If you are allergic to dust, don’t even think about restoring an old boat. It seems like we have been sanding on Daydream for years. My daughter has tackled the outside. She recently completed sanding the topside and is now busy on the bottom. For a break, she sands the deck.
I’ve been sanding on the inside. I had this brilliant idea about a quick way to make the walls of the v-berth look good. After cleaning off the mold and old adhesive, I thought it would be a great idea to put a skim coat of epoxy filler on the walls. It would then be a quick job to sand the filler and have it ready for paint, right? Wrong!
The filler went on easy enough but the sanding was anything but easy. Lying on my back in the v-berth, holding the sander above my head while wearing goggles and a dust mask wasn’t the fun I imagined it would be.
The other problem is that as one area is finished, the area next to it looks worse by comparison. Case in point: the headliner is a one piece molded fiberglass unit. After 40 years of people screwing all manner of brackets and fittings in different areas, we decided that we had to sand it and paint it. After filling all the holes with epoxy filler, that is.
In any case, I thought that it might be interesting to describe our sanding crew to you, just in case you have an overwhelming desire to go out and restore an old boat.
The Sanding Crew
We probably have almost every kind of sander on the market, including the two big Porter-Cable random orbital sanders we still can’t find. The senior member of our team is the four inch right angle grinder. Not technically a sander, it does the really heavy duty stuff. Things like grinding off old thru-hull fittings and tapering holes in the hull for patching. You need to have a good grip on this guy when you turn it on and to keep control as it will remove material rapidly, skin included.
The next team member, in terms of material removal, is the Makita belt sander. I had suffered with a popular brand of belt sander for years, cursing the difficulty of adjusting the belt tracking set-up as well as the noise and vibration. In fact, I had given up on belt sanders in general. Then I had a job that could only be accomplished a belt sander and went looking for a new one. I ended up purchasing the 3” x 19” (belt size) Makita
What a difference! This tool adjusts easily, the belt tracks well and it’s quiet (for a belt sander) and vibration free. I use this guy for heavy duty fairing jobs, such as sanding down the hull and deck patches. You need a good grip on the guy, too. Especially if you have just put on a new belt. It’ll pull you off the ladder if you’re not careful. Remember the belt sander scene in Captain Ron?
Speaking of belts, I usually have an 80-grit belt on this guy as I use mainly for rough fairing.
The most useful member of the sanding team is probably the five inch Ryobi random orbital sander. It is well balanced and easy to hold, with a comfortable grip. Armed with 80-grit sanding discs and a vacuum attached, this guy has sanded all the topside, part of the deck and is working on the bottom now. Disc life is about double that of the five inch DeWalt random orbital sander.
Speaking of which, this guy is relegated to the second string. The DeWalt doesn’t sand as fast or as well as the Ryobi. For some reason the discs don’t last nearly as long on this sander as the same diameter Ryobi. First one at the boat gets dibs on the Ryobi, the other gets the DeWalt.
Newest member of the team and our new favorite is the Ryobi battery powered corner sanding. No I have used a host of corner sanders and have found them largely ineffective. This guy came as part of a battery powered kit and I didn't hold out much hope for it. Boy was I surprised! This thing does a great job of getting into tight corners where the only other option is hand sanding. Battery life is surprisingly good; however we always take a good supply of freshly charged 18-volt batteries along with us.
The remaining sanders are on our backup team, used less often or for more specialized jobs. One of these is a cheap corded drill with a flapper style sanding wheel chucked up. It does a good job in places where the other tools can’t reach. We bought the corded drill as the battery powered drills don’t turn fast enough to work with the flapper wheel.
Our trusty Dremel tool is also on the second string. Used with a miniature flapper wheel, it can get into tight spaces and sands aggressively. The Dremel is a multi team player as we also use it for a host of other tasks, including heavy duty metal and fiberglass cutting. That’s another story though.
Essential to all these tools are the different styles of sanding media. Discs, belts, flapper wheels and sheet sand paper all have their places. For most rough jobs, 80-grit is the weapon of choice. As we get into finishing work, we’ll also start using 100, 150, 220 and 320 grit media.
We have found a big difference in effectiveness between the various brands of sanding media. Generally speaking, we try to stay with a name brand sanding media, such as Norton, rather than buying lower cost items. Experiment and see which product works best on the sanding job you are doing. As I mentioned, we have found differences in performance between the various brands.
The other thing that we have realized is that life is too short to sand with dull sandpaper. It may cost a little more but changing sandpaper more often usually speeds up the process and makes the person doing the sanding happier.
The Supporting Team
I left out a group from the supporting team. Successful sanding couldn’t take place without the supporting services of the dust masks, respirators, goggles and safety glasses, vacuum cleaners and bunny suits.
Another important aspect of working in these warmer temperatures is proper hydration. Be sure to bring along plenty of water to drink and a salty snack or two. It’s hot inside the boat or when working in a bunny suit and respirator. With as much fun as you’ll be having sanding, it’s best to avoid heat stroke.
The team picture: Left to right, Dremel with flapper wheel, DeWalt random orbital sander, Ryobi random orbital sander, no-name corded drill with flapper wheel, Makita belt sander, right angle grinder.
This guy missed the team picture, It’s the Ryobi corner sander.