Restoring Plywood Kayak help please-pics


I recently aquired a Pygmy Queen Charlotte that needs refinishing. It looks like it never had a coat of epoxy, just varnish, except for over the seams.

I plan to sand it down, add several coats of plain epoxy resin, and then a coat of varnish, any advise on specific products to use/sandpaper grit, warnings would be greatly appreciated, here is a link to the boat and how she looks now:

Better living through chemicals
If that’s you in picture 5 this boat is way too big for you!

I’d be tempted to use a chemical stripper like CitraStrip . It should be faster and make less of a mess than trying to sand.

Looks like you might need to splice in some new plywood in a few spots.

I’ve had good luck with MAS epoxy. WestSystems is also good.

I can’t believe whoever built this sweet boat didn’t sheath the whole thing in FB cloth and epoxy.

Start with rough sandpaper (80 grit) and work your way to finer paper after removing the varnish (120, 220). Or you could try starting with a very sharp scraper (2.5 inch Red Devil), but use a file to sharpen often, very often. You must keep it razor sharp!

Then evaluate the rotten/punctured sections. They may be salvageable by simply filling in with thickened epoxy and smoothed out before fiberglassing. Of course, it’s not going to look pretty with varnish over the repaired spots, so I would suggest painting it rather than varnishing.

I can’t tell
I can’t say from your photos whether the deck has been fiberglassed or not. If well done, you might not be able to see the 'glass until you sand into the fibers.

I also can’t tell if any of the wood is rotted or not. I am not sure you would be able to tell whether epoxy was applied to the deck before varnishing or the hull before painting. I think it is unlikely that no epoxy was applied to the wood before varnishing and painting but it is quite possible the deck wasn’t fiberglassed. I assume that there is a full coat of fiberglass on the hull exterior. You can see an exterior fiberglass seam tape.

First step is to strip all the paint from the hull. I too have had pretty good luck with Citrus Stripper. I would sand the areas of the deck that need sanding. If there are areas of the deck that look pretty decent I am not sure you need to sand down to bare wood. Any areas in which the wood is greyed need to be taken down to fresh wood, and flaking or cracked varnish needs to go, but smooth varnish can just be sanded with something like 120-150 grit paper before revarnishing, unless the varnish is badly discolored.

There is little merit to applying several coats of epoxy before varnishing. You want to thoroughly seal any dry wood with epoxy but several coats will add weight (and expense) with little or no gain in strength. If you want a stronger boat or a better protected wood deck and you find that the deck was not 'glassed, you might consider covering the deck with 4 oz/yd fiberglass which will be completely invisible once the 'glass weave is fully filled with epoxy if it is done right. This will add a bit of weight, but considerable strength.

After stripping paint from the hull, there may be areas in which the fiberglass needs to be patched. I would use 6 oz/yd fiberglass for this and S 'glass is somewhat preferable to E 'glass. You will want to feather the edges of the patches well so that they don’t show too much after repainting the hull. To get a really smooth surface before repainting you can fair the hull using epoxy with a fairing compound mixed in such as West System 410 Microlight fairing filler. This is stirred into the epoxy and will thicken it some but is easy to sand down and achieve a smooth surface.

Any surface irregularity tends to be readily noticed after painting so if you want a nice result, spend a good bit of time fairing the hull and sanding it smooth. I would wet sand it starting with something like 180 grit paper and going down to around 800 grit in steps (180, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800) using a soft sanding block. I usually use a disposable sanding block made by 3M for that purpose. I don’t use the abrasive surface of the block, just wrap the paper around it.

If you really want a nice looking boat, you might try applying an interior seam tape and sanding off the exterior seam which is pretty noticeable. Applying an interior seam tape is a PITA job though because you have to work through the cockpit opening and the Queen Charlotte has low decks. You can make an epoxy dispenser by mounting a dental syringe on the end of a 1 x 2" furring strip and screwing several screw eyes down the length of the strip. A length of wood dowel goes through the screw eyes and you use it to depress the syringe plunger to dispense epoxy where your arms can’t reach. You then smooth out the epoxy with a plastic squeege fit into a notch cut in another stick.

As for epoxy I have used MAS, System 3 and West Systems. All work but I do have at least a slight preference for West Systems. I have found Interlux Brightside marine polyurethane paints pretty easy to use. Apply with a foam roller and tip out with a disposable foam brush. You will need 2 to 3 coats of paint.

The rule for varnish is at least 3 coats up to 7 (or more). I like Z-Spar varnishes (either Flagship or Captain’s Varnish) and use disposable foam brushes to apply, wet sanding with 1500 grit paper between coats.

A good source for cloth and epoxy is Sweet Composites or Jamestown Distributors.

