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DIY Kayak Cart: Budget Build

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on September 14, 2021. In

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If you’re serious about kayaking, you’ve probably had to portage your kayak at some point. If you kayak frequently, then you have worked your muscles more than once. Getting the kayak to and from the water can be a workout. And sure, they’re easier to carry than a pontoon boat or an aluminum fishing boat. But that’s not the point. If you can make something easier, why not? If you plan on spending a lot of time kayaking, you need a PVC kayak cart. It’s a handy tool. It’s like using a wheelbarrow in the garden. If something can ease the burden and get the job done faster, why not?

You can buy a kayak cart for between $60 and $100 if you like. Or you can spend about an hour and make your own. It’ll be sturdy and it’ll be cheaper. You’re looking at half the price. Best of all, you can make it exactly the way you want it. Let’s take a look at what a kayak cart does for you and how to make one.

What are Kayak Carts?

LISM Kayak Dolly

 

Like we said, a kayak cart is a bit like a wheelbarrow or a furniture dolly. It’s a tool to make moving a kayak easier. Essentially, all you need is two wheels and a level surface on which to balance the kayak. From there, a kickstand to help you keep it off the ground rounds out the experience. You’ll need a solid frame and some kind of padding to protect the bottom of the kayak. But really, it’s a very simple project. When you have it all squared away, you’ll be able to guide your kayak one handed towards the water. That can save you a lot of time and effort.

Building a boat trailer on your own would be a tough job. We’d definitely recommend buying one of those. But a kayak cart can be tackled on your own pretty fast. The satisfaction of building it yourself is worth something, too. Also, these carts actually looked pretty good when they’re done. Some DIY projects can look a little ramshackle. Because this is made of PVC pipes and fittings, it looks clean when it’s finished. No need to be embarrassed that you made it yourself and saved some cash. So let’s take a look at what you’ll need to get started.

What You Need for a DIY Kayak Cart

A trip to the local hardware store should ensure you have exactly what you need to build this cart. It may seem like a lot of parts at first. Trust us, though. Even if you’re not normally handy, this one is not a hard task. As long as you follow the directions, you should have a sturdy cart by the end. So let’s gather some materials! If you have a Home Depot nearby, you can get almost every single part you’ll need in one trip. Only the wheels and the pool noodle may require you to look elsewhere.

To make your kayak cart, you’re going to watch to pick up the following items:

  • Schedule 40 PVC pipe. Get a 10 foot long segment at 1 inch in diameter. PVC is sold in sizes called schedules. You may see schedule 20, schedule 40 and schedule 80. Schedule 80 PVC is too much for what we’re doing here. You could use it, but it’s not necessary. Schedule 20 is not going to be durable enough. You want the PVC labeled Schedule 40. This should set you back about $4.
  • ⅝” threaded rod. Get 3 feet of this. It’ll cost about $5 to $7. You’ll need to use about 26 inches in total. You should get a zinc coated rod, especially if you kayak in salt water. The extra rust protection will be helpful.
  • PVC Tee Fittings (T fittings). You want to pick up 7 PVC Tee fittings. They should be 1 inch fittings to match your pipe. A tee fitting is shaped like the letter T. You can insert PVC pipe into three different ends of the pipe. These cost about $1 to $2 a piece depending on where you go. Sometimes they come in 12 packs for a lower price.
  • PVC end caps. Pick up three of these. They will cap off the ends of your PVC pipes. They make the project look a lot neater and more professional. You can get them for around $1 each.
  • 10” pneumatic tires. These are essentially wheels you’d use for a wagon or a wheelbarrow. You’ll probably have to ask where these are in the store. If your hardware store doesn’t carry them, Amazon is your best bet. You can also get them at Harbor Freight stores if you have one handy. Make sure you go for some rubber tires here. They can absorb shock really well. They will also make it much easier to pull your kayak cart along over rough terrain.
  • An Everbilt ⅝” create-a-bolt kit. This lock washers kit contain 4 hex nuts, 4 flat washers and 4 lock washers. They cost about $4. You’re going to use these on your threaded rod. This will be the bulk of your wheel assembly.
  • One pool noodle. You can use something else here, but a pool noodle is remarkably effective and usually cheap. You can get these in-season at a Dollar Tree or WalMart. Expect to pay around $3. You’re going to get these and put it over the pipe to use as padding for the kayak.
  • A tube of PVC glue. This will cost about $4. PVC glue is important, not just regular glue. You want to make sure it bonds correctly.

