The Prelude to Varnishing

(or getting ready the right way)

by Sherwood Heggen

The boating season is over and it is time to varnish your boat. The first step in the task is to remove the hardware. Removing and then installing hardware on a boat after the varnish job has got to be the simplest task. All you have to do is take things off and put things back where you found them. But wait, if you are a “throw all the parts and screws in a bucket” kind of guy, the installation process might be more frustrating than fun when it comes time to putting it all back on. Putting the hardware back on a boat can be made more enjoyable by spending a little more time while taking it off. That time would be best spent by being methodical about the job and isolating problems that would hinder reinstallation.

Take a new approach to the hardware removal this time. Where do you start? Start by getting a spiral notebook to take notes about problems, oddities, things requiring repair, and such things that would hinder quick reinstallation of the hardware. Also, obtain plastic crates or tubs that have handles on them to hold the hardware after it is removed. Paper boxes work but just don’t have the strength for a lot of heavy parts. Label the tub or crate with the kind of boat the hardware is for. Also, get some zip lock type sandwich bags – big and small. These will hold screws and bolts that you remove from the boat. You will also need a Sharpie marking pen and a bunch of note sized scraps of paper. On the scrap of paper, write the description of the item and put it in the bag with the fasteners. Tape the bags holding the screws/bolts to the related hardware. Is this organized, or what?

Start removing the hardware by taking off the cutwater or stem band. Before you remove the screws, try tightening them. Why? Because you are going to check each screw here, and on the rest of the boat, for “spinners”. Spinners are screws that have lost there hold in the wood. Now is the time to identify them so they can be fixed. Note in the spiral notebook what screw hole is stripped. If you can get to it right away, mark the hole with a piece of tape. Otherwise mark it down in the book. Continue with this method throughout the hardware removal process. Place all of the screws for each piece of hardware in the zip lock bags and note what they are for, i.e., port forward vent, starboard forward vent, port aft vent, etc. One thing to keep in mind is just because parts such as vents and rub rails might look the same, it doesn’t mean they have the same exact hole pattern. Again, tape each bag to the related hardware. Some pieces of hardware are small enough to be placed in the bag.

Another thing to check while you are removing the screws is whether they are correct for that piece of hardware and boat. Determine what is correct. If you find Phillips head screws holding down hardware on a pre-war boat, change them to the correct slot head screws. Typically, hardware is installed with oval head screws or bolts when they are exposed to view. Size is important for proper appearance. To be correct, the shoulder of the screw should be at the edge of the hole when fully tightened. And for pity’s sake, don’t use steel screws!! Spend the money and get stainless steel or chrome plated brass screws. In thinking about this, I remember removing a galvanized carriage bolt from the center windshield bracket of a Chris Craft barrelback. Believe me, you can ugly up a boat in a hurry just by securing the hardware with the wrong fasteners. Please, take your time and determine that you have the right fasteners before you put everything back together.

After the hardware is removed, it is the time to fix the stripped holes. Here, many “restorers” run to the kitchen and get a box of round tooth picks and cram two or three in the hole with a glob of epoxy. Maybe it works, sort of, but extend a little more effort to do a better job than that. Use the toothpicks for picking your teeth. Determine first why the hole was stripped. Often it is stripped because the wood around the screw hole is rotted slightly or stressed from over-tightening the screw. If the wood is hard around the hole, make a simple square stick of scrap mahogany the size of the hole on a table saw or band saw at the cost of nothing. Coat the stick with yellow carpenter’s glue and drive it in with a hammer. Cut it flush to the surface and the hole is plugged. If the wood is soft around the hole, drill out the hole with a three-eighths inch wood bit. You might want to treat the hole with some CPES to recondition the wood beyond the hole. Fill the hole with a mahogany bung made with a Fuller plug cutter. Glue it in place with yellow carpenter’s glue. Now there is new solid wood to secure the screw.

Prior to removing bow light and stern light, check their operation to be sure they are reliable. If you find problems, now is the time to fix them. When removing the bow light and stern pole base hardware, check to be sure the wires are not frayed or the connectors are not loose on the wire. If the wires are attached in a “quick and dirty” manner, take the time to redo it correctly. As you remove the wires, attach a tag to each one describing location when connected. If it was connected incorrectly, note the correct location.

Before you remove the instruments to refinish the dash, make a drawing of the location of the instruments on the dash board as seen from the back side. Identify each instrument on the drawing. Label each wire as you disconnect them to make reconnecting the wires easy. The labels for the wires to the ammeter might read “ammeter left” and “ammeter right “ as seen from the back. Label everything so that it makes sense to you.

What does the hardware look like? Is the chrome looking a little worse for wear? Now is a good time to get it to the chrome guy so it looks as good as the new varnish will when all is done.
Another little item is to replace the rubber at the base of the windshield if it looks old and dried up. Also, replace the gasket for lining the windshield brackets that hold the glass.

There might be many other items that could use attention on your particular boat. If you find something, note it and fix it before you start the varnishing process. When it comes time to put the hardware back on, it will be a simple task. Oh, put a coat of paste wax on the surface of the hardware that will contact the varnish before screwing it in place. The next time you have to remove the hardware, it will come off without taking the varnish with it down to the wood.

Be proud of your boat. It is a reassure from the past that not many people are privileged to own. Taking a bit of time on the front side will reap great rewards on the back side when you have to put everything back together.

So there you have it. Again I urge you to not destroy it, but to restore it and keep it in a condition equal or above your level of pride.
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