This article will focus on building your own kayak cart from PVC plastic tubing and other basic materials available at most hardware stores and/or home centers. The design elements for the cart covered in this article are a culmination of ideas from other cart builders, and more specifically Dirty Dave, whose design served as the basis for this project. Many other great ideas have come from other members of the KayakFishingStuff.com forum community.
The price list provided for required parts is quite accurate for the given sources that the materials were purchased from and I’ve made a very conscious effort to avoid any surprises in expense. Although this kayak cart was originally designed for my 15’ 4” Ocean Kayak Prowler, it can be used for any Sit-On-Top kayak by simply adjusting tubing lengths to suit your particular make and model.
|Power or Rechargeable Drill|
|¼”, 3/32”, ½” Drill Bits||A full set is preferred, as it is easier and more precise to start with a pilot hole when drilling the hole in the elbow for the axle and then gradually step up to the ½” bit.|
|Pencil or marker||A marker is preferred, as parts are handled frequently between dry-fit and finish where they can potentially be wiped off the surfaces.|
|Hacksaw||Or other suitable saw to cut PVC pipe with. A drywall saw can be used if a hacksaw is not available, but generally does not cut cleanly.|
|Bench Vise||Not necessary, but preferred, as it’s used to align the wheel hubs. However, it can be done with C clamps or just by applying pressure on two wood boards with the fixture sandwiched in-between.|
|Grinding bench, grinding wheel, Dremel Tool, etc.||Used to bevel and sharpen the end of a scrap piece of PVC tube used to core center of swimming pool noodles out.|
|Hammer or Mallet||Optional, but was used in this project to punch the PVC fixtures well into their receiving ends. Any suitable device can be used in its place.|
|Multipurpose Glue||Used to seal knots on quick release pin retention cords. Any type of glue can be used that is suitable to secure the knots. A light coat of jig head cement was use in this project, but super glue would work too.|
|Lighter or matches||Used to melt the cut end of nylon cords to prevent fraying.|
|Masking or Duct Tape||Used to pre-fit the dry assembly of the kayak cart to the bottom of the kayak in order to adjust lengths.|
Parts List: Obtained from Ace Hardware except where noted. All PVC is SCH40 (schedule 40) except where noted.
|Qty||Unit Price||Description||Notes||Total Cost|
|2||2.60 ea.||½” x 8” Zinc Steel Bolts||
Stainless bolts offer better corrosion resistance, but are also more expense. They can be used as a substitute. In addition, 5/8” x 8” bolts can be used if you wish to eliminate the bushing that will be needed for the ½” bolt (the Harbor Freight wheels listed have a 5/8” hub bore).
|4||.30 ea.||½” Stainless Steel Washers||
Inside diameter depends on the bolt size you use – 5/8” or ½”.
|2||.30 ea.||Galvanized hitch pins||
Stainless is an option.
|2||1.05 ea.||Stainless slotted nuts (castle nuts) – Same thread size as the bolt||
Galvanized may be used, but I used stainless so it can cut through the Galvanized bolt threads if corrosion appears.
|1||2.35 ea.||3’ cut of ½” copper tubing||
This is the bushing for the ½” bolt to fit the 5/8” bore of the Harbor Freight wheels. Aluminum tubing may also be used, but at a greater cost. ACE offers 3’ cut 5/8” Aluminum tubing at $6.23, which I felt it was not needed.
|4||1.98 ea.||¼” diameter 2.5” usable length Stainless quick-release pins||
The pins for this project were ordered from McMaster Carr materials part # 98404A145. They are 18-8 Stainless. You may substitute with 2.25” usable length and different types of pins that could save you about 0.60 ea.
|5||1.29 ea.||1.25” PVC T fixture||
It is my opinion that given the length of the two kayak support bars, that the kickstand may be eliminated and therefore, the 5th T fixture would be optional.
|5||.79 ea.||1.25” PVC End Caps||
Again, the 5th cap is optional if the kickstand is eliminated.
|2||2.49 ea.||1.25” PVC 90 degree elbow fixture||
Locating the exact center to drill the axle hole is easier if you obtain elbows with a seam line around the bend from the manufacturing mold, therefore leaving you with only one dimension to measure in order to obtain center.
