Building Kayak Racks

by Sherri ~ January 12th, 2012. Filed under: Kayaking Equipment, Kayaks, Storage.

IMGP0126I just finished building some racks to hold kayaks in my new garage.  This is a simple project that requires very little in the way of tools, minimal carpentry skills, and about $30-$35 worth of materials.   I was able to complete the project on a Saturday morning – less time than it took me to write this blog.  You need to have access to the studs in the wall of your garage as you can see in the photos.  I built my racks to hold 3 kayaks with room for one on the floor below the bottom arms, but you can customize your own racks to hold more or fewer kayaks.

Rack Project MaterialsMaterials Needed: Two 4″x4″ boards.  The length of the boards will depend on the number of kayaks you want to store and the height of the side wall of your garage.  I used 10-foot long 4″x4″ lumber.  You will also need 1″ inside diameter steel conduit pipes (from the electrical department).  At my local home center, the conduit comes in 10′ lengths.  You can cut four 30″ pieces from a 10-foot length of conduit which is enough to hold two kayaks.  I bought two 10′ sections of conduit.  To attach the racks to the studs in your garage, you need 6″  long  3/8″ diameter hex bolts, with 2 washers and a nut for each.  (The bolts need to be long enough that they can go through a 4×4 and a 2×4 with enough threading sticking out to hold a washer and nut.)  I used 3 bolts for each rack for a total of 6 bolts, 6 nuts, and 12 washers (the materials photo only shows 4 bolts).  To pad the arms on the completed racks, use 1″ pipe insulation foam (plumbing department).

Tools: a drill with a 1-1/8″ and a 3/8″ bits  (these bits need to be long enough to go completely through the 4×4 posts), saw (power or hand), hacksaw, tape measure, sledge hammer and regular hammer, wrench to tighten nuts and bolts, one or two large clamps, scissors or razor blade to cut foam, pencil, and permanent marker.

  1. Measure and mark the length of your 4×4’s using a tape measure and pencil.  Both need to be the same length.    I cut mine 104.5″ long.  This was longer than I needed them to be, but it gives me the option of adding an additional set of arms in the future to hold another kayak.
  2. Cut the boards with a power or hand saw.
  3. Rack Project-Marking Arm PlacementLay the two boards side by side and determine where you want the arms to be positioned.  I have made three sets of these racks and have positioned the arms at slightly different  heights on all three.  I recommend leaving about 24″ between the arms.  If you have plastic sea kayaks, this will allow you to easily roll the boat up on its side on the arms which is a better way to store the kayak to prevent deformation of the hull.  I have a large tandem sea kayak that I am storing on the floor below the first set of arms on my rack, so I positioned the first set of arms about 18″ up from the bottom end of each 4″x4″.
  4. Mark the location of the other two sets of arms leaving 22-24″ between sets.  You will want the arms centered from each side of the board, so measure in 1.75″ in from each side of the 4×4 and mark the center of the line.
  5. Once you have determined the location of each set of arms and have marked them on the 4×4’s, then you are ready to begin drilling.  Put the 1-1/8″ bit in your drill and place your 4×4’s on sawhorses or propped up on a couple of boards as you will be drilling all the way through the 4×4’s.  I prefer to have the arms on the finished rack angled upward slightly to prevent the kayaks from sliding off, so I angle the drill slightly towards what will be the top end of the rack while drilling the holes.  If you don’t use a drill much, you may want to practice drilling some holes through scrap wood to make sure you can hold the drill steady at the angle you want.  (You can use a drill press, but most people don’t have one in their home workshop.)  When you are feeling confident, drill all the holes in the 4×4 posts.
  6. Measure and mark  off 30″ lengths on the conduit using a permanent marker.  This will leave you with 26″ arms on your rack after the conduit has been pounded into the 4×4’s.  Cut the conduit with a hacksaw.
  7. Rack Project-Pounding ArmsOnce you have the metal arms cut, pound them into the holes on the 4×4’s using a sledge hammer or maul.  If you don’t have one, a regular hammer can be used, but it will take longer and require more arm strength.  Pound the conduit arms all the way through the 4×4.  To protect your concrete floors, put another board or piece of scrap lumber under the 4×4 while you are pounding.  I didn’t do this and I have a few dents in my new concrete garage floor.  You can use a file to smooth any metal burrs off the ends of the arms that will be sticking out into your garage although the foam padding should cover the ends.
  8. Once the arms have been pounded into the 4×4’s, drill 3 bolt holes through each 4×4 using a 3/8″ auger bit.  The bolt holes will be drilled through the 4×4 going from side to side (perpendicular to the direction that you drilled the holes for the arms).  These are the holes that will be used to bolt the racks to the studs in your garage.  Put a hole about 6″ in from the top and bottom of each 4×4 and one somewhere near the center.  Do not put any of the bolt holes within 6″ of the arms. Note: It is important that you drill these holes as perpendicular as possible to the length of the 4×4 as you will need to match up the angle of this hole with the hole that you will be drilling through the stud wall in step #11.  If these two holes do not line up straight, you will not be able to get the bolt to go through both holes.
  9. After drilling the bolt holes, clamp the racks to the studs on the garage wall.  The bottom end of each 4×4 should be resting on the sill plate of the garage wall.  That way most of the weight of the kayaks and racks will be carried by the building’s foundation.  For storing 16-18′ sea kayaks, I positioned my racks about 64″ apart (assuming your studs are located 16″ on center).
  10. Take a pencil and push it into each of the bolt holes to mark the location on the studs.  Rotate the pencil and push firmly to make sure that you leave a good mark on the stud.
  11. Take down the racks and find the pencil marks on the stud.  Then drill through the stud at each pencil mark with the 3/8″ drill bit.  I needed to use a shorter 3/8″ bit for drilling through the studs as my drill would not fit between the wall studs with the longer 3/8″ auger bit.
  12. Put one washer on each bolt and push the bolts through the holes in the 4×4 and position the rack next to the stud.    You may need to use a hammer to finish pounding the bolt all the way through the corresponding hole in the stud.  Once the bolts are all the way through the studs, you can place another washer on the end of each bolt and tighten down the nuts with a wrench.  (Use a clamp to hold the racks in place until you get all the bolts pushed through.)
  13. Place a length of pipe insulation over each arm on the rack.  Use a razor blade or scissors to trim off the excess foam from the end of each arm.  Cut the foam about a half inch longer than the metal arms so that you don’t scratch your boat or body against the end of the conduit.  I usually put a couple wraps of duct tape near each end of the foam to keep it from splitting open since pipe insulation is pre-scored along its length to make it easier to install around the pipes in your home.

