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Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil

Posted by Chris Patterson 
Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 19, 2016 11:23PM
OK boatbuilders. I am struggling and would like to hear some opinions.

I have a 16' Mighty Mac that I inherited from my father. It was built in 2000 by Cyrus Happy of Ray's River Dories and saw very little use until I took ownership in 2012. It was stored under a carport for those first twelve years and the sun reflecting up off the concrete seriously faded the front third of the boat. You can see what I am talking about in the attached photo.

It has seen moderate use over the past four years, and that, combined with the previous sun damage, has me in refinishing mode now. I thought this would be a quick "sand and re-varnish" project but I am beyond that now. I started finding fine cracks where the epoxy itself was degraded and in some cases the cracks went right down to the wood. Mostly on the front third of the boat.

So, after several late evenings and many, many sanding disks and pads I will be ready to put a new finish on this weekend. I like working on boats but I do not like sanding.

I have a choice that I need to make: Epoxy\Varnish again or do an oil finish and be back on the water sooner?

The epoxy\varnish finish is wonderful to look at but the oil finish is not ugly either. The interior is oil finished and in great shape. I was going to say that this finish lasted 16 years but that is not quite true. I should have refinished as soon as I took ownership.

What would you do if it was your boat?

Re: Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 20, 2016 01:58PM
I don't like epoxy without fabric, on top of wood. I'm personally leaning toward some parts (the bottom and 6" up the side) all fiberglass, around honeycomb core, and the rest oiled plywood.

Paint varnish and epoxy (without fabric) eventually cracks. Moisture migrates into the cracks and migrates sideways with the grain of the wood. And then gets trapped there.

I learned about oiling plywood from AJ DeRosa. I'm a fan. I like all fiberglass boats, aluminum boats and I like the idea of a hybrid. That's what I'm building now, although progress is slow because of health issues. This will likely be my last boat........with a Plascore bottom chine and 6" inches of the sides all fiberglass, the rest oiled plywood.

If I had your boat I'd be a happy man. Cyrus is a great and greatly under-appreciated boat building and designer. Ray's a great one too. And I'd oil it.
Re: Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 21, 2016 02:19AM
I am in the refinish process again after only two years with the epoxy/varnish finish, did not hold up at all !
This time around it will be just oil lots and lots of oil ! Nice looking boat you have there and solid as a rock no doubt.
I don't know why but I like the square enders !

Re: Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 22, 2016 01:42PM
Sandy and Sal-man,

Thank you for your replies. You opinions and experiences are valuable.

I spent several additional hours Friday night and Saturday and have the finish off both sides sides now. It has been a slow process and I have been glad to have good music and podcasts to help get through it.

I have worked on small sections at a time and it is looking good. You see three definite layers sand away when you do this. The varnish layer goes quickly followed by what I assume was a second coat of epoxy which takes a bit longer. Finally, the epoxy impregnated wood which takes a long time. That final layer is not very think at all but is difficult to get off.

Still ha e the transom to go and then I will go around again to be sure I am not leaving and thin epoxy spots behind. Then the new oil finish!

I will post pictures when I have something more interesting than a mostly bare hull.

Re: Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 22, 2016 10:29PM
Spots and more spots.

I only thought I was almost done with sanding. I took a damp sponge and wiped a large area to see what it was going to look like. I have a lot of spots where, even though I though it was sanded away, there is just enough epoxy left behind for the wood not to soak up the water. Those then look like lighter colored areas on a dark plywood panel.

Oiling is going to make it even darker than the damp cloth so I need to sand these areas or she is going to look like a spotted leopard.

Fun times in southern Idaho.
Re: Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 29, 2016 01:24PM
Yep I'm having the same issue where the epoxy penetrated deeper in some areas but continued sanding will burn through the top layer of ply and I don't want to do that...sacrifice... so it looks like a paint job for me on the outside of the hull and oil on everything else.
The next boat will get stain and oil from the start though I like the water proof protection I get from the epoxy my boat is outside getting used more than inside being preserved and the sanding is getting old quickly ... like me ! :-)
Re: Refinishing: Epoxy\Varnish or Oil
August 29, 2016 01:37PM
RE> "next boat"

Sometimes, particularly with older boats, we end up dealing with AA Marine Fir, which used to be good stuff but no longer is (they changed the specification and now it doesn't have enough plies, etc).

Is it possible to still get good quality fir plywood? I haven't seen it.

The mahogany plywoods, on the other hand, seem to absorb and to work with oil best of all.
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