|2||1.29 ea.||1.25” PVC Plugs (non-threaded)||
It is easier to use PVC plugs with hex facets instead of completely round, as it’s easier to measure for center hole
|1||3.29 ea.||8’ length of 1.25” PVC tubing||$3.29|
|1||1.20 ea.||3’ length of 1” PVC tubing||
You will not need a full 8’ length, only enough to reinforce the horizontal crossbar i.e., the width of the cart.
|1||3.19 ea.||Small can of PVC Cement||
The can used in this project was barely used. Buy as small a container as possible unless you intend on doing home plumbing, in which case you probably already have some.
|1||2.29 ea.||Small can of PVC Cleaner||
The can used in this project was barely used. Buy as small a container as possible unless you intend on doing home plumbing, in which case you probably already have some.
|4||.17 ea.||1 foot length of ¼” nylon cord||
Used to hold quick pins to PVC. Can be substituted. A single 5ft length was used for this project, but 4ft is sufficient to complete it.
|2||6.49 ea. (See notes for ordering instructions)||13” X 4” Pneumatic Tire with 5/8” bore and 3 ½” hub width||
The normal online catalog price at harborfreight.com is 13.99 each. However, if you search for part # 36054-6BMB online, and then select “Order from Printed Catalog” from left menu bar, then the reduced price will be reflected.
|$21.88 includes standard shipping|
|1||1.25 ea.||5’ length swimming pool noodle||
Purchased at Dick’s Sporting Goods, but can be found easily at K-Mart, Target, and pool supply stores.
It is important to note that some supplies may already be available, such as PVC glue and cleaner, which would reduce the cost. In addition, the kickstand is optional, which would reduce the cost of the 5th end cap and T fixture.
The best thing to do from the start is to gain insight into your expectations for the cart. The tires used in this article are quite heavy when compared to other options such as lightweight golf hand cart wheels, tall lawnmower wheels, or other wheels available for various other applications at hardware stores. The Harbor Freight wheels however, are very durable, they’re pneumatic, so air pressure can be adjusted for specific terrain, and they are 4” wide with a lot of clearance resulting from their 13” diameter. Most lawnmower type replacement wheels are not very tall, and/or are quite narrow. Narrow wheels do fine on hard terrain, but will not perform well in soft sand. I have personally tested the Harbor Freight tires in sand and they work quite well, although not perfect, as they occasionally will plow slightly. However, the bearings perform very well and they will correct themselves. Much like a truck that is taken onto the beach, letting air out of the Harbor Freight tires will allow the wheels to gain an even wider profile, making them even easier to maneuver in sand. There are lightweight golf hand cart wheels available that have a 3.5” width and are certainly an option. A notable feature of pneumatic tires is that they absorb shock, which will allow you to build a less durable cart, using only a single horizontal cross bar for support and will also likely extend the service life of the cart.
Another key issue is whether or not the wheels will fit in the hull of your kayak. The Harbor Freight tires are 13” x 4” and they fit just fine inside of my 15’ 4” Ocean Kayak Prowler, but they may not fit through the front or rear hatch of other kayaks. It is advisable to create a cardboard replica of the tire to its specified dimensions and see how well that fits into your kayak for storage, regardless of which wheels/tires you choose to use. Even if the wheels/tires you select do not fit your kayak’s storage area(s), you may still be able to use them if you determine that you will not need to take the cart with you when you paddle. In most cases, I do not bring my own cart with me, as the put-in location is also my take-out location and neither is far from my car, so I will usually take the kayak to the launch spot and then return the cart to the vehicle. The tires will be the only major variable in this cart project. Should you choose to use different wheels/tires, then you will also need to pay close attention to the axle parts, as they will have to match the hub length and bore diameter of the wheel/tire you select. In order to prevent mistakes, it is advisable to pre-fit/dry-fit all of your connections and make sure you are pleased with the position, length, angle, etc, before applying the PVC cement. Making mistakes in cementing parts will drive the cost of the cart higher, as replacement parts will need to be acquired. From my experience, it is possible to build the entire cart without gluing the parts, saving that task for the very end. Also, be sure to keep all the receipts for your parts, should you decide to substitute or otherwise exchange a part along the way.
