Paint & Finish To Perfection

A little polish and paint can go a long way.

Bloxygen: The Answer To Avoiding A Congealed Mess?

The days of sailors buying varnish by the gallon are long gone for most of us, but many sailboats and more than a few powerboats still have wood items that need protection from the elements. Giving a few small bits of brightwork a fresh protective coating twice a year takes not much time and not much varnish. The first part of that is good news, the second part not so much because a partial can of varnish is likely to be unusable when you open it again in six months. Over the years I've tried numerous ploys to prevent stored varnish from thickening, skinning, or turning into a solid plug in the can. Most were unsuccessful, and even those that do work — an interior blanket of plastic kitchen wrap, for example — create an awful mess. Then I discovered Bloxygen.

It's nothing more than an aerosol of pure argon, a heavy inert gas that forms an insulating blanket over the top of the liquid in the can, preventing oxygen exposure. As a result, a half-can of varnish stays as fresh as a new can, even if it sits on a shelf for a year. There's no mess or congealed bits. Note that the can should be stored ashore, not bouncing around in a locker on the boat.

Bloxygen costs about $15 per can, including shipping ( with quality marine varnish costing $40 a quart. One can is supposed to supply 150 seconds of spray, enough to allow you to preserve the remaining finish in quart cans at least 50 times. Aside from the considerable amount of money saved, starting every varnish project with fresh varnish is, well, priceless.

Masking Tape Is Your Friend. Temporarily

Photo of a roll of painters' tape

While masking tape is always a good idea if you're starting a painting project, be aware that you shouldn't leave most of them on too long, if you're working outside. I learned the hard way that removing tape after it had sat in the sun for a week resulted in a bigger residual mess just above the waterline than the perfectly even paint job below it, was worth.

Cold Storage

Done painting for the day, but not done painting? It's best to clean your brushes after each use, but if you're feeling lazy, just put the brush in a plastic shopping bag and leave it in the fridge overnight. The paint won't harden and you can start again in the morning. Note: This works best if you have a beer fridge in the garage, or are single.

Preserving Paint

Whenever possible, use a container other than the paint can to paint from. Those red plastic cups from college parties work great. When you pour the paint into the cup, do it from the front of the can to keep the side with the directions clean. Always clean the rim of the can before you put the lid back on, and if you aren't going to use the paint again for a while, a thin layer of the appropriate thinner can keep it from forming a skin.

Wax Your Prop

Copper-based antifouling paints should never be applied to metal running gear. Interaction with the copper fosters corrosion that is both damaging to the metal and soon causes the paint to release its grip. A good alternative for short stays in the water — a boating vacation, for example — is a heavy coat of surfboard wax (choose one appropriate to your water temperature) on props and other underwater metal, excluding the sacrificial anodes. The wax coating helps to prevent underwater growth from attaching, avoiding the negative effect of fouling on both performance and economy.

Gelcoat Fix-its

Deep scratches, gouges, and small chips (missing gelcoat) are easy to repair. Use factory gel if possible and a thickener (Cabosil works well). Mix well with hardener and apply into the damaged area. Wax paper bordered by masking tape can "seal" the repair and prevent the gelcoat from running or dripping, and help minimize sanding when the repair cures.

Don't Let Dings Get You Down

Holding a razer blade illustration

Making a small repair to the gelcoat surface of a fiberglass boat need not be a big production. You need a bit of matching gelcoat, masking tape, kitchen wrap, a new utility-knife blade, polishing compound, and car or boat wax.

  1. Get the damaged spot squeaky clean with soap and water, rinse, then allow to dry completely.
  2. Mix the gelcoat and dab it into the damaged spot with an artist's brush, a screwdriver, or some other tool, applying enough to slightly overfill the ding.
  3. Gently cover the repair completely with plastic kitchen wrap to seal it from air so the gelcoat will fully cure.
  4. After the gelcoat sets, remove the plastic and apply a bit of wax over the whole area to provide a slick surface.
  5. Now wrap the blade of your utility knife at both ends with a single layer of masking tape, leaving the center of the blade exposed. The tape prevents the blade from cutting anything but the high part of the repair.
  6. Holding the blade above the surface and pushing or pulling, whichever is more comfortable for you, start shaving the top of the repair. Take the smallest possible bites and keep shaving until the masking tape is sliding on the surrounding gelcoat. This will give you an almost perfect surface.
  7. Compound the repair to bring up the gloss, then wax the area. Any remaining trace of the ding will be visible only to you! 


— Published: Fall 2014


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