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PAINTING THE HULL

Here was a case where I wish I had practiced on somebody else’s boat.  By the time I was midway through painting the second of three topcoats I finally figured out the magic formula for obtaining a very smooth, nearly flawless finish.  Unfortunately the messes I made getting to that point prevented the perfect finish. 

I have equipment for spraying, but I chose to use a roll-and-tip method after talking with a number of people, including painters, and reading up on paint-company painting guides.  The prospect of building scaffolding and doing extensive masking drove me to rolling and tipping rather than spraying.  If done right, I was told, a rolled and tipped finish would be hard to distinguish from a good spray job.  That I now believe is true, but the method must be quite exact.  The biggest shortcoming in all of the advice I got from the “experts” was that they all said that each painter has his own style and that there is no “best way”.  That is little help if you’ve never used this type of paint before.  Here I will explain what I learned.

I used a new linear polyurethane paint from Interlux called Perfection.  Linear polyurethanes are two-part, very high gloss and hard finishes.  I had previously narrowed my choice to Awlgrip or Sterling, with no particular preference.  However, their dealer networks are pretty sparse and not as convenient as walking into a local West Marine store.  For some unknown reason I decided to rail against a couple of guys manning the Interlux booth at a Newport Boat Show for their Interthane paint not having much in the way of color choices.  What color was I looking for? one of them asked.  A very dark green I said.  With a smug grin he whipped out a chart with a green that looked pretty much like what I had in mind, and he went into a sales pitch for Interlux’s just-introduced Perfection that is replacing Interthane.  He claimed it was made for brushing although it could be sprayed.  Later in the discussion he said, as every other paint vendor had already said, “she rolls, you tip”, referring to Joyce who was standing there with me.  The implication was you must work very fast.  Baloney!

I sanded the hull using a 5-inch random orbit sander and 150-grit paper.  It took several hours.  I then primed, sanded, filled the holes, scratches and dings with epoxy filler paste, sanded, and primed again.  That was a lot of work!

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You can see from the pictures that my application of the paint looked to be heading for a disaster.  In the end, however, it came out pretty good, as I’ll explain.  The white epoxy primer, although thinned per instructions was more like a paste.  I rolled the paint on using a closed-cell foam roller and spread the paint in the method I had been taught for painting walls and ceilings – spread in all directions.  I tipped with the recommended very expensive brush and ended with a thick layer with all brush streaks.  I was doing something drastically wrong and 60 bucks worth of primer was going to set in an hour, so I continued with just the brush.  The resulting coat of white had to then be sanded nearly all off using 60-grit paper and more hours than it took to sand the hull in the first place.

I thinned the primer more than recommended for the second coat and brushed it on with foam brushes.  It came out better but hardly the fresh-out-of-the-mold fiberglass look I had dreamed of.  Another aggressive sanding was required, but with 100-grit this time.  By this time I was coughing up dumplings from so much sanding dust despite using a good quality dust mask.  Yeah, I know, life is short.

I had a lot of trouble with the first topcoat, which I brushed on, first with the expensive brush, which streaked badly, and then with foam brushes, which I found to be better.  I was afraid to use the roller at this point.  The appearance of the first coat was like finger paint and I was getting ready to really lose it.  When this stuff cured it was like granite, so aggressive sanding was not something to rely on anymore.  I did work the obvious high spots and just wet-sanded the rest with 220-grit.

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I decided to go back to the roller on the second coat as I began to understand the paint a bit more.  I realized that there is no great rush necessary to stay ahead of the fast-curing paint - and it was 92 degrees out.  So I slowed down and worked in quite small sections.  Starting at the aft end of the port side I rolled vertical strips of paint no wider than 12 to 15 inches from the toe rail to the waterline.  Using a dry 4-inch foam brush I lightly tipped in a fore-to aft direction, top to bottom, then lastly in a vertical direction to help prevent “lace curtains”.  Then I’d do another strip and tip it into the first. 

Now things were starting to look pretty smooth, very smooth in fact.  By the time I got half way along the port side I realized that because I was overlapping the strips as I rolled the paint on I caused slight ridgelines that would not tip out easily.  The next strip was rolled leaving a small gap between it and the previous strip, and tipping the paint across the gap proved to be flawless.  Voila!  That’s the secret! 

I wet-sanded the second coat with 320-grit and worked harder on the ridgelines that I made before I started leaving gaps between strips.  By the third coat I was painting with the relaxed confidence of an expert.  I easily had time to roll and tip a strip, get off and move the stepladder, and climb up with a newly paint-covered roller.  Having a partner was helpful but not necessary.  My dad stopped by and asked if I wanted to stop for a beer break.  I said I have enough time to move at a relaxed pace, but the paint would surely kick if I took time out for a beer.  When I got done would be another matter.

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My assessment of the final coat was that it, in and of itself, was pretty flawless – not a brush streak, not a run – just one little holiday.  The whole job has flaws, but they are all from not having fully sanded out my goofs under the final coat.  At least they appear pretty mild and the job passes the 15-foot rule pretty decently.  People actually have asked where I had it sprayed.

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