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Thread: RED/ WHITE LEAD, OR NOT ?????

  1. #1
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    Question

    Hi Readers,
    And thanks Editor for the facility!
    I am in the throws of some mainly cosmetic repairs to an old Logan Launch (circa 1905) in Auckland, New Zealand and look to this community for some knowledge!
    My boat has been well preserved with Red Lead, and I look to spending a life time maintaining and enjoying this boat with my kids. In doing a net search for suppliers of Red Lead I have been well cautioned to it's dangers, hence my queries.

    Why was Red Lead Paint used widely in wooden boat manufacture traditionally? was it just redily availably and effective?
    Are there alternatives to Red Lead specifically for adhering canvas to the cabin tops, adding to linseed oil putty for caulking purposes, priming hull and bilges, any general timber priming?
    I have read in a number of sources to add Red and White Lead Powder to the linseed oil putty used for caulking depending whether adove or below the water line, what purpose does the lead perform?

    (paulwalden@maxnet.co.nz)

    Thanks to All!

  2. #2
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    another kiwi!. Hello.

    Fosters has it I think. the reason for it? it's poisonous and it kills the bad things. and it tries to kill the good things too.
    There are many theories and reasons put as to why old NZ boats last so long without serious restoration.
    One is the Kauri.
    One is the building methods including the absence of iron frames or fastenings and another would be the use of red and white lead as a preservative paint.
    I think that its a blend of them all myself.

    where's the boat? out at a yard?

  3. #3
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    Hi John,
    Thanks for your reply, so close yet so far away!
    The boat is at home on Waiheke Island. It is a 28' double ender Harold Kidd thinks that she was originally called "NAMU" built for JLR Bloomfield who later traded her to buy "THELMA" from Jagger Bros (1911).
    Thanks for your interest and tip re Fosters.
    Do you use Red lead on Waione?
    Thanks Paul

  4. #4
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    For what it's worth, on a different continent and different coast, I have a 28' double-ended fishing boat built in 1924 with red lead everywhere. She's in great shap--unlike many, many younger wooden boats--and, while the red lead is nasty stuff, it acts as a great primer/undercoat.

  5. #5
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    Thanks Dave!

  6. #6
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    Probably not as much as I should Paul. I'd have to consider it if we stripped back to bare wood I suppose.
    She's at Putiki bay ? whats the name of the boat now?

  7. #7
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    While you islanders are renewing old school ties I'll interject that the results of ingestion of heavy metal compounds is cumulative. A lethal dose can be acquired over a very long period of time.
    Charlie

  8. #8
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    Yes, steak makes a better dinner.

    Save the red lead for the boat.

    Although the Romans drank it in their wine, lead doesn't taste particularly good anyway... Many of the old boatbuilders who used it constantly lived well into their nineties. But they knew enough not to wallow in the stuff; some worked wearing a waistcoat and tie, so they were pretty careful with their paint work.

    Alan

    [ 09-17-2004, 12:06 PM: Message edited by: Alan D. Hyde ]

  9. #9
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    Would be mighty grateful if someone presents the recipe for linseed oil putty for caulking purposes.

    A very experienced boat carpenter at my club has strongly advised against using Sikaflex for caulking between plank seams, in lieu of traditional linseed oil putty.

    Thanks

  10. #10
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    Putty is pretty simple stuff. Take yerself a gallon of Kirby's white lead paint and a pound of whiting (available at any decent paint store). Pour a little of the white lead paint in a tuna fish can. Add the whiting and stir until you get to a consistency you can hold in your hand. (Peanut butter) Then add the whiting to the blob in your hand and work it like, well... like putty, until you get to the right putty consistency, squishing it like modeling clay. Work off the wad in your hand. The warmth of your hand will make the putty soft. Add a bit of whiting every so often when the linseed oil (which is in the paint) starts to surface in the ball of putty in your hand. It should be dry, like when you put flour on a ball of bread dough. Simple as that. Whiting is inert and won't hurt you. The white lead is in the paint already. Wash your hands before eating and when you are done. Don't eat the putty or drink the white lead paint. Wear a good mask if and when you sand it and clean up afterwards... don't breathe the sanding dust.