Now that you have all the parts and tools needed to build the cart and have reviewed the considerations outlined in the “Planning” section, we can proceed with the actual task of building the cart. As we step through this document, it is important to note that I basically reverse engineered the cart that I had already built, so some of the parts in the photographs will show assembled sections, drilled, marked, or otherwise modified so that they appear several steps ahead, however following the text in this document closely will eliminate any confusion.
We’ll start with the wheels/hubs, since they are not variable and will not require adjustments.
1. Take each 90 degree elbow and drill a centered hole using a ½” bit (use a 5/8” bit if you choose to omit the bushing and use a 5/8” bolt instead of a ½” bolt). The easiest way to do this is to choose a set of elbows that have a seam from the original manufacturing mold (you can see the seam in figure 1 to the left of the green thread). This allows you to find center on one of the dimensions. To find center on the other dimension, you can use a measuring instrument, or an easier way is to simply take a piece of thread, wet it so it sticks to the PVC and lay it across the elbow as shown in figure 1. NOTE: If you have a drill press, then you will only need to find center on either the plug or the elbow but not both, as you can dry-fit the two pieces and drill straight through both at once using a press.
2. Cut the ends of the thread at a well-defined point on both sides of the elbow, such as the shoulder of the receiving sleeve as shown in figure 2.
3. Remove the thread and cut it in half by folding it in half and using tension on a razor blade as shown in figure 3.
4. Moisten the thread (allowing it to stick to the PVC elbow) and lay it back over the elbow as shown in figure 4, making sure your thread is aligned with your original reference point (e.g., the shoulder). You now have an x,y centered mark. Simply use a punch or pen to mark the spot, and then drill the ½” hole. NOTE: with PVC, it is easier at less error prone to drill an initial small pilot hole and then step up gradually to the largest bit.
5. You will need to do the same in order to measure the center of the plug as in figure 5. This is actually somewhat easier, as you don’t need to cut the threads, simply wet and lay the threads across at both axis to create a cross at the center, then mark the center point with a punch or pen. Drill the ½” diameter hole as you did with the elbow. If your PVC plug is not round and has hex facets as in figure 5, then simply using a ruler to find and mark center will be much easier.
6. Once the holes are drilled, you can dry-fit the axle assembly. You will need the following items shown in figure 6 for each hub. One 8” x ½” bolt, one hitch pin, two stainless steel washers, one castle nut, and an aluminum or copper ½” diameter pipe cut to the width of the wheel hub, which is 3 ½” for the Harbor Freight wheels. For this assembly we are using copper piping, but aluminum can be used for greater corrosion resistance or even true flange bushings made of brass. Copper piping is relatively inexpensive, and it’s easy to replace should you need to do so. Bearings or true bushings are not really necessary though, as the cart will not be rolled fast enough to present heat or friction problems. These wheels also come with their own high quality bearings pressed into the hub. Using the ½” bolt instead of the 5/8” bolt will reduce weight and overall bulk, and that is partially why I’ve chosen to do so here. The other reason is that most drill sets only include up to ½” bits. Corrosion should not be much of an issue, as most carts will never enter the salt water and if they do, the entire cart can be disassembled and rinsed at the end of the day. I used Zinc steel bolts for this project, and they should last with proper care and rinsing. Stainless steel bolts can also be twice the cost of galvanized or other zinc coated steels as well as being much harder to drill through when it comes time to make a hole in the threaded section to accommodate the hitch pin.
7. Assembling the hub hardware. Insert the plug into the receiving end of the elbow (if you have not done so already), and then seat it using hand pressure. Insert the bolt from the elbow side, and then insert one stainless washer as in figure 7. Next, insert the copper or aluminum bushing into the hub of the wheel as in figure 8.
8. Next, insert the PVC elbow assembly, including its hardware, into the short side of the Harbor Freight wheel hub as shown in figure 9. This is important, as it will create enough room on the long side of the hub to accommodate the power or rechargeable drill when drilling the hole into the bolt. You will notice later on that the wheel can be used either way when it’s completed. Flip the wheel over and insert another stainless washer as shown in figure 10.
