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Thread: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

  1. #1
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    Default Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    I just purchased a wooden Dinghy Pram. According to the guy I bought her from, she was built in the 1930s (named Pequod after Moby Dick boat). Considering its age, it's in pretty good shape. Don't see rot, no major cracks, and all seams seem tight. The current stain/varnish is flaking and cracking in areas, and there are a fair amount of small scuffs in the varnish that expose bare wood. I am thinking that she needs to be stripped and/or sanded down and refinished. Construction seems to be a mix of woods but mostly oak and ply with brass screws

    I have a 1.5 acre pond, and the boat is meant for the sole purpose of rowing around, having lunch on the pond, etc. Not heavy use, all freshwater.

    I am new to working on boats of any kind. So I have a few questions:

    1) from the images, do you think she needs to be completely stripped and refinished? I love the current stain color, and don't mind the boat looking a bit aged, but I don't want it to rot out, is there a way to simply do "touchups" - or to restain and clear coat without sanding down to bare wood?
    2) as far as storing the boat, do I need to take it in and out of the water every use? I'd like to leave it in a semi-covered area outside with a custom canvas or nylon cover. Bad idea?
    3) If I do indeed need to streip and refinish completely, don't particularly love high-sheen finishes, and I'd like the process to be as simple as possible-- so I was thinking of using Deks Olje D1, but if I use that I can't stain it beforehand right? Better alternatives?
    s-l1600.jpgs-l1600-1.jpgs-l1600-2.jpgs-l1600-5.jpgs-l1600-3.jpg

    Would love any thoughts/pointers/insights from the community on how to best care for her without a massive amount of "work".
    Thanks!!!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    Cute little pram in very nice original condition.

    1) from the images, do you think she needs to be completely stripped and refinished? I love the current stain color, and don't mind the boat looking a bit aged, but I don't want it to rot out, is there a way to simply do "touchups" - or to restain and clear coat without sanding down to bare wood?

    Given you intended interest and use I see no need to strip her to bare wood. I would give her a careful but thorough sanding with #120 paper to remove a good bit of the original thickness of varnish (but don't go though the existing varnish), then give her 2 - 3 coats of an oil based varnish with a #150 or #220 sanding between coats (matt, satin, and semi-gloss varnishes are available). This will preserve her 'look' and patina, but give her a new finish. The original varnish has lead, so use at least a decent dust mask, and vacuum up the sanding dust.
    ----- This would be treating her more like a piece of furniture than a boat intended for long term in the water.




    2) as far as storing the boat, do I need to take it in and out of the water every use? I'd like to leave it in a semi-covered area outside with a custom canvas or nylon cover. Bad idea?

    More than a couple of days at a time in the water and you will most likely be asking for trouble with water staining of the wood.



    3) If I do indeed need to streip and refinish completely, don't particularly love high-sheen finishes, and I'd like the process to be as simple as possible-- so I was thinking of using Deks Olje D1, but if I use that I can't stain it beforehand right? Better alternatives?

    See my thoughts in #1 above.





  3. #3
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    That is a nice dinghy! It looks to be about six feet in length? You could set it up with a sailing rig if you wish. Here is mine that is six feet LOA.

    From the pictures it looks as though the finish is in pretty good condition with the exception of the small areas that are bare. The use of a card/French scraper would allow you to get down to new wood and feather into the existing finish. There are many examples of how to do this on Utube. Washing the boat with a good laundry detergent, like Dawn, and a scrubby will remove any oil based dirt and will lessen the clogging of the 120 grit sand paper that would be best for putting a "tooth" on the existing finish. It would be a good idea to apply, at least, four coats of good quality spar varnish to the boat after building up four coats on the bare areas. After the first coat dries, 220 grit sandpaper will be ok to use between coats.
    Jay

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    A plywood boat from the 1930’s?? That’d have to be a pretty rare thing I’d imagine, particularly surviving that long given that plywood back then was for industrial use so possibly unlikely to have used a marine grade glue. Nice find and nice little boat.
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  5. #5
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    What a clever seat arrangement ! Pop it out, drop it back in .
    Yea, I have doubts she is older than the 50's .

