Oakum or cotton

Discussion in 'Wooden Boat Building and Restoration' started by akkevin, Jul 7, 2010.

  1. akkevin
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: Petersburg, Ak

    akkevin Junior Member

    I'm getting ready to repair some seems on my cedar hull. The planks are closely spaced and I was hoping for advice on whether to use cotton or oakum to caulk the seems. I'm a novist at best, so any advice would be appreciated.
     
  2. missinginaction
    Joined: Aug 2007
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    Location: New York

    missinginaction Senior Member

    First a disclaimer.....I don't own a wooden hull. That said, my nextdoor neighbor at the boat club does. He's an energenic man in his early nineties. He's owned a 37 foot all wood oak planked boat for the past 40 years or so. It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful boat at the club. His boat was custom built in 1912.

    The other day I happened to spend some time with this man and as he was caulking his seams he was good enough to show me what he does and how he does it.

    I've seen and heard so much about wooden boat caulking over the years that I was curious as to how this very experienced "old timer" did it.

    "What's that stuff in the can?" I asked him.

    "That's wax" he said "I use it with my cotton and oakum to fill the seams."

    When I asked where he got his wax, he laughed. "Well, years back I used to use Slickseam and some other expensive stuff" He said "Then I decided to try simple toilet ring wax."

    He showed me some special tools that he uses to caulk his seams, a wooden mallet, a tool to pack the material into the seam, cotton, oakum, tools to smooth the material once placed. He explained that he uses a combination of cotton and his toilet wax where the seams are tight and uses the oakum where the seams are a bit more open. I noticed that the cotton was much finer in its consistency than the oakum and he told me that oakum doesn't seal as well in tight seams so he uses both depending on the situation.

    His topside seams have been sealed with 100% silicone for years. These seams look great and the planks are all original. I asked him about paint and the silicone, he said that the paint will flake off the seam after a few years but he paints every few years anyway so it's not an issue.

    In his words:

    "You can spend a lot on seam sealers, but I find toilet ring wax works just as well. When we put her in I keep her on the slings (Travelift) and run three pumps for a day. By then she's swelled up enough that I can go to one pump. After a couple of days she'll seal up enough that my pumps will run for a few seconds every few minutes. She's never water tight, but she's not supposed to be."

    So that's the story, I learned a lot from this man the other day and found that it's tedious but not overwhelming to maintain a wooden hull.

    It also doesn't have to break the bank.

    MIA
     
  3. akkevin
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: Petersburg, Ak

    akkevin Junior Member

    Thanks for the input. This is my first boat and more of a project than I anticipated when I bought her. She has been an education and I haven't even really started.
     
  4. akkevin
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: Petersburg, Ak

    akkevin Junior Member

    I have heard of a product called Resolcoat Epoxy that is to be used on wet spongy wood to drive the water our and harden it to some extent. Part of the education I have received is how thoroughly to go through with a screw driver checking the house planks.

    I intend on replacing those planks on the house, but don't want to have to spend the money and time right away. From what I understand with wood boats you pick a project, complete it, pick the next project, repeat continually until the next boat or relocation to the middle of the Gobi Desert. I'm planning on starting by refreshing the hull first. I'll be having her pulled in the next couple of weeks and then taking the hull down to the bare cedar and repairing/replacing any addition "education" that is discovered.

    My question is if anyone has used Resolcoat Epoxy, what can I expect with it, will it stop the progress of the rot, etc.? Any guidance is appreciated.
     
  5. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Don't use epoxy on the planks. That will totally destroy your boat. If some wood in rotten, change it. On cedar planked boats, if the seams are tight, they may be built for no caulking. You need an experienced person to inspect the hull. It is hard to give proper advice on a description only.
     
  6. akkevin
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: Petersburg, Ak

    akkevin Junior Member

    thanks for the advise. Above the water line the planks are not caulked, but they are below the water line I believe. I haven't found any spongy or rotten wood on the hull it self. The rot that I have found has been on the house, which is planked with Mahogany. I'm planning on having her hauled out and going through the hull next week and refreshing it. I live in a fishing town in Alaska and there are a few shipwrights and experienced wood boat people here. A couple that are willing to let me know what I need to do, not help per say. Sanding not being the most popular team sport. I am hoping to delay the progression of the rot to give me more time to subsidize my boat habit.

    I think a photo is posted here.
     

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  7. apex1

    apex1 Guest

    You urgently need to replace the paint on the hull (at least underwater).

    If there is really no rot in the hull, that will do for a while.

    The superstructure seems to be planks outside, inside ply. right?

    If so, there is no way to "save" the structure by adding the "miracle wondermastic", that just drains your wallet. A replacement is necessary.

    If you have already structural problems with rotten frames, not only some planks or sheets of ply, then you have to be very careful to calculate the value of the finished / restored boat against your cost of restoration!

    In case the issues are mainly cosmetical, (and I hope for you, that is the case), stop further water intrusion with the cheapest trick you can find, but never apply epoxy or (worst) poly resin on the wooden structure.

    Provide thorough ventilation to dry out the interior completely. (best time to achieve a "salt dry" hull is winter, when the frost takes out the last percent of humidity.

    It is hard to comment on caulking before it is clear how the boat was built originally. There may be no caulking needed at all, as mentioned.

    Regards
    Richard
     
  8. akkevin
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: Petersburg, Ak

    akkevin Junior Member

    Richard,

    Thank you for the response. The bottom was repainted just prior to my buying the boat. But given the things that I have found I'm sure that the paint job was a rush job at best. I'm attaching the only picture of below the water line I have. It is coming out of the water next week and I'm going to strip it the hull down to bare wood and go from there.

    The house is planked without plywood backing. I have only found one small spot of rot in any of the framing for the house. I believe that spot can be fixed, or the one frame replaced.

    I have gone over about every house seem I can find and get to with marine sealant and repainted the fiberglass tub that caps the house with the stuff they use to coat pickup beds. It has become very popular here for this kind of application and seems to be working well. I'll take more pictures of my progress.
     

    Attached Files:


  9. apex1

    apex1 Guest

    The truck bedding is epoxy as far as I know (at least here in Europe), thats a good solution for that application.

    Rebuild the wooden structure to the original plans and methods, you otherwise reduce the value of the vessel dramatically. (better fasteners like monel are a good idea though)

    Keep us updated.

    Regards
    Richard
     
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