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Professional Boatbuilding Tips for Successful Gluing

By Morten Olesen 2012, All Rights Reserved

Loose lips aren't the only things that will sink ships. Poorly fitted joints that aren't properly sealed will do the job as well. That's why one of the most vital tasks with any boatbuilding project is gluing. It also happens to be one of the most complex.

Epoxy is a very unforgiving substance used to secure joints that hardens quickly. Once it moves past the phase where it is pliable and workable, it is all but impossible to remove. The only "do overs" with epoxy are in the form of scraping the joint and starting again from scratch.

Because of this fact, you'll want to follow these tips for getting every joint done right the first time.

Safety First

If you've ever seen dried epoxy, you can just imagine how difficult it would be to try and remove it from a piece of wood. Now imagine attempting to get if off the skin on your hand or arm. Likewise, the sanding dust that comes from some epoxies can be dangerous if inhaled.

In order to work safely, be sure you have the following on hand or nearby at all times when working with epoxy.

  • Rubber gloves to wear during the process
  • Cleaning solvent made for the type/brand of epoxy you're working with
  • Warm, soapy water
  • Mask to help you avoid inhaling epoxy dust

Work Fast

Depending on the type/brand of epoxy you use, it could completely cure within five to 60 minutes. Read the label of your product for more exact times. Some specialty epoxies are made that cure more slowly in hot climates. If this applies to you, be sure to ask the representative if s/he sells tropical epoxy.

Practice Makes Perfect

Using a few scraps of wood, do a test run or two. This way you can actually get the feel for the epoxy you're using before you make a permanent commitment. Cure times vary with the mixing formula, temperature and many other variables. All of these cause the behavior of the epoxy to be particular to your work environment. Conducting a trial will allow you to experiment before applying the glue to your boat.

Prep and Fit

Once you're ready to move forward, take time to do the necessary prep work. The surfaces of your boat that you plan to bond should be free of grease, oil, wax, mold and dust. Clean the surfaces thoroughly before you apply epoxy.

In order for the epoxy to adhere, the surface must be completely dry. If you've used liquid solvents to clean your boat, you can allow them to air dry or use a blow dryer or hot air gun to speed the process.

Lastly, sand the surfaces as smooth as possible. There should be no flaking, cracking, blistering, old paint or stain, etc. on the wood. Be sure and remove all dust after sanding.

Lastly, double-check your joints. Check that they are smooth and fit snuggly without large gaps. If you find any cracking, flaking or splintering, sand the surfaces again before applying the epoxy.

The majority of time spent with applying epoxy is done up front. Be patient, read the instructions that come with the product you'll be using and work methodically. When you do, you'll produce a boat you can confidently and proudly sail for years to come.

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Morten Olesen, Naval Architect/Owner - Hyldvej 1A - DK-4540 Farevejle - Denmark

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