By Tom Burden
We’re leading off this Advisor with a section about organic chemical vapors because we’ve learned a lot about how they affect the human body since the first West Advisors were written, and none of the news is good. Only a few years ago we thought it was OK to work all day bathed in fumes, wash our hands in acetone and go home to dinner.
Now we know to protect ourselves with disposable gloves and vapor-absorbing filters, and to wear coveralls and head socks to keep dust and spatters off our bodies. If you are about to begin a project and these things are unfamiliar to you, check them out in our catalog or web site.
Follow this rule of caution, especially when using two-part paints: If you can smell it, you need more fresh air or the next higher grade of respirator mask.
We at West Marine—along with our paint and maintenance equipment and supplies manufacturers—are eager to see that you get the best possible results from the products we carry. You will find basic hints here in the West Advisors. For more specialized tasks, such as repairing blisters or heavily damaged areas of your boat, see the broad range of books and videos listed in our catalog or available on this website.
We have handbooks and manuals from many of our suppliers that we are happy to send you at no charge. Interlux’s Boat Paint Guide and Color Chart (Model 5422381) and Pettit’s Boat Painting Guide (Model 10484244) are two examples, available for free download below. Also, several of our major paint suppliers list toll-free phone numbers that you can call during business hours for help. And finally, of course, our West Marine Product Advisors are available by phone Monday through Friday, 6am–5pm (Pacific Time) at 1-800-BOATING (1-800-262-8464).
One-part polyurethane: by far the most popular choice, and the one we recommend most highly. We consider it ideal for do-it-yourselfers who can achieve near-professional results with a brush or roller. And even though it’s not quite as hard or durable as two-part polyurethanes, many professional painters find it close enough in appearance that they prefer it to all other enamels. Look at Pettit Easypoxy, Interlux Brightside or West Marine SeaGloss Pro.
Two-part polyurethane: second in sales, this is the hardest, highest-gloss, most durable paint available. Some can be brushed or rolled but others must be sprayed. More attention is required for surface preparation and priming than for one-part polys, and they are generally more toxic, especially when sprayed. Examples are Awlgrip, usually applied by professionals, and the simpler Interlux Perfection and Pettit EZ Poxy2.
Some two-part polyurethanes lift oil-based paints, so check for compatibility with the paint that’s now on your boat. We tend not to recommend this to recreational boaters; manufacturers recommend application by professionals only. So if you decide to go it alone, at the very least, visit the manufacturer’s website and follow their advice to the letter.
Alkyd enamel: this traditional oil-based paint is easiest for the amateur to apply using a brush. Still very popular, it is more compatible with underlying surfaces, more economical and doesn’t require as much fuss as polyurethanes; however gloss and color retention are lower. For the traditionally-planked wood boat, alkyd enamel, like Z-Spar Marine Enamel, is a good choice for dealing with the expansion and contraction of wood. Its oils are also chemically compatible with the wood’s natural oils.
Paint chemistry has become enormously more complicated since the days when all that was required was to grind up some pigment and mix it with oil and thinner. Today’s paints are far brighter, tougher and more durable than those of even a few years ago. But there is a price to pay for these advances that isn’t just monetary: they require that we pay far greater attention to how we use them if we‘re to get the maximum benefit from these paints. Applying a paint today, whether brushing, rolling or spraying, is only the final step in an elaborate chemical process.
Manufacturers have clearly detailed what the preliminary and intermediate steps are. So read the instructions, making sure to have exactly the right products on hand to complete the step-by-step process. (Caution: you can always find people around boatyards who will tell you to take shortcuts, like substituting materials or painting when it is colder or hotter than recommended. Our advice is to tell them to demonstrate their pet theories on someone else’s boat.)
Experienced painters will tell you that if the surface does not feel smooth to an ungloved hand, putting another coat on top will not fill in the surface imperfections or improve it. Careful and thorough preparation from the start and during each successive step is the secret to professional-looking results. And preparation, in many instances, is just another word for having the right supplies. You need an abundant supply of the proper grades of sandpaper, the exact thinner and wiping solvent recommended by the manufacturer and lots and lots of clean rags to make the job go quickly and pleasantly and to help you achieve a superior final result.
Applying by brush: use the largest brush that is practical for the job. Long flexible bristles, like those on our Flagship Badger brushes, are best for gloss paints. When applying by brush, a good technique is the “criss-cross method.” Paint is applied to the surface with a diagonal brushing action from the left and right (Step 1). This is then spread further with horizontal strokes (Step 2) before finally “laying off” with light vertical strokes (Step 3). This results in any brush marks being able to flow out to give the most even finish.
Note: we have had good results applying marine enamels using a disposable foam brush (especially when performing small touch-up jobs). The main benefit of this technique is that you do not need to clean brushes using multiple buckets of gradually cleaner solvents.
Applying with brush and roller: you can get a good gloss finish using a solvent-resistant, high-density closed cell size foam roller. This minimizes the formation of bubbles in the surface that can occur with mohair and large cell foam rollers. The paint applied will be thinner, so more coats will be needed.
Using this method, otherwise called the “roll and tip method,” involves using the roller to apply paint to the surface, followed with the brush, which is used to create a smooth, even surface by “tipping off.” This method works particularly well when two painters work side by side. While many traditional painters apply topside finishes by tipping off horizontally, we think most “do-it-yourself” painters will achieve better results using the three-step method we described above.