Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rain, Cold, and Wind

Looking back, if I had one thing I would change about this project, it would be shelter from the elements.  The weather has dogged me the entire project.  I guess, coming from a state where it is sunny and not terribly hot most of the year, I just didn't think about how much of an impact it would be. I did try to find an indoor work space when I was looking for a place to build this top, but the only two I knew of were well south of my insurance restriction for location during the dreaded "H" season.

Building a makeshift shelter (or as I often joke about it, a refugee camp) has helped.  It kept the sun off of it during the summer and now it can help hold heat in a bit.  Unfortunately, tarps tied to a canopy aren't the best when it comes to rain.  They work for a little while, but stretching them over boat stands takes its toll and they start to leak.  I've replaced or reinforced a couple, but even then the drainage of water off of the tarps can be an issue.  The other problem with the shelter is the wind.  Using a propane forced air (torpedo) heater, I can get the "tent" pretty warm, but if the wind is really blowing, the heater is much less effective in the drafty shelter.

"Enclosed" work space canopy with 10 tarps

I'd consider getting a somewhat more substantial shelter (one of those pop-up car ports or similar), but at this point we are so close to completion that it doesn't make sense to plunk down the money on one.  A tent or carport large enough to fit the top, provide room to walk all the way around it, and room for a work table is a bit pricey.  If I had bought one at the beginning it probably would have been worth it (or, who knows, maybe it would have other problems of its own like heat build-up during the summer).  So, I make do with my canopy and the 10 tarps that are tied to the frame.

Panorama inside my workspace.  

Despite all of this, we have been making some progress on the top.  Discounting the hour or two it takes to setup and close down the tent each day, we have about six to 7 hours of working time.  On good days, I can raise the temperature inside the tent 20 degrees or more over the ambient temperature and that is good enough to get resin and gelcoat to cure. We were able to apply a weave fill coat of polyester resin to the top.  Yesterday we put gelcoat on the window opening and another coat along the top side of the handrails.  That took a bit longer than planned (seems that everything does) and we were running the heater until 7 PM so it would cure.

Today was cold with the high of 51 at 5 AM and falling ever since.  With help of the heater, I was still able to do a little wet sanding of the gelcoat (in this case the top didn't need it but I did). This evening the low is supposed to be around freezing and tomorrow is supposed to be windy, so I don't know that I'll be getting an early start in the morning.  Maybe after a couple hot cups of coffee...maybe.

P.S. The cat seems to like the tent, she often hangs out under the top while we are working...whenever it is cold or raining.  And this morning I found her sneaking out from underneath it when I arrived.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Hole In The Top

After getting the top turned back right-side-up, it was time to add the window in the top so you can see the sails from the comfort of the helm seat. Since I have some left over plexiglass from the salon window replacement, I've decided to use it for the window.  I've sized the window so, if I decide I want an opening hatch there later, I can replace the fixed glass with a standard size hatch.

I decided, since I am using the same glass as the salon windows, that I would mount it the same way as well.  Instead of screws I will glue the piece of plexiglass in place with Dow Corning 795 (but in this case I'm thinking of using white and not black).  In order to accomplish this I need to cut a hole in the top with a flange that will allow the glass to sit recessed in the hole.  I will be using a router to cut the hole and then cut a larger hole half-way through the top.

We picked up some 1/8 inch thick lauan plywood and created a router template. I drew two rounded rectangles on the plywood that represented the full hole and the flange.  I then cut out the smaller hole with a jigsaw and smoothed it as needed with a little sanding.  I positioned it on the top at the correct location (a bit forward of the current window to accommodate solar panels) and attached a board to make it easy to re-position as well as clamp.  Using a template guide in the router I cut the smaller hole.  It took two passes with the router in order to cut all the way through the top, and I had to remove the template for the second cut and let the first cut be the guide.

Window template inner circle cut.
Not sure if the cat is trying to help or just wants attention.

After cutting the hole, I then cut the larger hole in the template.  Resetting the router depth, I could then cut out the flange.  Using a 1/4 inch straight cutting bit took a little while to clear out the material in the flange, but it worked well. I used a round-over bit to round the outer edges and sandpaper to round the foam edges.

Cutting the window flange. 

The next day we did what I hope will be the last fiberglass layup of this project.  Having just cut a big hole in the top and exposing the foam core, it now needed to be covered in fiberglass.  We sanded down the area around the hole on the bottom side to remove the finish (yes, the one we just applied) and allow for the fiberglass.  We cut strips of the 10 ounce fabric to cover the straight sides of the hole and chopped strand mat for the corners.  The temperature was, surprisingly, in the 70's and so we got the fiberglass applied.  Of course, by the time we were finished, the sun was setting and the temperature started to drop.  Out came the propane heater to keep the temperatures up and allow it to cure.

