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Old 04-10-2012, 19:22   #1
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The Fear of Fiberglassing

Fiberglass. We have both had a reluctance to dive into the wonderful world of resin and hardeners, cloth and tape, gel coat and mold release. In this case were were in the same boat, literally; our little Cal 28, a classic plastic if there ever was one.

The day we bought her we knew there was tabbing to replace, water damaged wood to repair, gelcoat to patch, cracks to fill. We knew it and bought her anyway. I did it because after a life of maintaining old ply hulls I figured NOTHING could be worse than that. Himself did it because in his inexperience he didn't know any better.

We have spent three years planning the restoration and upgrades. Collecting the supplies and parts we would need. Perusing the forums and asking endless questions. Researching all the options we considered, from rigging choices to the stereo system.

At this point in the game we have stripped paint and varnish, pressure washed her inside and out. Repeatedly. Removed ports and hatch covers. Primed and painted, varnished and sanded and varnished some more. Installed electrical panels, 110 and 12. Built battery boxes and installed a charger. Installed light fixtures. Added J boxes and run Ancor.

And all the while? The tabbing in the V-Berth remained split and tattered, leaving that side of the bunk flexing with each toss and turn. The crack by the companionway lingered, supported by the spruce plank bolted over it and taped to keep out the rain, but still, there catching the eye with every entry and exit of the cabin. The bulkhead by the leaky window quietly shed its fibrous mange of rotted wood leaving bits and pieces like a leper in the last stages... shunned and ignored in a desperate attempt to avoid the ugly truth.

Repairs must be made, and fiberglass must be involved.

Intellectually one knows that it can't be THAT hard. Everybody does it. We know what needs to be done. But we just can't, somehow, actually do it. We have purchased supplies, penetrating and slow curing both, with coloidal silica, which I am convinced it just a slick marketing trick to sell another neatly numbered and named product, in the impressive West System line up, that could really be replaced by sawdust. We have gloves, and stirrers and little plastic mixing tubs. We have a book, thoughtfully produced by the same company, with the same graphics and colour scheme as the neatly numbered products. Every time I look at it I think it really should be bright yellow, with large black font proclaiming "Fiberglassing For Dummies" on the cover.

Finally fate caught up with us. Further work was being hindered by the long delayed 'glassing; this couldn't happen till that happened, which was dependent on that being repaired. With fiberglass. The day of reckoning had arrived. One final consult with a friendly dock neighbour and I pulled on the rubber gloves. Latex, actually. Do they even make gloves of rubber anymore?

I read the instructions again, the miniscule print endless with warnings. Gathered everything I needed and with Himself hovering and advising, reprising the endless debates we had had about how best to tackle this herculean task, I began. Mixing the penetrating epoxy, suggestively and optimistically named "Git-Rot", and shook, counting the seconds like Hermione Grainger in her Potions final, and then finally, gingerly, in small dribbles, began, as advised, from the bottom up, to apply the stuff to the tattered teak bulkhead.

Ten minutes later I was looking, with surprise, at the patch of dark damp wood and the last of the epoxy slowly disappearing into the cracks and crevices. I mixed up another, and then a third, and then quit, with the last drips clinging to, but not sinking beneath, the surface.

I repeated the process for two days, with less material sinking in each successive day, and then called it done and moved onto part two. I carefully slid the sisterboard into place and then turned to the box with the West in it. Again, microscopic directions read one last time and materials gathered. This time I stirred. And stirred. AND stirred. That colloidal silica stuff is lighter than air. Breathing around it is highly ill advised, it disappears with the lightest puff of air, floats atop the epoxy and just generally is annoying to work with.

Eventually the "Thick Warm Honey" viscosity I had been told was my goal seemed to be achieved and I began to slowly, with my makeshift funnel, pour the epoxy between the boards, where there was a void that had nothing to penetrate and was going to need firmer stuff to fill. Ten minutes later the little plastic cup was empty, the last of the goo was sliding slowly down the slope of the funnel and into the gap and the level of the rising epoxy was close to the top of the board.

In the morning a small dime sized puddle of epoxy had slumped down thru all the boards and was pooled stickily on the platform beneath. The next time I would leave a rag beneath it to catch any drips.

I installed another board and repeated the process, and eventually had worked my way up, the old bulkhead stiffened to starched rigidity, the sisterboards installed, and the voids between filled with thickened epoxy. Mission accomplished. With no real difficulties we had made our first epoxy repair!