    That's about it.

  11. #11
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    Hello All,
    And thanks for your interest and comments, much appreciated!
    John, "Lady June" (since the 1940's) has been transported to Onetangi.
    Chuck,Alan, thanks for the warning, the conclusion that I am arriving at is that there is probably no real alternative to the Red Lead but good work practise and care will be required whilst removing and re applying!
    Carioca, I have strong reservations with using Sikaflex and further see no point when Linseed putty has survived almost 100 years on my boat! (well tried and tested) however I am trying to determine what additives were used in the putty, I am told that Red Lead powder was added to the putty below the waterline and white lead to the putty above also what quantities and what function it performs. I believe that it stops the putty from drying out, is this true? any feed back on this appreciated!!!! .
    Bob, Thanks for the recipe, any ideas with the Lead additives.

    Thanks Paul

  12. #12
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    I always thought that white lead putty above the waterline / red below was because boats are often painted white on the topsides with red (or at least a darker color) bottom paint.

    I'd make sure to wear gloves while kneading white lead putty. No need to be fanatical, but it's hard to wash absolutely all of anything off your skin, and lead exposure is cumulative. Too much of the stuff, any you'll start posting to the political threads in the bilge!

    And fer God's sake don't use polyurethane (Sikaflex, 3M 5200 or =) in the seams. Whoever has to deal with it later will regret it.

    [ 09-17-2004, 12:10 PM: Message edited by: Keith Wilson ]

  13. #13
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    I have the same question as Kiwibob: Does the lead make the putty stay soft? There must be some reason for the lead to be used. Of course, we´re told that linseed oil is food for micro organisms and lead makes it less tasteful. But is that a real problem, especially where the putty stays mostly in the water without much oxygen? The Chemist would be most welcome to answer these questions but he does´nt seem to be around anymore (sigh)...

  14. #14
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    Jorma,
    Red and white lead are normally produced as powders. Because they are stable they can be mixed with liquids to form putties or paints. The only reason they are used in marine applications rather than some other powders is they are poisonous to the microbes found in marine environments. Unfortunately, they are also poisonous to us.
    So, lead compounds don't make better putty. They make poisonous putty. and because they are poisonous they are long lasting.
    In America white lead was the favorite pigment for making white housepaint for centuries. But in rural areas barns were always painted with
    iron oxide red because it would not harm farm animals. It was only in recent decades that our government decided that humans should be protected from lead as well as livestock.
    Charlie

  15. #15
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    Thanks Charlie. I assume that both white and red lead were originally used as pigmnets only, i.e. for coloring purposes, and that the toxicity was discovered later. There´s no doubt about lead being poisonous. However, one would think that there are other equally (or more) poisonous modern substances that could be used on wood and under the paint film, or in the putty for that matter.

    But who knows. Maybe lead paint is still the ideal way to tame them critters. I still use red lead paint regularly, but the toxicity issue bothers me a bit. In search for alternatives, consider this: www.lignu.com/lignu/tech_info/essay4.php. I had´nt read this explanation about CPES as an undercote before. Makes some interesting reading.

  16. #16
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    Note that Kiwibob and Keith Wilson are all for linseed oil putty.

    Polyurethane-based caulking products (Sikaflex, 3M 5200 etc) BELOW THE WATER LINE suffer deterioration from diesel fuel and emulsified oil in the surrounding water.

    The senior boat carpenter at the club (Mr Manolo, from Galícia, Spain) suggested the following for "linseed oil putty":

    1. "alvahyde" powdebr /> 2. "gesso cré" powder
    3. linseed oil

    all "mushed up", with items 1 and 2 in equal proportions, so as to form a putty-like susbtance.

