Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Phoenix's New Cabin Sole Part 3: Sealed and Protected with Tung Oil

With our teak and white oak cabin sole installed, the next big hurdle was deciding on the type of finish we wanted to use on it. One thing that we knew for sure was that we didn't want anything that would be slippery or with a high gloss finish.

Teak and white oak cabin sole installed and ready to be finished

We've been on many production boats over the years, and slippery cabin soles are a definite no no. We're also not fans of high build finishes on teak -- we want our wood to actually look and feel like wood, not plastic. The aversion to high gloss is more of a personal preference -- we've used a satin finish throughout Phoenix, so a high gloss floor just wouldn't do.

Once upon a time there was an oil-modified urethane that boaters loved called Ultimate Sole; if they still made it, we probably would have used it. We looked into several gym floor finishes that are often used on basketball courts; however, the vast majority are now water based urethane finishes that aren't compatible with oily woods like teak unless you first wipe the wood with acetone, then seal it before finishing -- much more work and expense than we were looking for. Our friends Chuck and Susan recommended a product called Fabulon, which is a bowling alley finish that they were very happy with; however the non-slip bowling alley version is also only available in a high gloss.

There was also the consideration of touching up the wood down the road, and urethane finishes and varnishes aren't very easy to touch up without sanding and stripping. This led us to look at penetrating oils and waxes, and after pulling and reviewing the MSDS for several products we learned that they were simply either carnauba/parrafin cut with solvents or resins, or tung/linseed oil cut with solvents or resins.

In fact, products like Waterlox, "Danish Oil", or "Modified Tung Oil" are really just proprietary "spar varnishes" -- or mixtures of oils (~10% or less), resins (alkyd, phenolic, or urethanes) and solvents (mineral spirits, Naptha, or paint thinner (~60% or more of the formula)).  Most of these finishes are rather pricey, and given the chemical make up, we weren't very impressed. Pretty expensive paint thinner, if you ask us!

Ultimately, we opted to do a traditional tung oil finish (not to be confused with modified tung oils). Tung oil is a polymerizing oil but it needs solvents to penetrate into the wood rather than create a surface film. The main difference between a traditional tung oil finish and a modified finish or spar varnish is that you leave out the resins.

With the help of a solvent (mineral spirits), tung oil will penetrate and polymerize in the wood, giving it a flexible, waterproof finish. It cures to a matte finish, and won't peel or crack like urethanes. Unlike linseed oil, it will not attract mold or go rancid. Plus, touch up is easy -- periodically (maybe once a year for high traffic areas) wipe your tung oil/solvent mix on any worn areas with a lint-free rag.
Tung oil does not have UV inhibitory characteristics, so we wouldn't recommend using it on exterior wood unless you make your own spar varnish and blend it with a resin with UV inhibitors (pigments). However, for interior projects, it met all of our criteria (non-slip, not shiny, easy to apply, easy to care for and touch up, cost effective).

We purchased pure tung oil from Real Milk Paint and mineral spirits from our local hardware store. Real Milk Paint sells a citrus solvent that we would have used if we were living on the boat while finishing it (and we'll probably use this down the road for touch ups), but since we're not there yet, using mineral spirits was less expensive.

The owner of Real Milk Paint suggests a 1:1 ratio of tung oil to solvent for most woods, but a 1:2 ratio for dense woods like teak and white oak. We played with some test pieces before we got started, and decided that a 1:3 ratio of tung oil: mineral spirits gave us excellent penetration without darkening the wood too much.

Application was pretty easy. First, we used a random orbital sander to sand the entire floor with 120 grit paper, then vacuumed, wiped down with mineral spirits, followed by a tack cloth. We purchased a lambs wool applicator that we could attach to a mop handle, poured our tung oil/solvent mixture in a paint tray and mopped it on. The key was to get the maximum amount of tung oil to penetrate the wood in a short period of time -- basically keep the wood wet until it was saturated and would not absorb any more oil. (Safety Precautions: apply in a well ventilated area (exhaust fans in hatches), wear solvent rated masks (not dust masks), wear chemical goggles and nitrile gloves.)

The wood soaked up the first coat of tung oil pretty quickly, roughly 10-15 minutes after it was mopped on. The subsequent coats took longer to absorb, and I periodically mopped more oil on any areas that were absorbing the oil faster than others to get even coverage. Each cabin took 3-4 coats before the wood was saturated (oil remained on the surface and it looked wet/glossy for 45 minutes).