The bulkhead done we turned to the V-Berth with trepidation. Before the taping could be repaired there was a gap as wide as my thumb in places that needed filling to provide the tabbing a solid base to adhere to. With my experience with the colloidal silica in the bulkhead I set to mixing 'mayonnaise' like epoxy for filling the gap. Himself consulted on the consistency and when we had it thick enough I began to spoon into the crack, filling and smoothing as I went. In short order the 6' length done, the container and spoon and stirrer cleaned and everything put away again.

The next morning it was smooth, set and even. Time for the actual tabbing. This was going to involve the woven glass tape and spreading and saturating until clear and layering and more spreading and smoothing. I handed Himself the "Fiberglassing for Dummies" and said 'Your turn'.

Less than an hour later three layers of overlapping glass tape were laid and glimmering with epoxy, sheer from the saturation. The tabbing was done.

On our way off the boat that evening I glanced at the 4" long crack, gaping a 1/2" wide at the top, by the companionway entrance and grinned and said "That's tomorrow's project, baby!".

Like so many things, the anticipation was so much worse than the actual experience, and, with hindsight as clear as the resin soaked to the tabbing, epoxy turned out to be a piece of cake. I can't imagine why we waited so long!
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Old 04-10-2012, 19:32   #2
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

It was daunting at first but like you I took the plunge and found with a little patience and lots of rubber gloves the jobs turned out perfectly fine. Now confidence is building and I'm ready to tackle some more complex jobs.
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Old 04-10-2012, 19:34   #3
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

it really is wonderful stuff once you get the hang of it,sort of like "papire mache'" for adults!

given the correct addatives and knowledge of cure times it really is possable to fabricate any complex joint or component from it!
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Old 04-10-2012, 19:34   #4
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

I dont mess with FG because it gives me some sort of contact dermatites...I get these big ol bumps that itch and make me feel really bad...I dont like particulated fiberglass and it dosent like me ...
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Old 04-10-2012, 19:49   #5
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

Its wonderful stuff. Go on West's website and sign up for their newsletter. It doesn't come out very often but it always has some cool projects in it.
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Old 05-10-2012, 19:41   #6
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Congrats. I too started "glassing" this past spring and now am pretty comfortable with it. May I suggest that instead of a rag to cache the drips, use a piece of plastic. Once dry, the drip will pop right off the plastic and you can drop it in the trash and the plastic is ready to use again.

Yep, the worst part is thinking about it.

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Old 05-10-2012, 20:15   #7
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

Has somebody told you that the best cleanup material is plain white vinegar? Use it before the epoxy cures and it will wipe right up.
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Old 05-10-2012, 21:23   #8
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

When I first started glassing (a long time ago...) and was worried about mistakes, I was told by a pro surf board shaper/glasser in Hawaii: "Don't worry...There's nothing you can't fix with ten thousand RPM" and "Gravity's your friend...you jus gotta make peace with her."

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Old 05-10-2012, 21:27   #9
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

Nicely done! Your next assignment is to build a stitch and glue dinghy. You're ready for it.
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Old 06-10-2012, 03:52   #10
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

The one thing the manuals never say when working with epoxy is to never scratch your nose .
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Old 06-10-2012, 04:03   #11
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

Quote:
Originally Posted by David_Old_Jersey View Post
The one thing the manuals never say when working with epoxy is to never scratch your nose .
or light a cigarett when you still have the rag soaked in thinners in your other hand!

don't ask me how i found out that one!
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Old 06-10-2012, 04:22   #12
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

sarafina,

Congrats on competing your project! I've also never fiberglassed before and have a couple areas where the tabbing needs to be repaired. How did you prep the areas where the tabbing has let go - can you place new tabbing right over the old stuff or should the old tabbing be ground away?

I feel just as intimidated as you were, but I would really like to know how to do this myself, so I don't want to pay someone to do it for me. Any advice would be appreciated.
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Old 06-10-2012, 04:44   #13
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

Fiberglass is your friend. No much you cant do with the stuff.
Unless for very small patches like in blister removal. I generally always have a helper. One of us (me) gets really nasty and the other person (her) stays clean. That way, she can readily cut an unexpected needed shape/piece with clean scissors and pass the piece of fiberglass to me. The other (she), also keeps up with the mixing and timing.
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Old 06-10-2012, 04:49   #14
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

Its like pedal-cycling up a big hill--never look at the top when starting out. Before you know it--YOUR ARE THERE
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Old 06-10-2012, 05:02   #15
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Re: The Fear of Fiberglassing

So easy a gurl can do it. Er, I mean, all there is to fear is fear itself. With your humorous writing style you should write the book. Congrats on tackling your "fear".
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