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Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 2:23 pm
by chrstjrn
Last week I sanded my 25 year old A2 frame, and today I am varnishing it.

The sanding started out quite ambitious, but quickly became a matter of sanding down the bad spots and just hoping to roughen up the rest slightly so that it would hold new coats of varnish. This morning I put the first coat of varnish on... what misery. Particularly the one-piece coaming. The varnish and paint thinner are nasty chemicals. I spent a summer painting houses, when I was in college, but this seems different-- more toxic (I know: latex-based vs. oil-based, etc.).

I have resolved that I won't ever endeavor to do this again. In the future (i.e. this summer with the T12!), I will just sand and varnish the bad spots, and leave the rest alone-- "if ain't broke, don't fix it".

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 3:30 pm
by gbellware
I have wondered about the difficulty of doing a complete, high quality sand-and-varnish. Didn't seem to me to be possible or, at least, practical to accomplish with all the fittings. I haven't calculated what it would take to remove all the fittings, sand properly, and dip the wood as was done originally but my guess is it should only be undertaken by a retired OCD. Your solution seems more practical!


Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2015 5:47 pm
by chrstjrn
To really do it completely, I think you would need to use a chemical stripper. The dipping method would require stupendous amounts of varnish, but it would be far superior both for the worker and in the results. And we've just had that whole long conversation about the difficulty of removing and replacing the hardware. I'd rather spend my time paddling/sailing. Now I know why fiberglass boats are so popular, and although I still love my wood-framed boats I have gained a new dimension of appreciation for the aluminum-framed ones.

One cautionary note about this is that it underlines the importance of properly re-sealing the wood whenever we do any work on the boats that involves cutting into their wood.

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:48 am
by chrstjrn
Comment from Ralph Hoehn on this issue (he is the representative/importer for Pouch boats in the US-- this is used with permission):

"That is an oil-based varnish, as far as I can discern. Very traditional, but difficult to use. Good if you’re looking to stay “original”, of course! Do not underestimate the ability to go over a proper oil-based varnish with various wood oils, too, by the way. That’s a nice way to touch up, not so much the finish as the function! Simply lightly scrape any varnish flakes and cracks and then rub right over them with the oil on a rag. It does extend the life of the varnish coat. Scratch around fittings and apply oil there, too, which will creep under the fittings a little, as well.

For pure function, when I am not looking for that ancient varnish gloss, I go with PU finishes i/o varnish. One or two coats and the wood is sealed and still looks better than a bad or deteriorated varnish finish."

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:21 pm
by ChrisO
Ah varnishing! Indeed it can be a total pain, or not. It depends like many things on the procedure, the right tools and acquired skill. I think I have done more than my fair share of it with my old sailboat. Cockpit and cabin remain nice for years, due to a full Sunbrella boat cover, Spars are another story, while the boom is also under the boat cover, the mast and spreaders are fully exposed. Every year I hoist myself up in the bo'suns chair: Sand on the way up, varnish on the way down. Repeat once, and we are OK for another year, to year and a half. I'll have to dig up a photo from up there.
On my folders, I have also fully re-varnished the Klepper AE II and Nautiraid frames.
This is what works for me:
Only work outdoors, feel free to use a fresh charcoal respirator.
Wear cotton gloves to keep your fingers from sticking.
Have saw horses handy for the long parts.
Set up a drying space with a cable or line to hang the parts from. Garden sheds are ideal.
Do a test first to get the hang of it. Critical to determine how much reducer to add. Straight out of the can seldom works.
Strain the varnish before each use.
Only use a quality natural bristle brush, for kayak frames a 1 1/2" or 2" angle cut brush works well.
Let the varnish flow by lightly moving brush back and forth, until you have an even coat without gaps or runs. Gets rid of the bubbles too. This requires practice, sadly...
Prep work? Could have done that first...
Unless there is a lot of lifting, alligatoring or chipping, I stick with sanding : 120 grit before 1st coat, 220 grit between coats. Dust off and wipe down lightly with a tack rag.
I only use a chemical stripper as an absolute last resort. This stuff is not only nasty, but dangerous. Seriously, do not get it on your skin (it will burn) or use indoors (methylene chloride fumes convert to carbon monoxide in the blood). What works just as well without the mess is to use a carbide bladed scraper or electric heat gun. Use a light touch with a steady hand to avoid gouges or burns.
I do not strip off the hardware. It can be taped/masked off!
Done properly, I find varnishing to be one of the few boat maintenance items which does not follow ChrisO's rule of boat repair: "Everything takes twice as long, and you only get half as much done".
Is there an easier way? Sure, hire someone else to do it! And you can always just touch up the bare spots.
I do like Ralph Hoen's tip on use of oil: This will keep water from seeping under the varnish causing it to lift. Just mind the rags, they can ignite! I would hang them up to dry fully.
For any boat I use, I consider varnishing a maintenance item, not a once only restoration. So, it should look nice, but need not be flawless.