I have included some photos of the different stages in the construction of the racks in case my written explanations aren’t clear.

Rack Project-Drilling Arms

Holding drill at a slight angle

Rack Project-Drill holes

Center the hole from each side of the board

Rack Project-Sawing Arms

Saw the conduit after measuring and marking it.

Rack Project-Insert Arms

Position conduit on the hole before pounding it in.

Rack Project-Clamp Racks on Stud

Clamp racks to studs.

Rack Project-Mark Bolt Holes

Mark position of bolt holes on the stud.

Rack Project-Bolt Hole Marks

Pencil mark on the stud where bolt hole will be drilled.

Rack Project-Pounding Bolts Thru

Tap bolt and washer through hole in the 4x4 and stud.

Rack Project-Bolt through Stud

Place washer and nut on each bolt where it protrudes from the stud.

Rack Project Completed

Place foam insulation over the bars and cut to length.

Fiberglass kayaks can be laid flat with the hull directly on the arms of these racks with no deformation.  For plastic kayaks, you may want to position the kayak on its side to prevent indentations from developing on the hull.  To keep a kayak from tipping over, you can put lag screws into the studs and use 1″ webbing to make slings to hold it on its side.


Lag screw and webbing sling holding kayak on its side.

Homemade boat rack using 4x4 post and conduit pipe

Homemade boat rack using 4x4 post and conduit pipe

I have been using racks like this for well over 15 years with no problems.  I have a 90 lb plastic sea kayak on one of the racks (I use the webbing sling to keep it positioned on its side) and a 70 lb fiberglass boat.  The arms have remained solid and strong.  The foam covering the arms acts like a roller which also makes it a little easier for me to put boats on the racks by myself.  The ends of each arm make convenient hooks for hanging my damp sprayskirt and life jacket to dry out between trips.  This rack can be easily customized to fit your particular storage needs.  The arms can be positioned high enough to allow you to store a lawn mower under your kayaks, or you can maximize the space for your boats and store up to five kayaks and canoes on one wall of your garage.  If you need to temporarily lengthen the arms on the rack for loading a kayak or to store a wider boat, you can easily insert a wood dowel or length of conduit with a diameter smaller than 1″.   These will easily slide down inside the arms of the rack.  Using bolts to install the racks allows them to be easily removed, moved, and reattached.

Extend the length of the arms by inserting smaller diameter conduit or dowels into the arms.

Extend the length of the arms by inserting smaller diameter conduit or dowels into the arms.

So for all of you paddlers whose spouses are concerned about the amount of space your boats are taking up in the garage, I hope this rack can help keep you from having to sell one of your kayaks.    : )


1 Response to Building Kayak Racks

  1. Henly Ervin

    We just built your design yesterday! Thanks for the great instructions!

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