Window opening covered with fiberglass.

In addition the the hole, the template was also used to cut the plexiglass for the window.  By using the larger template hole and a larger diameter template guide, we could cut a window panel that gives about 3/8 of an inch of clearance inside the hole...just enough for the sealant to glue the panel in place.

The next day or two I expect we will be doing a lot of sanding (oh boy), hope it goes well...and quickly.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sunny Side Up

I'd love to be writing a blog post about eggs (or any other subject) but, alas, it is yet another post on our fiberglass bimini project.  While the temperatures haven't been perfect, we have had a couple good (read dry) weather days and have been making some progress.  If the weather guessers are correct, it looks like we might have a few more nice days so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can make a lot of progress in that time frame.

In my last post I mentioned I was waiting for some rain to clear.  Naturally, it stuck around longer than predicted and we didn't get nearly as much done as I hoped that day, only managing to get gelcoat on the mounting flange at the rear edge of the top.  But the following day was dry and we spent the day applying gelcoat to the rest of the bottom side of the top.

The bottom is all white now.

Remember the experimenting I did early in the project to figure out how to get the textures I wanted in the gelcoat?  Apparently most of that experiment wasn't very fruitful as we have come to find that gelcoat can behave very differently with the subtle changes in temperature.  We ended up experimenting a bit as we went but came up with an option that was "good enough" (see...I'm learning). It is far from perfect, but it is the underside of the top, and as long as it is protected and doesn't create a lot of glare, we are moving on.

Front edge detail. The green is a combination of the green tarp
and the PVA used to seal the gelcoat surface.

So, the underside of the top is now done, with the exception of a small amount of patching I will have to do for the window opening.

The next step was to get the top flipped back over so we can make the cutout for the window and finish the top side of the top.  Fortunately the boating community is filled with good people who always help one another out. I was able to round up 7 other people at the marina, and we made fairly quick work of getting the top off of the table, out from under the tent, flipped over, and placed directly on jackstands back under the tent.  It seems like it has been quite a while since I've seen this side of the top.

To thank my fellow boaters for their help, we got some pizza, soda, and beer and had a nice little lunch in the boatyard.

Thanks for the help guys!

Next we need to create a router template for the window and cut the hole in the top.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paint It Yellow

I can't believe I'm still here in Virginia working on this hardtop project. I knew I was being optimistic with the original theory on how long it would take, but we are over 3 times that now.  And it is taking a bit of a mental toll on us.  Hayes, Virginia, has lost its appeal and we really, really want to be moving on.  We know that this will be one of the best additions to the boat in the long run, but we need to get this thing done.

One of the largest issues seems to be the weather.  When we started the project, temperatures were so high that we couldn't lay up fiberglass until late in the evening.  Now the temperatures barely make it up to the recommended 60 to 65 degree (Fahrenheit) minimum needed for polyester resin and gelcoat to cure. Of course being outside, rain has also been an issue.  You can't get uncured or curing resin wet, and laminating resin doesn't like to be wet even after it cures since the surface is still tacky. Shielding our work from the elements has been a challenge.  Right now I'm waiting for some rain to blow over so we can hopefully apply more gelcoat later today.

Weather hasn't been the only issue, though.  As I've admitted before, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. This doesn't really work well when working in 3rd world conditions in a boatyard.  Don't get me wrong, I think the top is coming out very well, but my engineering mind sees the minor issues and wants to fix them.  Some of the imperfections have caused issues and taken a lot of time as well.

Still have a little gelcoat to apply to the underside before we flip it.

The handrails, particularly along the front edge of the top, are not perfectly straight and/or nice uniform curves.  The minor variances mean that when trying to smooth the gelcoat (we want the handrail detail to look good and feel good when you are holding onto it), it is very easy to sand through the coating. Gelcoat requires a thick layer to look good, and if it gets thin (what would be considered a thick layer in terms of regular paint) it becomes translucent. As a result, we've applied gelcoat, sanded it down, and repeated this process until there are only a couple thin spots left.  At this point I think we can touch up the thin spots and be good to go.  But it has taken a lot of time to get to this point. In hindsight, we probably should have just kept the minor orange peel texture that the paint roller created...oh well.

We've been here so long, that even one of the stray cats that hangs out in the boatyard has decided to adopt me.  Or maybe she just likes the shelter from the rain that three roofs (the canopy, the hardtop, and the table) provide.

Boatyard stray cat that seems to like us.