    As his vintage exceeds mine by a couple of deacades, items 1 and 2 sound like Greek to me !!

    When I find out what items 1 and 2 are, I hope to give Bob Cleek feed back on this subject.

    Thanks to all

  17. #17
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    Originally posted by Cuyahoga Chuck:
    …barns were always painted with
    iron oxide red because it would not harm farm animals. It was only in recent decades that our government decided that humans should be protected from lead as well as livestock.
    Barns were painted with paints using iron oxides for pigment for one reason (and it didn't have anything to do with the critter's health).

    Farmer's, being the thrifty lot they are — margins have never been anything but slim in that business — painted barns with iron oxide paint for one reason: it's CHEAP and readily available.

  18. #18
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    Nicholas is right.

    And, a wealthy New England farmer, as a display of his prosperity, might paint a barn white.

    Wood that was liable to be chewed--- stalls and soforth, was either not painted or was whitewashed.

    Alan

    [ 09-20-2004, 04:27 PM: Message edited by: Alan D. Hyde ]

  19. #19
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    To Carioca:
    In Mr. Manolo´s formula "alvahyde" is a mystery but "gesso cré" is calcium sulfate, alias gypsum.

  20. #20
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    You really don't want to use sikaflex or polyanything in those seams. Straight linseed oil putty will do the job, but mixing lead into it makes it harden and keeps the little critters at bay.

    The suggestion about using gloves sounds good until you have a handful of linseed oil putty and are trying to get the lead powder to mix with it. Gloves just don't work.

    Take the putty and keep adding the lead powder to it until you get the consistency you want and a reasonable amount of lead powder in the putty. If the putty is becoming too firm, add a bit of linseed oil. Figure a few tablespoons of powder to a handful of putty if I recall correctly.

    I wouldn't worry about poisoning yourself. I don't lick the bilge or the topsides paint on a boat -- if you do, then Darwin should remove you from the gene pool with the lead! (grin)

    Wash up with linseed oil at first, and then with soap and water. The idea is not to help the putty and lead get through your skin. Still, if you don't do this often, you'll be right.

    Lead is good stuff. Just be sensible.

    Hope that helps.

  21. #21
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    Some years ago I needed to do some seams in my boat below the waterline.Taliesen, with the admired Pardeys, was in port so I asked Larry what he thought about caulking with Sikaflex.After he had corrected my terminology ie you "caulk" with cotton you "pay" with putty or other compound on top,he explained that Taliesen was indeed payed with Sikaflex.The only problem experienced was getting paint to stick on top.So I used it and it has been there ever since.I think the rider to its use is (a) that the wood must be clean and dry with no trace of old oil or putty,which means in effect new wood and (b) as mentioned in an earlier post future work if needed becomes hard.I think the traditional method has a lot going for it.Anyone who has a copy of Claud Worths book "Yacht Cruising" will find recipes for all this type of stuff in the back,its a interesting read.

  22. #22
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    Siandra has sikaflex above the W/L too. It copes with the variations in climate that those guys sail in.

  23. #23
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    - Alvaiade (sounds like "alva-yard") is Lead Oxide, but a similar designation is is also used for Zinc Oxide in this country ;

    - Gesso Cré is NOT Standard Gypsum (Calcium Sulphate) as Jorma Salomaa has guessed, but CALCIUM CARBONATE.

    Lead Oxide would keep critters at bay, but anyone care to comment on Zinc Oxide as a substitute ?

    Gesso Cré makes the putty sticky , as Mr Manolo confirmed this week.

    1. For below-the-waterline putty, above components mixed in equal proportion to linseed oil until the right consistency is achieved.

    2. For above the waterline, just linseed oil and some alvaiade, plus some thinners added to aid drying for paint adherence. DO NOT ADD GESSO CRÉ or otherwise this putty may never dry, ever !

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