female joint and for any parts that slide such as the sliders on the K-Light and any rods that are stretched out by the levering process used in some models. You only have to do it every couple of months. On Kleppers and Nautiraids, put a little grease or wax on the fittings. They will close or snap together more smoothly. On both these makes, you should wax the perimeter bead that is used to attach the deck to the coaming.
[Klepper fittings are a little rough at first but quickly smooth out after a few assembly/disassembly cycles. Peter Schwierzke of Klepper West tells me that Klepper used to tumble fittings to smooth edges before anodizing them but discontinued this process as part of their effort to keeps costs down. –mike]
Be Brainy, Not Brawny
- The following is a tip that shows that you don’t always have to follow the assembly instructions as divined by the manufacturer.According to the instructions for Kleppers, connecting the bow and stern pieces to the forks on the keelboards requires you to lull the forks apart until prongs on the end pieces can slip into holes in the forks. This operation requires strength to get both prongs Eared into position. For most people, the time honored way of doing it with the Aerius II is to slip one’s knee slightly between the forks to hold them far enough apart to slip in the prong fittings.
It has never been easy for weaker individuals to perform he feat with the Aerius I because the tension at the forks is even greater than on double Kleppers. And, now with the advent of the Aerius 2000, it is even more difficult because there isn’t any room o slip in one’s knee to hold things apart. The 2000 is aimed partly at the women’s market, and, so, some remedy is needed. The solution is fairly simple. Ignore the instructions that lave you trying to get both prongs lined up at their respective holes and instead do one prong first and then the other.
- Boeshield T-9 is definitely a lubricant you should be looking to get, especially for any foldable that has aluminum tubing in its frame setup. I was first put to this a few years ago by Gaeton Andretta of The Small Boat Shop in South Norwalk in Connecticut.It works beautifully and seems to last and last. Boeshield T-9 bills itself as a premium metal protection product but it is also a superb lubricant. Over a year ago, I sprayed some of it on a sliding iron gate. Despite snow, rain and heavy exposure to New York City grime, the coating on the gate’s moving parts, wheels and rail remain as fresh as the day I sprayed the stuff on.
I got my 12 oz can from a marine shop for about $10. Boeshield T-9’s great advantage is that it is waterproof, so it will not easily be washed away by bilge water and ocean spray. It has many other applications beyond the marine world. Use it for your car to lubricate locks and hinges and battery terminals and wire harnesses. Good on tools, too, and fishing and gun tackle. And, of course, on your folding kayak’s metal parts and pieces.
- [You can often find T-9 in bicycle shops. It’s a great chain and general protectant for mountain bikes and any bike ridden in rain or winter conditions. –mike]
More Tips From Readers of This Page
- It’s a good idea to attach zipper pulls to the zippers on Folbot Greenland and Kodiak kayaks; makes it much easier to grab that zipper tab when it’s completely unzipped and stuck way back there.
All Aluminum Boats
- If you like to leave your boat assembled all season, get a tube of aluminum anti-seize from your local auto parts store and add a dab to every metal-to-metal joint. The boat will slide apart with no problems when it comes time to disassemble it.
Older (pre-1998) Feathercrafts
- One thing that slows down assembly of these older boats is the tight fit of the skin- which is due to the nature of the Cordura cloth used. Cordura shrinks when dry and expands when wet, as the nylon fibers absorb water and relax. The skins of the Cordura-decked Feathercrafts are intentionally cut tight to prevent them from loosening up too much when wet. Randy Henricksen of New York Kayak suggested this to me: Carry a small spray bottle filled with water, and spray some on the skin before you start assembly. By the time you’re ready to insert the frame parts in the skin it will have relaxed enough to make the task a good deal easier.