9. Spin the castle nut onto the bolt and hand tighten it as shown in figure 11. I gave it little extra effort here, as you’ll be drilling the hole from the nut’s position and you want to make sure there is no play in the hub. Once you have the castle nut seated properly and are sure there is little or no play in the hub assembly, then you can take a 3/32” bit (or match to any other size hitch pin you’ve purchased) and drill straight through one of the slots in the nut all the way through to the other side, as shown in figures 12 and 13. This is where the long end of the hub on the drill side comes into play, as it will give you the room between the sidewall of the tire to use a power drill and hold it straight. NOTE: if you’ve chosen to use stainless steel bolts instead of galvanized bolts, then drilling will be much more difficult, and you will probably need cobalt bits and some form of lubrication such as oil or water while drilling. Once the hole is drilled, simply insert the hitch pin as shown in figure 14.
10. You now have a completely assembled and dry-fit wheel unit that should look like figure 15.
11. Disassemble the entire unit and glue the plug into the elbow as shown in figure 16 To glue PVC fixtures, simply wipe a light coat of PVC cleaner around the outside of the plug and the inside of the receiving end of the elbow, let dry for a few minutes, then apply the PVC glue to the same areas on both parts and seat the two together using hand pressure. Once the parts are seated, you may optionally choose to seat the plug a little deeper using a hammer or mallet (do not use excessive striking force, as the PVC may fracture – you’re simply trying to seat it a little deeper).
12. Once the hub is glued together, we can proceed with building the frame. There is one other non-variable assembly that can be completed, and that’s fitting the elbow assembly to a T fixture. The elbow will not be glued to the T fixture; it will be pinned with one of the quick-release pins. The purpose of this step is to align the T and elbow properly, drill the pin hole, and test the pin. Starting with figure 17, dry-fit the elbow assembly to the T as shown. The idea here is to align these so the wheels are straight and do not toe in or out.
13. If the T and the elbow were manufactured by the same vendor, then the outside diameters will be identical and it will be very easy to align them using a vise or clamps as shown in figures 18a and 18b. By squeezing this assembly between two planks of wood the vise, it will align itself perfectly. If a vise is not available, you can simply put the assembly between two planks and apply enough pressure for the fixtures to align.
14. In figures 18a, 18b, and 19, you will notice the black marks on the elbow and T. You should always mark the pieces that you dry-fit so any change in position will be noted before drilling or gluing and you can adjust it to correct alignment. Remove the assembly from the vise and drill a ½” hole all the way through. It is important to try to place the hole so that it’s not too close to the edge of the elbow’s male end but also not too close the female end of the T. You can see in figure 20 that I was not exactly in the middle, but not close enough to the edge to present a problem. Figure 19 shows that my hole is far enough from the edge to ensure the joint retains its strength.
15. For the next step, you will need one of the four stainless steel quick-release pins as shown in figure 21. Insert the pin into the hole as shown in figure 22 (the side doesn’t matter, as it’s your preference). You will want the pin a little tight, but if it’s too tight, do not ream the hole too much, as you want it just loose enough for the pin to slide into the assembly. You can always ream out more, but you can’t go back, so ream it a little at a time until you get it right.
16. The next step is to cut the pieces for the lower frame and dry-fit them in order to ensure proper fit and alignment. The lengths of the crossbar pieces and the vertical towers will depend on your preference and kayak make/model. This particular cart was created for my Ocean Kayak 15’ 4” Prowler. As you can see in figure 24, my frame total width is 17” outside to outside. Figure 25 shows my vertical tower total length, including the T is 9 ½”. I believe this is the ideal configuration for the 15’ 4” Prowler, but yours may differ. Before cutting anything, read the next step, which covers pre-fitting the entire cart to your kayak.
17. The next step is to cut the pieces for the lower frame and dry-fit them in order to ensure proper fit and alignment. The lengths of the crossbar pieces and the vertical towers will depend on your preference and kayak make/model. This particular cart was created for my Ocean Kayak 15’ 4” Prowler. As you can see in figure 24, my frame total width is 17” outside to outside. Figure 25 shows my vertical tower total length, including the T is 9 ½”. I believe this is the ideal configuration for the 15’ 4” Prowler, but yours may differ. Before cutting anything, read the next step, which covers pre-fitting the entire cart to your kayak.