So, what does this have to do with the title of this post...well, I'm getting to that.  As a perfectionist, I've always had a problem with the concept of perfect being the enemy of good. One of the reasons I became somewhat dissatisfied with my career was that I wanted to do good work and most companies just wanted fast (let the customers find the bugs) and didn't care much about good. I became more forgiving with software but still refused to put out a bad product.  With something visual like this hardtop, I'm still battling with the idea of "good enough".

The "Paint it yellow" story came from a coworker a number of years ago.  My memory isn't perfect, so this may not be accurate, but this is how I recall the story going.  My coworker was working for a large software house.  As such large companies like to do from time to time, they do somewhat cheesy things to try to boost morale or motivate employees.  This company had a "caption this poster" contest where they had a number of poster images and asked employees to come up with motivational captions.  Among the posters was a picture of a bunch of yellow chicks with one albino chick in the mix.  I'm sure that the company was looking for something like "stand out in a crowd" or "don't be afraid to be different".  One of the employees, apparently having worked in the industry long enough, had what was a more appropriate caption for the poster.  His entry was "Screw it. Paint it yellow and ship it".  A short time later, the contest was cancelled and the posters were taken down.

But, for a perfectionist, this is an important lesson.  While it is admirable to always want your work to be the best, sometimes you just need to realize there is a point where it is "good enough".  I'm sure the top is better than good enough, now I just need to convince myself of that and get this thing done and on the boat.  But first, I guess I need to convince mother nature to stop spitting water at me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

If At First You Don't Succeed

Sorry for the sparseness of posts recently, but we have been pushing hard to try to get the hardtop bimini built and get out of Virginia before it gets much colder.

In the last post I mentioned we did a little gelcoat and sanding resulted in some bare spots.  Well, we managed to get gelcoat on the remaining handrail edge of the top and the result was similar all the way around. Given the third-world conditions in which I'm building the top, it isn't too much of a surprise that the surfaces aren't as fair as I would have hoped.

Working in the rain.

Then it donned on me that part of the issue may be in the application.  Brushing gelcoat on is not easy and the chance of getting a nice, even coat is unlikely.  So, we went looking for a small roller that would work around the curves of the rail.  Finding a small diameter roller was easy, finding a cover that works with gelcoat (or polyester resin for that matter) is a bit more difficult...they don't tend to list resin or acetone compatibility.  Best you can hope for is if they list that it is safe for oil-based paint and thinners.

The roller produced a much more even coating but it was also much thinner than the brush approach.  We did two coats with the roller and tried sanding things smooth and fair again.  Unfortunately, there were still a few spots that we sanded a bit too thin, but not as many and not as large.  So today, we applied another two coats and that should hopefully do the trick.

Because the bottom side of the top is facing up we are working on that side first.  The beams that run along the underside of the top divide the surface, so we also started applying gelcoat to them today.  Since it is difficult to reach the middle of the top from the sides, I climbed onto the top to do the "cut in" of the beams.  Unlike the handrails, we will not be making them smooth but will be applying an orange peel like texture to them.  Originally, I had thought of making them smooth, but with time running short, we decided it would be just too much sanding to get it looking good.  Application of the gelcoat with the roller can easily be given an orange peel effect if you run the roller over the gelcoat after it has been applied for a few minutes.  A few minutes running the roller over the gelcoat sure beats days of sanding and re-applying gelcoat.

Working at night...again.

By the time we were done today it was actually tonight and I was applying the PVA to our newly gelcoated surfaces in the dark.  Then the heater was again used to under the tent to aid in the cure.  Tomorrow we should know if everything worked OK.

Once we get the handrails sanded smooth (and without bare or thin spots), we can mask them off and paint the remainder of the underside of the top.  It will be getting the same orange peel texture to hide any minor issues with the underside finish and to reduce glare in the cockpit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

60 Degrees and Raining

My usual luck with weather returned yesterday.  I think the high may have been 62 degrees at sometime around 3pm and the gelcoat says don't apply below 65 degrees.  And while it doesn't explicitly say not to apply it in the rain, I think that is a safe assumption.

Fortunately version 2.0 of  the camp gave us the ability to apply a little gel coat anyway.  While some of the tarps are getting a little worn, one was still pretty waterproof and we were able to raise it enough to access one side of the top.

We mixed up some gelcoat, catalyzed it at the high end of the range (the bottle says to use between 1 and 3% MEKP) and brushed it on the starboard edge and the first couple inches of both sides of the top.  Then we fired up the heater to bring the temperature inside the tent to about 75 degrees.  Once the coat started curing, we turned off the heater, mixed up some more gelcoat, and applied it over the first, brushing it on at a 90 degree angle to the first coat.  Started the heater and let that cure for a little bit and then did one more coat. After all three coats had cured a bit, I brushed on some PVA (this is laminating gelcoat) and let the heat complete the cure.

