Taking on my first boat restoration project and where to start.

Discussion in 'Fiberglass and Composite Boat Building' started by PennDude, Mar 26, 2018.

  1. PennDude
    Joined: Mar 2018
    Posts: 4
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    Location: Pennsylvania

    PennDude New Member

    New member, first post!

    I recently picked up a 1974 Mad River Malecite FG (fiberglass) canoe for $175. It's in usable shape but I'd like to restore it, since it appears to be a quality boat. Let me preface by saying that I have zero experience in working with fiberglass and gel coats. I do know how to refinish the wood and recane the seats but I'm looking for advice on where to start reading and learning about the other aspects of the restoration.

    There's some bow damage where the fiberglass has been revealed and damaged and the exterior finish is a little rough. I'm fairly confident I can reglass these areas. What I'm unsure of are the exterior and interior finishes of the hull. How would I determine whether or not the exterior finish is original and whether or not it's a gel coat? Would a good cleaning and light sanding be sufficient to restore the exterior of the hull or do I need to strip it down and start from scratch? Should I gel coat or paint?

    The interior finish of the hull seems almost non-existent or is very thin from age. I'd like to determine a plan of action for what to repaint or recoat the boat with and am looking for advice here on that subject. I've included an album of photos for reference. Thanks in advance and I look forward to the wealth of knowledge from this forum as well as what I'm about to learn from this undertaking.

    Photo album: Canoe https://imgur.com/a/qO3Fw

    [​IMG]
     
  2. SamSam
    Joined: Feb 2005
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    Location: Coastal Georgia

    SamSam Senior Member

    I'd screw the gunnels tight on the ends and put some end caps on to cover up what looks to be some homemade work. There's plenty of strength there, you're just going for looks. End caps are a good place to make a statement of some kind with some inlay or something. You don't want them sticking up too much and catching on things, I've used sheet copper roofing with embossing. Or you can take out the blocks and replace them with some a little longer, trimming the ends of the inside gunnels an inch or so to fit won't hurt anything.

    Sand and recoat all the wood trim with polyurethane, including the exposed edge of fiberglass. You can take the seats and thwarts out to refinish, but prop a stick in place of the center thwart to keep the hull shape. Don't take the gunnels off. Turn the canoe upside down to get at the bottom of the inside and outside gunnels.

    The inside is scaling so I'd guess it's paint. Lightly sand and scrub brush and re-coat with latex porch and floor enamel. Paint it once and lightly sand again to get rid of all the nubs and nits, then one more coat and it's good.

    The exposed fiberglass on the stem should be covered, there is plenty of strength there also but you don't want the water exposure, so a little filling and recoating will work. The picture of the damaged stem shows two colors of coating, I suspect the lighter green is original gelcoat and the darker green is paint, first because it looks like brush strokes in that photo and the other pic of the bottom shows where it's peeled off. Gelcoat won't peel off like that. It's not possible to tell if the bottom scratches go into the glass or are just scratches in the coating of gelcoat and paint or primer. If just the coating, I would sand down the coating, fill and repaint. If the paint comes off easily strip it all off, fill and repaint. If the glass itself is gouged through a layer, you might have to do some repair. The sides probably have only two layers of cloth (or 1 cloth and one lightweight mat) and are sort of flexible. The bottom has 1 or 2 extra layers in a diamond shape that keep the bottom from 'oil canning', which is excessive flexing up and down, or in a more exciting experience the bottom just inverts and stays there.
     
  3. PennDude
    Joined: Mar 2018
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    Location: Pennsylvania

    PennDude New Member

    SamSam, great reply and just what I needed to hear. As far as the stem damage goes, should I grind out the exposed glass and relayer with new? Or should I just use some type of filler to reprofile it? If the latter, could you suggest a product?

    If I had intended to strip the paint, is there a method or product to do that without stripping the gel coat?
     
  4. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Flip the canoe over onto a couple of saw horses and clean the crap out of the outside. Once good and clean you'll see areas that need repair and others where it's likely just dull from oxidation. Start with a heavy cutting compound, like that you'd use on a car finish that's really bad. This will revive the finish, without too much damage to thin areas. After going over the whole hull with the cutting compound, you might find all you need to do is continue on, with progressively finer polishes. After buffing her up, 90% or more of the hull will look a whole lot better and you might just find you can live with her imperfections after all, because it's just used a canoe.

    It's very unlikely the inside has any finish on it, just resin and some fabric. You can sand this down a little, apply some putty to fill the weave and smooth this off, in prep for a good, smooth paint job. This is a lot of work on these surfaces, so maybe just a light cleaning and scuffing, before some paint instead. My point is, you can make a career out of this or just clean her up and have some fun.

    Repairing the dings, scratches and stuff is straight 'glass work and you can gel coat or simply paint. I've never seen a novice come remotely close on a driveway gel coat job. The color and finish just don't have the level of controls necessary to do a good job. Paint is much easier, though not as durable. Maybe just some paint in the repaired areas, possibly in a stylish stripe or two, to hide the imperfections, but keep costs and effort down.

    Of the wooden elements, if they can be removed, do so, refinish with the clear of choice. I wouldn't recommend polyurethane, though it is a quick and popular thing to do. Polyurethane works great, but is hell to pay come the next time you have to refinish the wood (trust me you will). Knowing this I prefer to use two approaches, one is an acrylic urethane (like Bristol Finish). This is pretty much the same stuff as the clear coats they put on automotive applications now. It's extremely hard and durable and lasts a long time, but when it goes, it's hell to pay and a whole refinish is needed. If you take care of it (like a car) you'll get many years (10 or more), but the finish needs to be covered and protected from UV all the time (store indoors). If you can't store it this way, just regular varnish instead. This will not last nearly as long, but is a lot easier to repair when (it will) needs it. In your area, every few years you can expect to need to repair and touch up the varnish.
     
  5. fallguy
    Joined: Dec 2016
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    Location: usa

    fallguy Senior Member

    Stripper is not good. It will pit and make your work more difficult.

    Remove all loose stuff with a sander. Anything loose will eventually fail.
     
  6. PAR
    Joined: Nov 2003
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    Likes: 477, Points: 93, Legacy Rep: 3967
    Location: Eustis, FL

    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    If using a stripper, there area "glass safe versions to use, though I don't see why you'd need to, unless there's several layers of paint to remove. Just check the label and it will clearly say safe to use on fiberglass.
     

  7. fallguy
    Joined: Dec 2016
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    Location: usa

    fallguy Senior Member

    I have struggled with strippers on my projects.

    They seem to be too harsh or lack any ability on tuff paints (esp. epoxy paints).

    The amount of chemicals and mess really made heat or mechanical removal seem far superior.

    Perhaps for places where sanding is tuff; they still have a place.
     
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