18. The best way to judge what your tube lengths should be is to dry-fit most of the parts and see how it fits on the bottom of your kayak. I started by taking a rough guess and making all of these sections a little longer than I thought I’d need, then fit to the kayak and cut where necessary. I did this several times to come up with my final lengths. The idea is to keep cutting down until you’re where you want to be before assembly. You can see how I did this in figure 26, by duct taping the dry-fit unit to the bottom of my kayak towards the back, where I intended it to be positioned when I actually use it. You’ll notice in figures 26a and 26b that there are no holes or black marks on any of the PVC and that’s because this is actually the first step I took and I was able to test fit the entire cart (nothing has been glued yet) except for the wheels since they weren’t assembled yet. If you’ve followed this article step by step, your wheels should be assembled by now and you should be able to fit the complete cart to your kayak, hence why I saved this tip for now. With the wheels on, you should also be able to get the length of your kickstand close, but that doesn’t really matter, since the kickstand never gets glued or pinned and you can simply cut it to your preference after the rest of the cart is complete.
19. Next, assemble the top horizontal bars that the kayak will actually sit on. For my Prowler, 26” total length including the T as show in figure 27 works fine, but I could have probably made it a little shorter and saved some space and weight. Again, the two long pieces don’t have to be glued until the cart is complete. Repeat for the other side. The next step is important, so make sure you understand what we’re trying to accomplish in this step. As shown in figure 28, insert the top bar assemblies (do this for both sides) onto the bottom frame assembly (again dry-fit only). If you have not set the angle of the kickstand T (shown in middle of bottom horizontal bar), you will need to do so now. The angle itself is not critical, as any error can be compensated for by changing the length of the kickstand itself. I simply pushed it down until it touched the workbench as shown in figure 28, which is about 45 degrees.
20. Now you will need to make sure the two vertical posts are aligned correctly. The easiest way to do this is to measure the distance between the tips of the top horizontal kayak support bars and the table itself. If you do this for both ends, making sure they’re even and for both sides, then you should be close enough, if not perfect. The other way to do this is to simply push down on the assembly and the square end of the T’s on the bottom that touch the table and they should align themselves under pressure. Take a look at everything, measure once more to be sure, and then mark everything in preparation for gluing. Now take a good look at figure 29, as these are the only pieces that you’re going to glue right now. The top horizontal kayak support bars will be pinned with the stainless steel pins. Before you actually glue these pieces, take a look at figures 30a and 30b. This is where the 1” PVC comes into the picture, as it is used to reinforce the bottom frame’s horizontal bar and it passes completely through the kickstand T and extends all the way through the T’s on the end, as you can see in the photo in figure 30b. Measure, cut, and dry-fit this into the bottom frame assembly. When you’re sure it fits well, then you can start gluing the bottom frame assembly. In order to get that 1” PVC into the bottom frame bar, you’re going to have to start gluing from one side and then when you get the to the other side, insert the 1” bar right before gluing the other side’s T into place (no need to glue the inside tube, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt). NOTE: remember to use the cleaner on all contacting surfaces before cementing.
21. After a few minutes, the glue should be dry enough on the bottom frame assembly to proceed to the next step, which is drilling the pin holes for the top horizontal kayak support bars as shown in figures 31a and 31b. Dry fit both sides and then align them correctly so that they are even and perpendicular to the bottom frame’s horizontal bar. There are many ways to measure this and you can even do it by eye, but an easy way that I’ve found is to simply put the cart next to a corner wall so the top kayak support bars are parallel to one wall and the ends of the kayak support bars touch the other wall. You then simply use the wall as a reference for measurements to align and square the two top kayak support bars. You can also you a construction level vertically to do this. One you’re aligned, mark with a black marker and proceed to drill the ¼” holes for the pins. Test the pins when you’re done to make sure the pins fit well. At this point, you may glue the horizontal bars that will support the kayak into the top T’s. If you’re still not sure of length, you can defer this step until the very end, after you’ve installed the foam onto the tubes.
