Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Installing Skid Plates

Putting a skid plate on your kayak or canoe is not a difficult task, but having done a lot of fiberglass work, perhaps I can offer a couple suggestions for making the job easier and neater.

If anyone has thought of doing a skid plate, or attempting any other project, but shrunk away for fear of making a mess of your canoe or kayak, or botching the job, let me boost your confidence. With a little thought, some research, and a bit of planning, you can do as good a job as any professional, and better than most. The difference in his job and yours is not in quality as much as it is in time. The professional can’t spend all day doing a job to perfection. To stay in business, he has to keep shoving the work out the door. We, on the other hand, can take as much time as we need. We have the luxury of concentrating on the perfection that suits our pride in our boats rather than keeping man-hours to a minimum. The pro does have the advantage of experience and some tricks he’s learned, but with proper preparation, we can accomplish the same result or better.

A professionally installed skid plate.
I’m not identifying the canoe builder that I had install my skid plates on one canoe. I do not want to embarrass anyone, but rather stress that you can accomplish professional results in your own shop or garage. Here’s the story.

When I ordered the canoe, the builder asked if I wanted him to install skid plates on the canoe. I usually do such work myself, but was pushing to get ready for a trip, and time was an issue. He had all the materials on hand, where it would take a week for me to order the skid plate kit and receive it, so I told him to deliver the canoe with the skid plates installed. He used a skid plate kit he obtained from North West Canoe. (Link below)
Buddy, with the completed skid plate.

I also wanted to put epoxy and Kevlar skid plates on my Hornbeck 14, so I later ordered the appropriate kit from the same supplier. You can compare the pictures of the installation jobs and make your own decisions. North West Canoe sends excellent installation instructions with the kit, but with some additions and more explanation that I feel may be beneficial, here are the steps.

1. Select the appropriate skid plate kit. The ‘Repair and Maintenance’ page in the link above explains which kit matches what type of canoe or kayak, whether a composite hull with a fine entry, or a broader-stemmed bow regardless of whether it is on fiberglass, wood, Royalex, or polyethylene. The kit will give you two Kevlar felt plates, two cans of epoxy, parts A & B, and a brush, rubber gloves, and sandpaper. What you will need to also have on hand includes a pencil or felt marker, a 48 X 24” piece of cardboard with plastic over it, clean rags, making tape, denatured alcohol or dewaxer, acetone, talcum powder, and 2“ cellophane strapping tape.
2. Pick a work area away from ignition sources and good ventilation, and a day that will hold 50-degree temperatures to make the epoxy cure. The optimum temperature is 70F, and the warmer it is, the faster the epoxy will cure, and the faster you must work to finish before it begins to cure.. Invert the boat on sawhorses and cover the floor with plastic or newspaper. Clean the hull of dirt, grease, or oil (Dawn or Simple Green), and alcohol, and I would recommend using a dewaxer as well. West Marine, Interlux, and other paint retailers carry cleaner/dewaxers. This removes the mould-release wax the builder uses to pop the hull out of the mould, and is critical for complete adhesion.
Marking and taping the installation location.

3. Position the dry felt on the stem, and when it’s where you want it, tack it in place with a couple pieces of masking tape. Draw a line around the felt. Allow room around the edges, as the felt will spread as it is worked, mostly in length. (About 3/8” on either side and 1 ½” to either end.) You can use a pencil, but I use Magic Marker, because when I clean up the edges of the epoxy later, the acetone will remove all the marks and not leave pencil lines.

4. Remove the felts and apply masking tape around the perimeter of the outlines you have drawn. Over this tape, tape a skirt surrounding the application area and covering the hull. This is to catch any drips or spatters of epoxy, and may be of newspaper, plastic, brown shopping bags, etc.  Take a piece of about 80-grit sandpaper, and sand the area about to be covered.  This is just to remove the gloss and provide a slightly roughened surface for mechanical attachment by the expoxy.  Don't assume that sanding will make dewaxing unnecessary.  Sanding in that case will just smear the wax around and make removal more difficult.
Surrounding the work area with a paper skirt.
5. When you are absolutely certain everything is ready to go, you can mix the epoxy and start the clock. North West’s directions tell you to dump all of parts A & B together at once. I’d recommend against this for three reasons. The resin and catalyst are mixed at a ration of 3:1. Since we know the ratio, instead of mixing by the can-full, we can mix any smaller quantity at the same ratio.

No. 1 - Mixing in smaller quantities, like in a clean tuna fish can, especially if you haven’t done a lot of fiberglassing, gives you much more time. You can work one skid plate at a time. Mixing everything together means you have to complete the entire job before it starts of fire off. Also, if you accidentally drop the can of mixed epoxy, you’re screwed. If you have only a small amount mixed, just mix another batch.

No. 2 - Curing is a chemical reaction. When you mix large quantities, you generate more heat, which makes the cure happen much more quickly. This again cuts down your working time, called pot life, or how soon the whole pot fires off and ends the job whether your work is completed or not. Also, if you do mix larger quantities, be sure not to set the mix down and walk off and leave it. It can get hot enough to ignite and cause a fire. Regardless of the size, when I’m done, I always set the can outside until it has cured.

No. 3 - Kevlar felt will often leave a rough finish. Using small mixes will usually leave a small amount that you can mix at the end and brush on as a dress coat.

Continued in the next post.


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