Chris Ogilvie

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:42 pm
by chrstjrn
Thanks Chris. I wish I had this thread before I embarked on the little adventure.

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Thu Apr 23, 2015 12:07 am
by treewater
I prefer doing the whole frame rather than just touch up. Everyone is agreed I see, removing all the fittings is a waste of time unless the condition really warrants that. I find the factory paint was superior enough and they obviously used several coats. I did a Folbot Super this last winter and it was a whole different story. The edges of the plywood needed serious attention. The Klepper was a piece of cake. I commented on the Long Haul pole guides already. I'm not objecting just stating the pressure is greater than expected to put the poles in. In both cases, bottom line is, I've a pretty good looking kayak for $500 or less.

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Mon May 04, 2015 1:43 pm
by jonayuen
I never could figure out if a wooden-framed folder is considered a wooden boat or not...

I revarnished an Aerius 1 frame about a year ago. It was pretty beat. The boat had been stored assembled, outside, under a tarp for several years. It was an old-rubber hulled boat (to give you an idea of the age) and none of the rod holders (the blue rubber ones) were intact. It had lost it's varnish in several places, basically where you would expect -- the area around the seat and any place exposed. I didn't pay much for the boat (and it has a new skin now).

But I would rather work on wooden pieces than anything else. I can make what needs to be fixed and I know my way around varnishing (or painting with oil based paint, for that matter). Where it was really worn I sanded to bare wood but if the varnish looked OK, I just roughened it a little. I figured it was more 'exterior' than 'interior' and used spar varnish on it. I don't mind varnishing and I actually like the smell of traditional varnish, which is basically a drying oil (linseed and or tung) and some resin. So the 'complement the worn spots with oil' advice isn't that far off, since it is just one part of the varnish. Compare that with trying to get a replacement tube for a Triton Russian kayak after you've broken the aluminum fitting on the end (I was successful in the end thanks to a colleague visiting St. Petersberg).

One hint that I have is that I don't clean the brush between coats. After I am done with that coat, I squeeze out as much varnish as I can with a piece of lint-free paper. It then goes in a jar or can with unboiled linseed oil (it has to be unboiled). The bristle part of the brush has to be covered with oil. I then squeeze out as much oil as I can when it is time for the next coat. The 'color' has to be the same and I've only done this with 'traditional' varnish and alkyd (oil-based) paint). And the oil will eventually start to dry (from the driers it picks up) and has to be changed. I have heard of people using water but I have no experience there.

I've hung around with wooden boats and we have a sailboat with enough wooden trim to make me aware of what it takes to keep the finish on a wooden boat looking good. I've tried some of the thicker drying oils (sort of like varnish without the resin) but I think I'm heading back to a more traditional varnish even on the sailboat. But if you read the wooden boat forums you'll find just about as many opinions as there are posts.


Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Mon May 04, 2015 2:06 pm
by chrstjrn
Thank you for your input, Jonathan.

Re: Sanding and revarnishing frame

Posted: Tue May 05, 2015 2:40 am
by jonayuen
I think I did unscrew the clips on the keelboards before the sanding and varnishing but the riveted fasteners on the frames stayed put. Since I was replacing virtually all of the rubber rod holders, these didn't get installed till after the varnishing.