Fiberglass Over Teak – Part Deux

The hand rail looks great after a year. Just a little yellow discoloration.

The hand rail looks great after a year. Just a little yellow discoloration.

I tried an experiment with fiberglassing over the aged teak hand rails on Solace. I talked to several old salts that were doubtful fiberglass would adhere well to teak. I also found very little information online about fiberglassing over teak. What little information I did find was conflicting. I decided to go ahead with glassing over the hand rails, but would refrain from gelcoating it so that I could monitor over the course of a year the epoxy fiberglass I painted over the teak.

In October 2014 I examined the handrails for signs of the epoxy separating from the teak. I’m happy to announce that there were no signs of delamination anywhere. The rub rails had performed like new all year, with no leaking and withstanding some significant abuse. The epoxy was starting to yellow and show discoloration around a few of the touch up spots. Structurally though, the handrails were solid and I had no desire to make modifications.

Touch up spots were showing a little discoloration too.

Touch up spots were showing a little discoloration too.

At the same time, the teak rails that guide the sliding main hatch were at the end of their life. One was badly split down the length of itself. I had tried to repair it with wood glue and clamps but the fix did not last more than a couple months, exposed to the constant northwest weather. When I had glassed over the hand rails, I didn’t use any fiberglass cloth. I had simply mixed in 403 filler to thicken the epoxy to peanut butter consistency and then painted the rails with it after stripping any oil out of it with teak brightener. The split rails would need a structural upgrade and I thought a couple layers of fiberglass cloth would be the ticket to breath new life into them.

The hatch rail split badly down it's length. I glued it back in place before glassing over it.

The hatch rail split badly down it’s length. I glued it back in place before glassing over it.

Just like the teak handrails, I was careful to use the heavy duty teak cleaner and teak brightener of the boat hatch rails. They were pretty damn filthy so I did two rounds of both on every inch of the teak. They were left very clean and very free of oil. I also went the extra mile and sanded it all down with a 100 grit sandpaper.

Also like the hand rails, I used a pointed grinding bit to grind off the gelcoat around the edge of the teak so that the epoxy could bind to the fiberglass core. I carefully cut out two layers of cloth for each of the hatch rails. The part that the hatch rubs on is still teak that I grease with beeswax. I only wanted to apply the fiberglass cloth to two sides of the rails, to reinforce the crack and protect the teak from weather.

I used two layers of cloth to reinforce the split and protect the aged teak from the weather.

I used two layers of cloth to reinforce the split and protect the aged teak from the weather.

After the cloth was carefully measured and cut, I then glued the wood where the split was and held it down with clamps for a day until the glue dried. I cleaned up the excess, dried glue and finished off with sandpaper again. I then masked off the area with tape against drips. I thickened the epoxy to the consistency of cold maple syrup then proceeded to lay up the fiberglass cloth by alternating between painting on a layer of epoxy and then smooshing the cloth down the length of the rail.


Compass Mount

While glassing over the hatch rails, I also cleaned up this wooden compass mount and prepared to glass over it.

At the same time that I was preparing the teak hatch rails, I also re-glued and sanded together an aged and crumbling compass mount. I had found a drop-in replacement for the old compass, but the mount was badly deteriorated. It was falling apart in pieces. I cleaned up each piece with sandpaper and glued the whole thing back together. It was whole, but fragile. I then applied thickened epoxy to the outside just like I had the hand rails. It dried rock solid.

Once the fiberglass dried on both these projects, it was time to apply gelcoat. I had waited a year to paint the hand rails because I wanted to see what the epoxy was going to do. It held up well, but the yellow discoloration was from ultraviolet (UV) sunlight exposure. Epoxy’s one downfall is that it is susceptable to breakdown in UV light. It clearly needed a gelcoat for protection. I didn’t need to wait for the other projects, so I painted all with gelcoat at the same time.

Sanded and taped off, the hand rail is getting a gelcoat to protect it.

Sanded and taped off, the hand rail is getting a gelcoat to protect it.

Since the fiberglass was brand new on the hatch rails and compass mount, I just waited for the epoxy to get tacky before painting on the white epoxy gelcoat I like to use. The rub rails though had picked up a bit of dirt, oil, and salt over the year. I washed them down with warm, soapy water; then touched them up a rough 80 grit sandpaper after giving them time to dry. It’s been three months and all three projects are still rocking strong, very skookum. The gelcoat looks great and all the fiberglassed wood performs like new. I expect to get a solid decade of worry free life out of my repaired teak.

Related posts:

Cruising the San Juan Islands: Eliza, Vendovi, Cypress, and Jack Islands.
Spring in the San Juan Islands
Riding the Pineapple Express
Comments
3 Responses to “Fiberglass Over Teak – Part Deux”
  1. JB says:

    Nice idea! My hatches sorely need refinishing (50 year old sailboat) and I never thought about sanding them down to their base and glassing them over.

  2. Barb says:

    so glad you posted this. I’ve got some split wood on my boat as well. now I know what to do about it! Thanks again

  3. James says:

    Thanks for the update. I’m surfing on a smartphone while visiting relatives far from home over the holidays. I didn’t see this follow-up when I asked before about the results of your experiment.

    It is looking good. I am going to seriously consider this as an option to more permanently refresh an older sailboat and help reduce the amount of tedious and repetitive maintenance abovedecks.

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