You could build a new hull for labor involved in finishing this one. If as you say it hasn’t been epoxy sealed or glassed then you’re finishing a degraded work, you aren’t restoring it to an improved condition. Without access to the interior you could be sealing the exterior leaving the interior to continue degrading, which it will once water gets inside. Plywood only works as a boat material if it’s totally sealed up, without complete access to the inside you’re essentially putting a plastic skin over a sponge, it won’t work in the long run. I wonder if it actually has an epoxy coat and what you’re seeing is everything from moldy ply to degraded epoxy and varnish.

The labor cutting new hatches to seal the very ends inside (good luck with that) will get closer to the total labor of a new S&G kayak with new materials.

The Queen Charlotte is a maneuverable big boat good for 200+ lb person, there are other kayaks I’d build for the time and money spent.

I’m still doubtful that no epoxy
was applied to the wood. Okoume doesn’t look much different after sealing it with a coat of epoxy. It just gets a little darker, as it would after applying some penetrating oil or varnish. The wood of the interior and the deck on the boat in question is pretty dark.

You can clearly see fiberglass seam tapes running down the keel line of the interior and over the joints at the front and back of the cockpit coaming. Since the interior joints were taped I think it is likely that the entire interior of the boat was not sheathed in 'glass, but that’s OK. Is it possible that someone did not 'glass the exterior to save weight? I guess so, but I’m still doubtful.

Again, sanding an area on the hull exterior should answer the question. If fiberglass fibers are seen, then obviously epoxy (or some resin) has been applied to the hull.

I use RAKA epoxy. I like the RAKA non blush

Here’s the kits

I would guess that the boat has a coat of epoxy but no glass other than seam tap. Earlier stitch and glue instructions had you do it that way. If you sand and see a weave then it got glass. No way is it varnish only.

repair vs. build new
I agree with LeeG it will be as lengthy to restore this kayak to structure and aesthetic appeal.

If you have the $ for a kit, a new kayak will look better and be stronger. By buying a new kayak kit, you can choose the model that best fits your size and intended use. This is a large kayak, best suited to lengthy trips.


The goopy bow looks epoxied

Hull May Be Epoxy Coated
The VOLKSKAYAKs I build and paddle are usually just seam taped, but the hull and deck receive multiple coats of epoxy resin without any cloth. With routine maintenance, my first VK is now 11 years old, and in excellent condition.

If the hull was epoxy coated, but not painted, the epoxy may have broken down due to UV exposure.

A carbide scraper…
…will eliminate the need for sharpening and pay for itself in time saved.

It just seems a bit criminal to let a kayak die because it needs an overhaul.

I think with a random orbital sander, I could sand that boat in a an hour, ready for some seam tape repair. Then you coat it with epoxy and finish it - all things that would have to be done to a new kit boat anyhow. The new owner is not trying to create a show winner just a nice functioning kayak he can use and I think that can be done fairy easily. The work of sprucing that boat up to good usage condition would be a tenth of the time to building a new one. Paint the hull and keep the deck natural etc.

Epoxy and paint the whole thing
with exterior latex

. The issues I’m seeing is a poorly sealed kayak on the inside and the effort taking off sharp edges , coating them, outfitting, float bags and rigging the kayak starts to creep up to half the cost of a kit.

But it would be a good learning experience to take it paddling and discover why pencil sharp ends and rough epoxied edges are worth avoiding in S&G kayak construction.

Well I agree with both of you
I agree that if esthetics is the primary concern, building a new boat from a kit would yield a better looking kayak. But I certainly don’t agree that it would be cheaper or cost no more than restoring this one.

It all depends on the condition of the wood. If the wood is mostly sound and the exterior of the hull has not been 'glassed, you can fiberglass it yourself after sanding it down. You can buy an entire gallon of West Systems epoxy and hardener from Sweet Composites for $130 and 6 yds of 6 oz/yd E 'glass would cost about $26 more. You might need some fairing compound which would be another $29 max. If the boat does not have a seat (the Pygmy kits just used a small Thermarest pad velcroed to the bottom of the hull) or foot braces, you might need to spend another $50 or so for those.

In addition, you will need a good bit of sandpaper and finishing materials (paint, varnish, foam brushes, rollers, etc) but those are not included in the kits anyway, and constitute an additional expense.

So if the wood is sound, you could have a serviceable boat for a few hundred bucks, much cheaper than the cost of a kit.

Do NOT use latex paint!
This should be considered an urban myth. It’s all over the internet amateur boat-building sites. Exterior acrylic latex paint is too soft for use on boats, period. You’ll be retouching and repainting all the time. Believe me, I made this mistake already on the inside of a canoe. Get a good paint made specifically for painting boats. It’s not going to be that much more expensive than a premium latex paint.

Plus. the same amount of work.
I painted a S & G with hardware store oil based enamel. Nice finish and lasted really well. Same work as using cheap house paint. House paint is soft and meant to do a lot of expanding and contracting on a house.

I used Benjamin Moore Oil enamel which is the same as boat paint.