22. Now that all of the pins have been placed, we can secure them to prevent losing them. I decided to use ¼” black nylon braided cord available from West Marine, Boater’s World, or other marine supply stores. Figures 32a and 32b show what we’re trying to achieve. You simply drill two ¼” holes on each side of the bottom frame’s vertical bars in a desired position, and then run cut sections of the cord through, tying a knot in the end of the cord to create a stop, as shown in figure 33. Repeat for the other side. For the knots that secure the pin end, I simply used an overhand knot and applied some glue to keep the knot from slipping. Use a flame to melt the freshly cut ends to prevent fraying.
23. The next step is to create the padding for the top kayak support bars. Figure 34 shows what we’re trying to achieve. You basically dry-fit the PVC end caps onto the bar and measure two pieces of swimming pool noodle to allow for a 1” gap between the two pieces when assembled. The reason for the 1” gap is to a) allow a 1” wide strap to be used to secure the kayak to the cart and b) it’s easier to core the noodle sections straight when using smaller pieces. Notice in figure 34 that I’ve also dimpled the T to mark the side, much like we did with the elbows.
24. Once you have the sections of noodles cut to size, you’ll need to manufacture a tool to core the noodle sections. This is pretty simple; just take a scrap piece of 1.25” PVC that you should have left over and sharpen the end using a grinding bench or hand sander as shown in figure 35. If you don’t have an extra piece of 1.25” PVC, simply use the kickstand, as the cap will cover the sharpened end later on.
25. Figures 36a and 36b depict where the magic all happens, you just center the tool, hold the noodle section and twist the tool like a corkscrew to core the noodle section. You then remove the core as shown in figure 37, slide the noodle sections onto the bars, and put the caps on the ends so it looks like figure 34. I personally have not glued my end caps, as they hold rather securely and it allows me to replace worn out noodle sections later on.
26. You should now be able to assemble the cart as shown in figure 38. It is at this point that you may adjust the kickstand length (the length on my cart came out to be 17” with the cap on). You can do this by setting the cart next to your kayak and lifting the back of the kayak up as you would when normally loading the cart and then matching the drop in the front of the cart with the angle of your kayak’s hull. As you can see in the top left hand photo in figure 38 that my cart is angled slightly downward to match the angle of the rear of my Prowler when I lift it by its rear toggle
27. That’s basically it. Try disassembling the cart and packing it for storage as shown in figure 39.
Using the kayak cart:
Usage is fairly straightforward; simply put the cart next to your kayak about ¾ of the way towards the rear and then pick up the back of the kayak and rest it on the cart. You should then be able to strap the cart to the kayak as shown in figures 40a and 40b. I was fortunate enough to have 2 clamping straps that came with my
28. Figures 41a and 41b show the bottom view so you can see what exactly is going on below. Notice that on the OK Prowler, the straps are even with the bottom of keel and the cart’s kayak support tubes.
29. Figure 42a shows the kayak ready to load with gear before setting out to the launch location. In figure 42b shows how the kayak is level when an average size person pulls up on the bow toggle, which incidentally is how you tow the kayak with the cart attached. Normally, you would remove the kickstand before towing the kayak, but on very smooth level surfaces such as a driveway or street, the kickstand will normally raise enough to allow for ample clearance.
Storing the kayak cart:
To store the kayak cart in your kayak, simply disassemble and pack it into your front or rear hatch as space accommodates. These pictures show my cart packed into the front hatch of my 15’ 4” Ocean Kayak Prowler. You can use something like a towel to protect the kayak hull from the nuts and bolts or you can quickly disassemble the hub unit (since it uses a hitch pin) and put those parts in a container or bag to store separately. In my case, I could literally gain more room as you can see from the figure 43a by the ability to stack both tires without the hub assembly. Because the frame components are long and narrow, I simply store them towards the front of the hatch as shown in figure 43b and 43d. From figure 43c, you can see that there’s still plenty of room for other gear, and as I mentioned before, disassembling the hub hardware from the wheels will allow the tires to pack completely behind the back part of the forward hatch in the Prowler.