In total, you’re looking at around $33 or so. This will obviously vary depending on where you shop. It doesn’t include the tires. That said, you can get a pair on Amazon for about $17 to $20. If you have a Harbor Freight store nearby, you can find them even cheaper, maybe $12 for a pair. All told, your entire cart may cost you about $45 or less. That could be significantly cheaper than buying a new one on Amazon. Plus, it’s a fun project for an afternoon.

What is a Threaded Rod?

This is an item you don’t tend to pick up all that often. If you’re not the kind of person who builds much, you may not have ever had a reason to buy a threaded rod. The name is a good description of what it is, though. It’s a metal rod that has threads on it like a screw. Unlike a screw, there’s no point on the end or a flat head. You can screw stainless steel nuts and washers onto it, though. That’s what we’re going to be doing here. It will serve as the axle for the wheels of your cart. It may be narrow, but don’t worry. The PVC is going to be the insulator here. You won’t have a lot of weight pushing down on the threaded rod. It should be more than up to the task of handling your kayak cart.

Why PVC Pipe?

We’re going to use PVC pipe for this job for three important reasons. First and foremost, PVC is strong. The tensile strength of 1” diameter schedule 40 PVC is high. It’s listed at 581 lbs. That’s how much weight can be applied to the PVC pipe before it bends. They figure out how this works in PVC pipe by literally hanging weights off the end of a piece of it. And that should be more than ample for holding up your kayak.

The second reason is that PVC is very lightweight. It doesn’t help to build a kayak cart if the cart is fifty pounds, right? This will be a lightweight frame overall. That makes it easy to move and store when you need to.

The final reason is one you already saw. PVC pipe is very cheap. You can get as much as you’ll need for just a few dollars. That means even if something goes wrong, you can fix it for little money. Any type of project like this can be done at a low cost if you use PVC.

Cutting Your PVC Pipe

Most hardware stores will cut things like PVC pipe for you. Usually you get a certain number of cuts for a certain price. If you don’t want to pay for the cuts, don’t worry. PVC is pretty easy to cut on your own as well. As long as you have a good saw, this should be fine. And you will need to make cuts. Obviously that 10 foot long piece needs to be portioned properly. Let’s break it down.

All told, you will turn your 10 foot section of pipe into 14 new pieces of pipe.

(1) X 18 inches

(1) X 10.5 inches

(4) X 8 inches

(2) X 4.5 inches

(4) X 3 inches

(2) X 1 ¾ inches

You can use a pipe cutter for nice, clean cuts. But even in a pinch, a hacksaw will do. The cuts will be rough, but that won’t matter too much as long as they’re relatively straight. All of the cut ends are going to be hidden when you’re done. The ones that aren’t fitted into PVC tee fittings going in caps. The final result will look smooth and clean. But try to keep the cuts as even as you can, just so it all fits together better. And for the cuts that end up under the pool noodles, you may want a file or sander handy. The rough edges can cause damage, so it’s best to file them down when you get a chance.

How to Assemble Your Kayak Cart

With all the pieces correctly cut, and in order, it’s time to build. You need room for your ⅝” threaded rod first, so we’ll start by building the axle section. All of the PVC pipe joints can be permanently affixed with PVC glue. We really recommend reading through the instructions first before gluing anything. Put pieces together and make sure they line up in a way that makes sense to you. Sometimes written instructions can be confusing, after all. Make sure you know how it’s supposed to look before making anything permanent with glue. Just to be on the safe side.

Step 1: Drill a ⅝ inch hole in the center of two (2) of your PVC caps. Use a small pilot hole if necessary to get started. The threaded rod is going to be the skeleton that holds this whole cart together. Make sure the hole is dead center. If it’s off too much, your cart may not fit together properly. No sense making it rickety from the start,

Step 2: Attach each of your drilled caps onto the 1 ¾” pieces of PVC pipe you cut earlier. You can use some PVC glue here to ensure a strong seal.

Step 3: Insert the other end of each of the 1 ¾ inch pipes into one end of a PVC Tee fitting. Make sure this is in a side, not the crossbar in the middle.

Step 4: On the opposite side that you inserted the 1 ¾” pipe, insert each of the 4.5” pieces of pipe. You should now have an end cap, a very small visible segment of pipe, a Tee fitting, and then the 4.5” pipe all lined up straight,.