Gelcoat curing under the heated tent.

Today the rain continued and I spent most of the day sanding and shaping the gelcoat after washing off the PVA.  I think it was due to the temperature, but for whatever reason, the gelcoat didn't flow as well when applied the day before and so a lot of sanding was needed to make everything smooth.  Since I don't have a real longboard sander, I'm using a drywall sanding block and it worked really well. As it turns out, even with 3 coats, there were still thin spots once everything was sanded smooth.  So, at this point, the edge shape looks really good but I will need to apply another coat and try not to sand through it.

The rainy weather is supposed to break tomorrow, so hopefully I'll have a bit better luck getting the gelcoat to flow and can get a nice even 30+ mil coat applied to the rest of the edges (so when I sand there will still be 20 mils or so left on the top).  With any luck, maybe I can get the rest of the edge done without sanding all the way through the gelcoat and having to reapply more.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Love to Sand, I Love to Sand...

I read somewhere, don't recall where now, that if you want to work with fiberglass you should get up every morning and look into the mirror and say "I love to sand".  Well, ever since my last post that is what we have been doing.  Sanding, grinding, or whatever you want to call it, a LOT of it needs to be done if you intend to finish the surface and have it look anywhere approaching nice.

Normally one would sand the entire surface smooth, apply the marine equivalent of body filler, then sand some more until everything was nice, even, and smooth.  Sanding would include use of a special hand sanding block known as a long board to make smooth curves, and I've heard this can be quite tedious.

In our case, we don't even have to sand a lot.  Outside of the fiberglass seams and the pattern of the weave of the fiberglass cloth, everything is pretty smooth. Most of the top side of the new bimini will be coated with gelcoat using a non-skid technique that will be thick enough to hide just about anything.  Most of the bottom side will be textured to reduce glare (yeah...that's the reason...definitely not because I just don't want to grind more fiberglass).  So, the only bits that really need to be rather smooth are the handrail edges of the top and the beams underneath.  And, for the most part, that is all we have been sanding...all week.

Sanding the top.

The problem I'm having with sanding has partly to do with the type of resin I am using.  There are two different types of polyester resin: laminating and finishing.  Laminating resin is standard polyester and, since polyester won't cure in the presence of air, the surface stays tacky so additional layers can be easily added and will chemically link together.  Finishing resin is polyester with an additive (a wax of sorts) that rises to the surface, cutting off exposure to the air, and this allows the resin to fully cure at the surface.  When building the top it has been advantageous to use laminating resin so I can stop at the end of a day and resume the next day (or two).  And since gelcoat is nothing more than polyester resin with color added, the laminating resin bond would be helpful there as long as you didn't need to do much sanding.

...and more sanding.

Sanding laminating resin where the surface hasn't fully cured tends to gum up sandpaper quckly.  I could have used a finishing resin for the last coat (or added wax to the stuff I have or use PVA to seal the surface) so it would be easier to see, but then I would lose the chemical bond that will occur between the unsanded portions of the top and the gelcoat.  I'm not sure which is actually a better way to go, but this chicken-and-egg problem I decided to bite the bullet and just try to sand the laminating resin.  This took a lot of time and a lot of pieces of sandpaper.

The remainder of the pain was just from sanding fiberglass itself.  Fiberglass is rather tough stuff to sand, and the dust produced is, as I previously mentioned, extremely itchy. Every day for the last several days I thought "I'll finish sanding today and can start applying gelcoat tomorrow" and yet I would find more to sand.  This is where being a perfectionist is definitely a detriment.  One of these days I will learn that perfect is the enemy of good.

This afternoon I finally reached the "good enough" point...or was it sick enough of sanding...and decided it was time to apply some gelcoat.  At about 3 PM we applied some gelcoat to the back of the mounting flange.  It was a good place to start and test any techniques since it will be mostly hidden once the top is mounted.  Using a chip brush I applied two coats, making sure to brush the stuff on in different directions for each of the coats (I've been told this gives more even and complete coverage).

Finally, a little gelcoat.  Oh yeah, we also cut access holes
for the wiring chases.

The gelcoat I am using is a laminating resin as well, so after applying the stuff and letting it set up a bit (about 45 minutes), I had to apply PVA in order to seal out the air and let it fully cure.  The PVA was also applied with a brush, this time a cheap foam brush.  It did a good job of applying a thin layer of the PVA as best I can tell.  By this point, the temperature was dropping below 65 degrees, so we broke out the space heater to help it cure.  I think everything went well, but I guess we won't know for sure until we try cleaning off the PVA in the morning and try sanding the gelcoat smooth.

And that, in addition to applying more gelcoat, is what will be on tap tomorrow...if the weather permits.