I recently picked up a Old Town fiberglass Stillwater 14’ for cheap and in need of some TLC. Ive been looking for a fishing canoe and something that my dog won’t tip, and this fit the bill. Ive had fiberglass boats since I was a kid and have been repairing them just as long. Im sure someone out there wants to tell me a plastic boat would do just fine for my use, but glass is a personal preference.
The boat came with multiple layers of paint over the gel coat, which I’ve been working through with a combination of citrus strip and elbow grease. Under 2 layers of urethane, someone slathered on a coat of clear epoxy, which is chipping in some places and patchy in others. As one would expect, the stripper does very little to break down the epoxy.
Underneath, the gelcoat actually looks to be in pretty good shape, and its a shame the base finish wasn’t better taken care of. Anyways, Im not trying to decide the best course of action: 1) sand the whole thing until the epoxy is gone, replace the gel coat if needed and buff it pretty, 2) sand lightly to get the loose epoxy off, apply polishing gel coat compound indiscriminately, and accept a splotchy finish, or 3) leave it as is and keep it as a beater boat.
I’ve tested option 2 on a section of the boat as you can see below. Sanded lightly with 320 grit, then 600 grit, then 1500 grit, then applied a gel coat compound with a buffing machine:
Not horrible, but not that pretty either. What do you think? Has someone out there encountered a similar issue and tried to take all of the epoxy off? Ive read plenty of posts about getting rid of epoxy fingerprints and other small areas, but never the whole hull. Would I be a true masochist to undertake the effort to sand the whole thing down delicately, taking great pains not to dig into the gel coat???
Note: Since Im new to the forums, I can only upload one photo per post. More photos below!
This was the boat as purchased:
This was after the first strip
This was the dried boat before sanding any of the epoxy
If you can sand it smooth then you can just apply a new layer of gelcoat over the entire hull and it should look just fine. For an entire hull applying the gelcoat with an appropriate spray gun often works best. Then lightly sand and buff smooth.
Any idea why they epoxied the hull? Hidden damage?.
The other idea is to keep in mind that it is a boat and not a fine piece of furniture. Take it out on the water and enjoy.
If you had a plastic boat, none of this would be a problem… Just sayin’
Ultimately, what will you be happy with? Are you going to look at a splotchy finish and be annoyed or content? It’s really a personal preference. Since it is your time, effort and money, that is the only vote that matters.
I am not aware of any way to remove cured epoxy other than sanding it off. I have removed epoxy materials from a gel coated hull without going through the gel coat and then just wet sanded and buffed the gel coat and got a pretty good result. But it was just the hull bottom, not the entire hull and it certainly does take some time and care.
You’re in Virginia
What else do you have to do?
Make it pretty
Thanks. There are some little problem areas on the hull under the epoxy from what I can tell, but nothing that couldn’t be easily be patched and sanded. I’ve never tried spraying gel coat, I might have to look into it!
I hear you on just getting it in the water, but for the time being its freezing out and this is a fun project!
TRUE, but if I didn’t have this fun fiberglass project, I’d have to work on the 50 other house projects on my list!
If you leave the epoxy exposed, UV exposure will degrade it and it will look like crap. If the goal is a nice looking boat, you either have to remove it or cover it with gelcoat or paint.
I would sand it and paint it. 100 grit then finish with 220. the roughness gives the paint something to stick to.
Epoxy gets soft when you heat it. I have taken apart epoxied boat parts many times. Use a heat gun moving across an area. You don’t want to get heat too uneven, too hot or too small an area. Then scrape off with five in one tool. It is stronger than a putty knife.
Depends upon thickness whether sanding or heat. Thin and flakie…sand.
Hadn’t thought of this and have been looking for an excuse to buy a heat gun. Thanks for the tip.
Heat can also damage the underlying layup.
Yup keep it wet and you don’t have to look at it.
A quick update on the progress:
I bought a heat gun and scraper as suggested. With the heat applied I could remove small areas of the epoxy without major issue, but when I tried to remove thicker, more stubborn areas, I’d just end up gouging and scraping the gel coat underneath. I wouldn’t recommend this method trying to clean up a lot of surface area of old gel coat.
I did notice that areas where I had previously left the chemical stripper on the hull the longest, there was the least amount of residual epoxy, so I thought I’d give stripping one last try. This time, I used double the chemical and left it on for about 30 hours.
The result? More epoxy was removed, but not even close to all of it. And the thick areas left now have a rough mottling from the chemical reaction. Unfortunately, the stripper finally ate into the gel coat in some small areas, not completely, but enough to leave the same mottled textured.
Aside from a deep rough sanding and the full reapplication of gel coat, Im not sure there’s anything to do to make her pretty again. That probably won’t happen, so I might wipe it down and finally get it wet!
Thanks for the advice everyone.
I have never understood the allure of gelcoat. It is not easy to repair or work with.
Sand it and paint it or this canoe will become your new career.