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    Quote Originally Posted by wizbang 13 View Post
    What a clever seat arrangement ! Pop it out, drop it back in .
    Yea, I have doubts she is older than the 50's .
    Yeah as far as age, all I have is the info from the guy I bought it from, so it very well could be newer than the 30s.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    Quote Originally Posted by nedL View Post
    Cute little pram in very nice original condition.



    Thanks for the quick reply and advice! I think that's exactly what I'll do, I'll be sure to post followup pics. Also, VERY good point regarding lead in the existing varnish.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    [QUOTE=Jay Greer;5587974]That is a nice dinghy! It looks to be about six feet in length? You could set it up with a sailing rig if you wish. Here is mine that is six feet LOA.

    From the pictures it looks as though the finish is in pretty good condition with the exception of the small areas that are bare. The use of a card/French scraper would allow you to get down to new wood and feather into the existing finish. There are many examples of how to do this on Utube. Washing the boat with a good laundry detergent, like Dawn, and a scrubby will remove any oil based dirt and will lessen the clogging of the 120 grit sand paper that would be best for putting a "tooth" on the existing finish. It would be a good idea to apply, at least, four coats of good quality spar varnish to the boat after building up four coats on the bare areas. After the first coat dries, 220 grit sandpaper will be ok to use between coats.
    Jay
    /QUOTE]

    Thanks for the pointers Jay, and what a gorgeous little dinghy you've got. I don't think i'll catch much wind in the pond as it's surrounded by a fair bit of forest, but I love the idea of a sail. Any specific Spar Varnish you'd recommend?

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    This looks very similar to the 8' fishing prams built and used by west coast salmon and steelhead fishermen. The original plans came from something like "General Plywood Co" in the '50s. They were trying to expose the home hobbiest to the virtues of this new product (plywood) through magazines like Popular Mechanics etc.
    Hundreds of these prams have been built and fished for decades. They are especially suited to fly-fishing because they are very stable; you can stand and cast all day in them.
    I have spent literally thousands of hours fishing from mine for 35 years, and as I said here once before, if I told you how many fish I've caught from that little boat, you'd call me a liar... ;-)
    pvg

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    The varnish I use is no longer made as the EPA does not like it. Behr Spar Varnish was the best of the varnishes that still were made from natural oils and resins. I still have a few cans but when I run out, I will try Epifanes which seems to get a lot of rave reviews on this forum.
    Do post a picture when you are done.

    Our little dinghy has two extra runners on either side of the center keel batten. These allow the boat to sit level when out of the water and protect the paint when hauling it out on the hard.
    Jay

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    I don’t find this to be too bad where I don’t want a high gloss
    Attached Images Attached Images

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    And this for my gloss bright work.

    (sorry about the sideways pictures)

    ........and not really endorsing either of these, there are lots of acceptable varnishes out there, and everyone has their ‘go to’.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by nedL; 06-13-2018 at 06:21 AM.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    Quote Originally Posted by dmerc1 View Post
    Thanks for the quick reply and advice! I think that's exactly what I'll do, I'll be sure to post followup pics. Also, VERY good point regarding lead in the existing varnish.
    Ned usually knows his stuff, but maybe he was thinking of paint. As far as I know, there is no "lead" in varnish... ever. The "lead" in "lead paint" is white or red lead oxide used for pigment. Varnish has no pigment in it. It's clear. Any paint from the 1930's would very likely contain white lead pigment. White lead pigment was used to color white paint. Colors added gave the white paint its color. No pigment in the paint should mean no lead oxide in the paint.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Restoring Antique Wooden Dinghy

