04 April 2011

Women With Ideas

Where would men be without women with big ideas?

Before I moved the Blue Moon from winter dock to summer mooring, I removed most of her spars for painting. Since the weather was cold and miserable, I put them in my basement 'shop' to prep them. I was showing them off to Helena -- who was nice enough to pretend interest -- when she got that special gleam in her eye.

"... they don't really need much," I was saying. "Just a bit of paint and..."

"They sure would look nice varnished," she said, wistfully.

I patiently explained how, yes, they would look nice, but varnishing the spars was probably impossible. It was certainly impossible to remove all that oil-based paint down to bare wood. And it was definitely impossible to keep up with all that varnishing, every year, without fail...

But it was too late. The seed was planted and I off on a mission to see if the impossible could be accomplished, yet again.

The first question was, how to remove several layers of extremely hard enamel paint. Some research turned up two options:
  1. heat gun & scraper
  2. miracle paint remover
I'm a skeptic when it comes to miracle potions, but several people on the Wooden Boat forum sweared by a certain 2-part paint remover. The first part is a kind of goopy paste that you slather over the paint. Then you just wait while it 'cooks'.

When you can easily scrape down to the bare wood, the magic is 'done', and the paint should slide off with the gentle application of a paint scraper.

The second part is a liquid that removes the paint residue from the grain and generally cleans up the wood.

It sounded too good to be true, but if it worked, it would make the job a snap.

I should know by now, whenever I use the word 'snap'...

The stuff was far too smelly to use indoors, so I needed to work outside. Unfortunately, this spring has been exceptionally cold, with regular lashings of rain and snow. Luckily, we had an unused concrete patio that I think was built by the Romans, and neglected ever since. I just happened to have a party tent that fit over it...

My new varnishing shop
photo jalmberg

Fully equipped
photo jalmberg
After sweeping out the leaves and erecting the tent, I whipped up a couple of saw horses, covered the mossy bricks with plastic tarps, and carried out my spars.

My new varnishing shed was ready for work!

The weather was still on the cold side, but the seller of goop said it would work down to the 30s, albeit slower than at higher temperatures. To give it a fair chance, I picked a sunny day in the high 40s.

Mainsail Gaff - sorely in need of TLC
photo jalmberg

Breaking my usual habit of diving into the deep end, I tried the goop on a small test patch. My poor mainsail gaff was the obvious candidate. Someone, at some point, had given this one particular spar an extra layer of dark brown paint. It was obviously an experiment gone cruelly wrong, since the other spars had been spared the mistreatment. But the lumpy brown paint was now peeling off in places and would have to be removed, one way or the other.

So, as directed, I applied a thick layer of the goop and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Thinking the thick layer wasn't quite thick enough, I added some more about an hour into the experiment, and then waited again. Waited all day, in fact.

I'm sorry to say, the paint remover experiment was a complete bust. Some of the dark brown paint did soften enough to scrape away, but the light brown enamel paint underneath seemed impervious to the treatment.

I assume the miracle goop can indeed perform magic on the right kind of paint, under the right circumstances, but it failed on my paint, in my weather.

Prime sailing weather being imminent, I've decided to punt on the varnishing idea, for now. I'm going to use my new painting shed to spruce up my spars, get them re-installed on the Blue Moon with my new 'software' fittings, and go sailing.

In July or August, when the wind leaves Long Island Sound for a holiday, I may try again. Perhaps warmer temperatures will do the trick. Or maybe using a heat gun in 95 degree weather will be fun.

Until then, paint will have to be 'good enough'!

>>> Next Episode: Metalworking


  1. Nice. Glad to see that Helena keeps you very busy. A beauty with brains = some fine catch.

    This all reminds me of the old wooden boat I stripped here at the Lake only I painted it with sky blue marine paint and it lasted without much care until someone stole the boat. Dew

  2. I remember that boat. Ice off the lake, yet?

  3. I always use a Bosch Heat Pistol+scraper for the removal of paint and varnish. Never those chemicals! Better fot the environment too. Be aware of burning the varnish, so use only half of the power. Nice spring too. Jerry

  4. Alas - heating scraping and sanding are the only way - either that of enjoy the beauty of painted spars and go sailing!!

  5. Is it possible to get the wood clean enough to varnish, though? I figured without chemicals it would be impossible to get all the paint out of the pores. What do you think?

  6. Remember all the nifty things of the nineties, including even websites, that were named EZ...something. Know why they had that name? Because everyone knew that "Miracle...something" was never a miracle.

    Wonder where all those EZ things went....

    I'm with Helena. The would look great varnished. And at the rate NY weather is warming, you still have LOTS of time before sailing season is here.

  7. I don't know, Bob... I'm ready to go sailing now :-)

    Well, I am not very good at resisting challenges...

  8. The light brown paint was probably epoxy and that is tough to remove in one pass. My regimen for epoxy removal is to use the NON-flammable (read methylene chloride) paint remover and let it soak over night. As many as 5 applications may be needed, but the non flammable, Not! water based! stuff is the best there is.
    I'm speaking as a former paint chemist.

  9. Dick, I've been wondering if the light brown paint is some sort of epoxy paint. It is super hard, glossy, and thick... almost like a shell. BUT, it has worn off in places and there is a white undercoat. Would you use an undercoat for epoxy paint?

    5 applications is too much for me at the moment... I don't want to spend the whole summer at this. I am going to borrow a heat gun tomorrow and see if that does the trick. If not, then I think I will stick with paint, at least for this year.

  10. Baydog: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
    Unlikely: Yes, sir.
    Baydog: Are you listening?
    Unlikely: Yes, I am.
    Baydog: Aluminum.
    Unlikely: Just how do you mean that, sir?

  11. try making a bath of strong caustic soda. soaking for a while... but be aware some woods do not react well to this treatment, try on s piece considered non critical
    good luck have been enjoying your blog ..
    tony down under

  12. John:

    To really remove paint, you need a stripper with Methylene Chloride as the solvent. That is if it's even made any more or available to consumers as opposed to the trade.

    And that is NASTY stuff! It will corrode metals, even galvanized and stainless to some degree. It will even eat through the metal can holding the stripper itself once air and humidity get inside the container.

    If you do use MC paint stripper, rubber gloves and a respirator are necessities.

    Also, if all you can find is "liquid" remover; adding some corn starch will thicken it up. And you can use "planer shavings" to rub the accumulated stripper and paint off the spars. Drop a tarp on the floor first, and then you can really speed your clean up. Finally you have to deactivate and wash off the old stripper with mineral spirits.

    When I need stripping, I sub the job out and pay someone to do it. Overall,it's cheaper. And then I just wash the work down with generous amounts of paint thinner and start the final finishing process.

    Good luck!

  13. Arrggghhhh, another sucker falls into the WoodenBoat FeedbackLoop trap! You ask for advice, you get advice from somebody who hasn't actually done it but heard about the absolutely right way from somebody who apparently had done it who had heard that it could be done by somebody because he posted the same question on the forum three years ago and...

    Anything with 2 parts is twice as likely to produce half the results.

    I have only ever used three different stgrippers in automotive and marine applications;
    1. Easy-Off oven cleaner.
    if that doesn't work... scuff with 60 grit and...
    2. Poly Strippa..
    if that fails, then I haul out the big guns...

    3. http://www.aircraftspruce.com/catalog/cspages/surestrip.php


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