Step 5: You have two pieces now. One end is capped, there’s a Tee fitting in the middle, and the 4.5” pipe is bare on the other end. Insert those 4.5” pipes into either side of the same Tee fitting. You’re creating one whole piece now made up of 2 caps, 2 pieces of 1 ¾” pipe, 3 Tee fittings, and 2 pieces of ⅘” pipe. This is your hollow axle.

Step 6: At this point, you need your threaded rod. The 26 inch length should be good. You can thread it through one end of the capped pipes and out the other. Most of the entire length will be encased inside the length of PVC you just created. If you need to cut it down still, do so after measuring the whole PVC length. You should have about 4 inches of excess threaded rod on either side.

Step 7: Get your threaded rod exactly centered. You want the same amount on either side of the two PVC caps. Anywhere between three and four inches is probably good here. The threaded rod holds the tires, so you want it even. Open up the Create-a-Bolt kit and slide on a lock washer and a nut. Attach one of your wheels and then put another nut over top of that to secure the wheel in place. Do this on both sides. When you’re done, you have just created a solid axle for your kayak cart.

Step 8: Attach two more Tee fittings to each end of the 10.5” section of pipe. Attach them to the center branch. Do it so that the other two ends of the fitting are perpendicular to your pipe. You can glue these when they’re lined up correctly.

Step 9: You can now connect the axle section to the top section piece you just assembled. Use two of the 3” pieces of pipe. Insert one into each of the Tee-fittings closest to the wheels. If the Tee fittings are not angled straight up and down, adjust them now. Then, when you have each of the 3” pipes in place, attach them to the bottom of the Tee fittings on the 10.5” pipe. You should now have a rectangle of PVC in the center between the two wheels. The center of the axle portion should still have one unused end of a Tee fitting dead center as well. Glue everything in place once you are confident that it’s lined up right.

Step 10: You have two more sections of 3” pipe left. Place one in each of the Tee fittings at either end of the 10.5” pipe. Top each of these with another Tee fitting. You’re going to top them with the cross bar part. This will make them look like a letter T. Now yow can adjust them. You want the 2 remaining openings perpendicular to the axle portion. You can glue these in place once you’re sure they’re lined up right.

Step 11: Attach each of the four sections of 8” pipe to the openings in the Tee fittings. Looking at the cart from the side, you should have 8 inches to the left, above the axle. Then there will be 8 inches to the right above the axle as well. These two sections are what you will be resting the kayak on when you use the cart. Glue them securely once they’re lined up correctly. Some people choose not to glue these into place. That’s because you can make adjustments to how they sit if you don’t. It’s up to you if you want this or not. We think leaving it unglued ensures some flexibility. But you’ll need to watch how things are sitting. A rough hit could spit things like a top.

Step 12: The final piece of pipe is the 18 inch section. Attach your final PVC cap to one end of the 18 inch pipe. You should also have only one open fitting left on your cart. That’s the middle of the Tee fitting in the center of your axle. The capped 18 inch pipe fits in there. It’s going to act as your kick stand. Some people choose to glue the kickstand in place. Others like the freedom of having it removable. Since it’s such a large section of pipe, it’s easier to move and store if you can remove it.

For the kickstand, you want it at an angle. If the bars that hold the kayak are parallel to the ground, then the supports should be straight up and down. You want the kickstand at a slight angle. Not quite 90 degrees, but certainly not 45 degrees. When the cart is resting, those support beams should be almost straight up and down still. They can be listed back at a very slight angle. That way, your kayak isn’t spilling forward when it’s at rest. Adjust the kickstand angle until you feel the cart is going to hold the kayak as straight as you want it to.

Step 13: If all went as planned, you have just one item left – a pool noodle. Cut the pool noodle to size so you can fit it over each of the 8 inch pipes. This is the section on which the kayak is going to rest. The pool noodle is great for cushioning. It has enough give and texture to hold the kayak with some security. But it’s soft enough that it can prevent scrapes and dings.

Sand down the ends of your pipe before you add the pool noodles. Rough pipe will shred the noodle and make it useless. Make sure you leave an inch or two on the end of each noodle as well. That will prevent bumping against the end of the pipe and having it burst free.