    "Captain's Varnish" is excellent and I've used it for years. It's one of the best oil-based varnishes still available. (WestMarine's house brand, "Skipper's Varnish" appears to be identical to "Captain's" and is often on sale at a much lower price point.) You won't find these varnishes in the hardware or paint store unless you are lucky enough to live in one of those "backward" states that hasn't yet outlawed most all oil based paints and varnishes. You have to get good varnish from the chandleries because there is an exception for marine-use stuff that exceeds the minimum VOC content. Look for the "boat on the can." and the word "marine" in the name. You can get it from WestMarine, Defender, or Hamilton Marine mail order. Due to stupid regulations, in a lot of states, it can only be purchased in quart cans, the thinking of the powers that be is that this reduces pollution because if you buy it by the quart, there will be less left-over varnish for people to throw away. (I'm not kidding here!) Epiphanes is a great varnish, some say, but I have found it rather difficult to use and have had drying and shrinking problems with it in the past, even when using their very expensive proprietary thinner.

    I am not a fan of "satin finish" or "semi-gloss" varnish. It is nothing more than regular varnish with "dirt" in it which dulls the finish. The flattening agent must continually be kept in suspension during application by regular stirring or it will settle to the bottom of the container. To the extent it settles, the varnish on top of the settled flattening agent will be glossy. I've seen more than one person buy a can of "satin sheen" varnish and use half of it without stirring and get a gloss finish and return the can to the chandlery complaining it was mislabeled. Incomplete mixing will also result in an uneven finish with some areas more glossy than the rest and others flatter than the rest.

    Also, beware of "satin" or "semi-gloss" varnishes, even ones that claim to be for marine use. Low gloss varnishes are intended to mimic a "hand-rubbed" finish that has been rubbed with pumice or rottenstone. That is more work than otherwise and the "canned" lower gloss products save time but are not intended for outdoor use. They are solely for finishing interior surfaces not exposed to sunlight. They usually do not contain UV inhibitors and will degrade quickly in sunlight. Even used below on a boat, there will likely be one area where the sun shines in through a window or portlight and that will destroy the area where the suns hits below, leaving the rest unscathed. (Curtains are a must.)

    In normal use, a high glass varnish finish will dull some over time in any event and the super-high gloss won't be present anymore. You can also knock the high gloss down with a fine Scotch-Brite abrasive pad.

    Even with UV inhibitors, a good varnish finish left uncovered in full sunlight will require recoating every four to six months. Frankly, while I understand you like the look of the varnished finish on the boat, if you intend to leave it outdoors, even just during the summer months. you'd be doing yourself and the boat a big favor by painting it a light color inside and out. If you want a bit of "brightwork," you can always leave rails and seats varnished, but these are still going to need to re-varnish regularly to prevent UV degradation.

    A pram such as you have there, built of plywood even as recently as the late 'sixties, and with brass fastenings, even in fresh water, will probably not last very long at all if left in the water and/or out in the elements continuously. (It is only in later decades that better adhesives have been developed. At the time the boat was built, it's quite likely the adhesive used to make the plywood was not sufficiently "waterproof," (although nothing ever proves to be waterproof over time, it seems. ) Plywood of that era was famous for delaminating if subjected to repeated wetting and drying cycles. A cover may keep the sun off of it, but may provide a warm, moist environment perfectly suited for decay fungus to run rampant. This is a boat that is intended to be launched, used and brought ashore and primarily stored indoors. That's why it's lasted as long as it has. Today's plywood boats are coated with epoxy sheathing and even that doesn't preserve them as long as their owners would like. If finished bright, they have to be varnished over the epoxy with a UV resistant barrier because epoxy alone has very little resistance to UV degradation. So, when somebody who thinks that epoxy-sheathed plywood boats are the cat's meow gives you advice about your boat, take it with a grain of salt because they are talking about a "modern" plywood technology, which your boat decidedly is not.
    Last edited by Bob Cleek; 06-13-2018 at 05:22 PM.

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