How Can I Restore It? (If I can’t get it apart!)

by Sherwood Heggen

You just got your project boat. To you it is beautiful. The neighbors think you have lost your marbles and the money you paid for it. You are going into this with your eyes wide open, knowing that you are going to have to disassemble it and replace a lot of parts to make it right. It shouldn’t be that big a deal. It is held together by screws and bolts. You are good with tools and your hands.

The boat is 60 years old and it still has the original bottom. You have assessed the condition of the bottom and have found soft frames, a soft keel, and a lot of other non-surprises for a boat this old. You’ve read all of the articles on restoration and have built the cradle to support it after it is rolled over. You have removed all of the little screws inside the hull bottom going through the inner planking to the outer planking unless you have a Century. That is one of the good points of restoring a Century – no inner planking screws!

OK, you are ready to go. It is Saturday morning. Your buddies have helped you roll the boat over, have had their coffee and rolls and have gone home, leaving you one on one with the project. What to do first?

Since the frames are bad, it will be necessary to get at them somehow. Taking off the bottom planks is about the only way that is going to happen. You know that screws hold the planks in place, but where are the screws? Well, they are securely hidden under plaster plugs which must be removed before you can get at them with a screw driver – all 1700 to 1800 of them. Assuming you are going to use the planks for patterns, you will want to take them off one at a time, screw by screw, in a non-destructive manner.

Removing the plaster plugs will be a long drawn out task. The effort can be eased a bit by drilling through the center of the plug with a five-sixteenths inch brad point bit. The bit will stop at the screw and most of the plaster will be removed, but the screw slots will still be loaded with plaster. A sharp ice pick is the best tool to clean the slot out. The other method is to use the ice pick only. Push the pick into the plaster, prying out as much as possible, run the point of the pick around the perimeter of the hole and finally clean out the slot. After about a hundred attempts of cleaning out the holes, you will possess a new skill you never thought you would have. Have plenty of coffee, pop, snacks, and a TV/radio available to counteract the boredom because you are going to be there a long time doing this mundane task. The number of holes you have cleaned indicates how many screws you now have to remove. Here again, coffee, pop, snacks, and a TV/radio for entertainment are vital for keeping you from going nuts.

During disassembly, keep a notebook of the various measurements and points to remember. Important to record are the bolt and screw sizes as you remove them from the various stations. List the members of the boat bottom across the top of the notebook page, i.e., keel – stringers – chine. Then, down the left side of the page, mark the stations from fore to aft, i.e., S (stem), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc, for the main and auxiliary frames, ending with T (transom). The main frames are the ones that connect to side frames and the auxiliary frames are the ones that stop at the chine. Intermediate frames, which are sticks between the keel and chine, are placed in between the previously mentioned frames. They all have the same size screws and need not be mentioned in detail on the record, other than the number of screws they require. As you remove a fastener, identify its kind and size and record it on the page. You should list the screw sizes holding the bottom planks in place also. You will refer to this when ordering new fasteners and during assembly.
Grab your screw driver that fits the type of screw to remove and get to it. If it is a Frearson screw, do not attempt to use a Phillips screw driver. The blade looks similar, but it just won’t work. Go to your boat restoration supplier to get the correct Frearson bit. If it is a slot screw, be sure the blade is sharp to get the best grip in the slot. What about using a power screw driver? Don’t use one until you know that you have the screw loose in the hole. The power driver often gives too much power too fast and will damage the screw slot making it even more difficult to get the screw loose. It is surprising how well established a screw can be after 60 years in the same hole. Once you have worked it loose with a manual screwdriver, make the job go a lot faster by using the power screw driver to finish removing the screw from the hole. If you should happen to destroy the slot, use a one-quarter inch drill to drill the head off the screw. Then, when all the other screws are removed, simply pull the board off the remaining screw shank. Then, grip the shank of the screw with a pliers to turn the screw for removal. You will also find a number of “spinners” that seemingly have lost their grip. Actually, it is more likely these are broken screws. Leave them until the plank is off when you can simply tap the heads out with a hammer. You can work around the remainder of the screw in the frame if you do not replace the frame.

After you have all of the screws out remove the planks and set them aside for patterns. If you have a Century, you will now be looking at bottom frames and battens. If you have a double planked bottom, you still need to remove the inner planking. This planking is held in place with little nails whose heads are nearly ready to come off from their rusty condition. It is easier to drive the boards off with a hammer from behind than it is to try to get all of those nails out with the boards in place. Don’t try to save these boards. Most likely you will be replacing them with plywood anyway. Once the boards are all removed, you will be able to get a better grip on the nails with a claw hammer, vice grip, or what ever device you wish to use to extract the
little buggers. You have come a long way! You can now see the bottom frames. Holding everything together here are mostly countersunk carriage bolts and some very large screws.

Taking out the bolts is a simple matter of removing the nut and driving out the bolt. The first time you spend more than reasonable time removing the nut with your socket wrench, you will realize that the bolt is spinning. You look in the hole at the head and you ask yourself how you are going to get a hold on that. There are a couple of ways to get it out. Since you will want to replace that bolt with a new one, simply cut it off behind the nut with a hack saw, if you can get at it. The other method is to take a screw driver with a blade no more than a quarter inch wide and drive it in beside the bolt head on the left side. Then, as you remove the nut with a wrench, twist the screwdriver handle, clockwise. Usually that will drive the blade edge into the rotating edge of the carriage bolt head, stopping its rotation as you remove the nut. Once the nut is off, drive the bolt out with another bolt far enough to get a pliers on it and pull it out.

The screws that hold the frames to the stringers and the chines are usually #12 and #14 and take a big screwdriver. You may have to go out and buy a proper size screw driver that has a square shank or a hex shape for a wrench up by the handle. The amount of torque necessary to remove these screws is great. You will find turning the screw much easier when a wrench provides extra leverage to twist the screw out of the hole. Before attempting to remove the screws, clean the slots well. When turning out the screw, be sure there is plenty of downward pressure applied to the screw head. Do not let the screwdriver twist out of the slot or the slot will be damaged making it more difficult, or nearly impossible, to get the screw out with out destroying everything around it.

You may notice as you attempt to take frames out that the bottom frames, stringers, and keel are like an inter-locking puzzle. The keel holds the frame and bottom joiner down to the frame and the stringer is notched keeping the frame and bottom joiner from moving fore and aft. To remove a frame, you must remove the keel or the chine. Then after all of the screws/bolts that hold it in place are removed from the frame, the frame can be lifted free.

You may need a short screwdriver to get at the screws in the bottom joiners which tie the frame halves together because of the limited space between frames. The keel must be removed to be able to remove the bottom joiners. A right-angle drive chuck attached to your drill motor can be a great help for getting at screws in that cramped area. They are available for sale at good hardware stores.

Hopefully that takes some of the mystery out of taking the bottom apart. Give some thought to the task ahead before you start. It gets quite involved and the pieces are many. If you intend to replace the bottom frames, replace every other one to maintain the correct bottom shape, and then go and replace the remaining ones.
There will undoubtedly be some challenges not given consideration

in this article, so use your imagination to get the task done, or give me a call. I can be reached at 715-294-2415 or e-mail me at

. For those of you that press ahead, good luck. And to all who own a woodie, don’t destroy it; restore it.