Step 14: If you want to secure the padded sections, paracord or rope can do the job. Drill a small hole near the end of each 8” section of pipe. After the noodles are affixed, you can connect the left pipe to the right pipe by rope. Thread one under up into the opening of the pipe and secure it with a knot. Then connect it to the parallel pipe and knot it inside the pipe opening. Do this on the opposite end, and the two sides are now securely tethered to each other. That prevents one side of the padded pipe from wobbly off on its own.

Alternatively, you could attach some small zip ties. Put them at the ends and at the center of each piece of pool noodle. Just make sure the little plastic knob part is on the bottom. You don’t want it scraping against your kayak at any point.

Finishing Up Your Kayak Cart

Make sure you check all the PVC joints before making use of the cart. You want to make sure everything is secure in the fittings. Also, make sure the wheels are properly attached and can rotate freely and easily. Your cart should be pretty strong at this point. Like we said, schedule 40 PVC is tough stuff. There’s a good chance this could hold up your kayak with you in it. We don’t recommend that, but know that it should be that sturdy. If it doesn’t feel that sturdy, go back and check the construction. It should be rock solid.

How to Use Your Kayak Cart

Now that you have the cart, you’re going to want to try it out. The entire structure is pretty simple. Using it should be pretty straightforward once you have the hang of things.

The wheels on your cart are your best visual guide for where to put what. The center of gravity should be over the wheels. That makes sense, right? A balance load is easier to maneuver. When you have the kayak lined up right, moving it will be a breeze. It’s just a matter of actually having it lined up where you want it. If it’s off balanced, it will teeter and be a little awkward. So if this is your first time using a kayak cart, just play with it a little until you have it figured out. It’s only going to take a minute or two.

When you get the kayak well balanced, we recommend using a strap. The way your cart is set up, it’s easy to run a strap through the center and then out the side again. You can strap around the center of your kayak to hold it in place. You never know how bumpy your trail will be on your way to the water. A strap is just some good insurance to prevent it from falling off by accident.

Kayak Cart Maintenance

The good thing about the cart you just made is its simplicity. Not much went into it, right? That means there isn’t much to worry about in terms of maintenance. But there are a few parts to keep an eye on.

Pool noodles can and do get worn out sometimes. Especially if you secured them in place with something like zip ties. Those are going to take some spring out of the pool noodles. With a kayak sliding back and forth over them, they may become compressed. Over time, their ability to offer cushioning may diminish. If you feel like the pool noodles have flattened out on you, replace them. They’re the easiest part of the whole design to fix, which is nice. And also one of the cheapest parts.

The threaded rod axle may be subject to corrosion. We recommended a zinc coated rod. This is very important if you kayak in the ocean. If your axle gets wet with salt water, it will definitely start to rust otherwise. Do your best to keep the meal dry when you can. It wouldn’t hurt to inspect your cart after you go kayaking. Give the wheels a spin and take a look at the threaded rod. If you see that it goes wet, consider trying to clean it off and spray some WD-40 on there. WD-40 is often used as a lubricant, but that’s not its original purpose. The WD stands for “water displacement.” That makes it ideal for keeping water off of sensitive metal parts. It will help keep them from rusting, just in case.

When you get a chance, check for any cracks or scrapes. The schedule 40 PVC is tough but not invulnerable. If the cart gets dropped or something falls on it, it could compromise the structure. Fortunately, all of the pieces are easy to replace if necessary. The hardest part would be separating things if you glued them together. If you used a PVC solvent, it actually welded the joints. The plastic melted to bond them together. Those bonds, if they were done right, are nearly impossible to break. At that point, you’d need to cut it free and put a new part in. It really depends on how you glued the joints.

We recommended not gluing every joint, so it depends on what you glued and how.

That aside, since it’s PVC, you just need to give it a quick rinse down if it ever gets dirty. Try to make sure you store it out of the sun when not in use. Because it’s small and light it should be able to fit just about anywhere.

The Bottom Line

A good quality kayak cart can make your next trip even easier. They look great and they save you a lot of hassle. If you make it yourself, you get to save money and show off your building skills. You’ll also be doing your back a favor. It’s much easier when you don’t need to hoist that kayak over your head every time you want to take it to the water. Once you’re at the water’s edge, it’s easy enough to slide it right off and just enjoy your day.

Make sure you have a clean workspace before you get ready. Double check all lengths with a measuring tape before you cut them to make sure you’re doing everything right. Use safety equipment as necessary when using solvents or when cutting. As always, stay safe and have fun.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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