Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Cheap, Fun Project

Now that the boat is back in working condition and the topsides are squared away, it's time to turn my attention down below.  The interior was never in bad shape, but it needed a little updating.  The woodstove has been gone since I've owned the boat but I never bothered to patch up the hole in the bulkhead and the steel heat shield that was leftover.  It just looked a bit crappy and wanted to give the interior a more classic look.

The hole in the bulkhead had to be fixed but there weren't that many options that didn't require ripping the entire bulkhead out and replacing with a new one.  After a bunch of googling, I realized that I could simply cover the bulkhead and discovered that beadboard is commonly used in classic wooden yachts.  There were two options, beadboard plywood or real beadboard.  I've never been a huge fan of beadboard plywood and decided that it would be a bit of a pain to cut out and fit a big piece of plywood with lots of crazy angles and curves.

I found some solid pine beadboard at the local hardware store and decided to give it a try. I started in the center of the boat where the bulkhead meets the door to the head.  Using this as the 'straight' line, I measured the length with a tape measure and simply cut the board to fit it.  The boards are only 3/8" thick so it was easy to cut with a Japanese pull saw. Then it was just a matter of cutting the next one at an angle slightly shorter and generally following the contour of the headliner.  I ended up at the chainplate on the outboard edge of the bulkhead.  It didn't have to be perfect because the edges will be covered with a mahogany trim strip.

I really wanted to keep this project cheap because it's entirely cosmetic.  The total cost of the beadboard for both sides of the bulkhead was just $28, but I didn't really have a large supply of wood suitable for trim (ie. mahogany/sapele).  I considered going over to the sawmill to see what I could find, but realized that the old partially rotten cockpit coaming boards that I replaced were sitting on top of my woodpile holding down a tarp and might have some decent wood left in them. 

I cut a chunk out of it and ran it through the thickness planer and found that the wood was still in good shape once I planed off the front and back surfaces.  Excellent, free Honduras mahogany!  I proceeded to plane down the rest of the coamings and then cut out a bunch of 1 inch strips for the trim.

Some of the trim that ran along the cabin headliner needed to be curved so taped up a paper template in the cabin and trimmed it so it fit perfectly along the curves of the headliner.  Then I traced the pattern on a wide piece of the planed mahogany (I planed the old coamings to 3/8") and cut it out with a jig saw.  I took a rasp and rounded over one of the exposed edges and took it back over to the boat for a test fitting.  I was pleased to find that everything fit pretty darn well and I would only need to make some minor adjustments to have a perfect fit.

To finish up, I took all the cut beadboard and gave the front and back a coat of acrylic latex semi-gloss interior paint.  I wanted semi-gloss so it could be easily wiped down, but didn't feel it necessary to spend much money on marine paint.  House paint would do just fine for this since it won't be exposed to anything other than humid conditions.  

I ran out of weekend to get everything re installed, but I'm hoping I'll find some time this week.  My plan is to use some liquid nails on the beadboard backing along with some screws to get it fixed in place. Then I'll put some more paint on before getting the trim installed.


  1. Hi Matt. When reading how you were debating between plywood and solid wood was reminded of something I read in Don Casey's book This Old Boat (paraphrased):
    Why plywood?..plywood is just as common on multi-million dollar yachts whose owners can easily afford the best. It is widely used because it has advantages over solid wood. One advantage is strength..A second advantage is its stability. Wood is hydroscopic meaning it readily takes on and gives up moisture, causing the wood to expand and contract subsequently contracting, checking, cracking and warping.. Moisture content affects the diameter of the wood cells but has little effect on their length, meaning that wood tends to swell in width, not length. Because of this, the cross-grained configuration of plywood makes it much less susceptible to warping etc over solid wood.
    Perhaps you already read this but just in case you haven't...

    1. I have read that passage, but what Don fails to distinguish between is the difference between local home center exterior grade plywood and marine grade plywood (which is what is used on those multi-million dollar yachts). Marine grade plywood generally uses more laminations, uses a different strand orientation than local exterior grade, uses better waterproof glue, and is made with far few voids in the laminates. It is also more expensive than solid wood in some cases. I built my rudder with marine grade plywood and a single sheet cost $200. The bead board plywood in local home centers is not good quality and likely won't even be laminated with waterproof glue so without sealing it really well, it will warp and swell up fast (ask me how I know). That wasn't the show stopper though, the thing that finally swayed me toward solid wood was that it was easier to cut and fit than transferring the curve onto a big sheet of plywood and then wrestling the whole thing into place. With solid wood you need to take into account the wood's movement and if you do so, it won't be any problem. Plywood has only been around for 100 years or so, but we've been making wood boats for a lot longer than that.