Two coats of tung oil on the foward cabin sole -- wet but not saturated yet

We wiped up the excess oil with old t-shirt material, and periodically went back over the wood with the cloths to mop up any oil that seeped out of the grain for the next 48 hours. We "skated" along the cabin sole with old t-shirts under each foot to make the job easier, and to gently buff the floor.

Excess tung oil wiped off of the forward cabin sole and ready to cure

Given Phoenix's size, we broke the job up into two days. On the first day we finished the head, aft cabin and forward cabin. The following day we tackled the main cabin.

The most difficult part of the process was having the patience to allow the finish to cure. Tung oil cures by oxidation and we needed plenty of ventilation to remove the solvent, so we had fans running to help speed the process. Initial cure is 10 days; with a full cure after 15-30 days, depending on the temperature.

Main cabin


Looking forward from the main cabin

Aft cabin

Hatch boards in the aft cabin

We wore Tyvek booties for a month and were careful to keep excess dirt/debris off of the floor. Once the tung oil had fully cured we were finally ready to get Phoenix out of construction mode and get her ready for the sailing season!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Phoenix's New Cabin Sole Part 2: Installation

Our unfinished cabin sole never stopped us from enjoying Phoenix, and never got in the way of a good raft up with friends at anchor.

Rafted up with friends after the Governor's Cup Race in St. Mary's, Maryland

Enjoying afternoon cocktails with friends aboard Phoenix after the Governor's Cup, in St. Mary's Maryland
Yet, with the boat winterized and all of the teak and white oak milled and planed, it was time to install Phoenix's new cabin sole. Our friend Kurt came to visit and helped Bill get things started in the main cabin. After removing the salon table and putting Phoenix in "construction mode," it was time to go to work.

Nearly every floorboard on Phoenix is removable, allowing us to access the tanks, wiring, water lines, and of course, stowage. The access is great by all means, but adds a level of difficulty when installing a tongue and groove floor.

The first thing they did was replace a handful of the old 3/4" plywood floorboards. Some of the old boards were slightly warped, but more importantly they were irregularly shaped and would make removal of the new hatch boards and fitting in the new teak more difficult. So the first day's work was spent cutting new hatch boards, measuring, and running snap lines to make sure our teak and white oak stripes would be properly aligned.

They began working on one of the hatch boards in the middle of the main cabin, just aft of the main mast. Each teak board was glued and nailed in place with stainless brad nails. We opted not to nail the oak strips since they were so much lighter in color -- those were snapped into each teak board and glued in spot.

Installing the first teak and white oak tongue and groove boards

Bill was installing while Kurt cut the boards to length

First hatch board complete!

With good planning (and possibly a little luck) the first hatch board ended with a full board width. For many others, the teak or white oak strips had to be ripped so that it was partially on one hatch and partially on another, all the while being careful to align the stripes!

They continued working outboard in the main cabin, and were able to get the majority of the main cabin done while Kurt was visiting.

Bill making his way around the main cabin

Most of the main cabin done, except the intricate angle cuts!

Bill continued working throughout the winter when it wasn't too cold to be on the boat. The forward and aft cabins proved to be more difficult than the main cabin, since they had many severe angles along the cabinets and for some of the hatch boards. He carefully cut each board so that the grain would be continuous for the full run whenever possible, and painstakingly made sure that all of the stripes were aligned, even with the breaks in the hatch boards. Many intricate cuts later, we couldn't be happier with the results!

Main cabin done!

New cabin sole in the galley

Looking forward towards the main cabin

Looking aft from the forward cabin. The holes in the floor on the left are where the salon table is screwed into the sole (with backing plates on the other side)
After the installation, we put cardboard on the floor to protect it while we waited for the weather to warm up enough to seal and protect the wood. So close to finishing this project and getting back out there to enjoy the boat again!

s/v Phoenix and s/v Tortuga's Lie enjoying the sunset on St. Mary's River

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Phoenix's New Cabin Sole Part 1: Custom Milling

Phoenix isn't the first boat Bill's built. When he purchased our previous boat -- Meandrous -- nearly 20 years ago, it was essentially a bare hull that came equipped with lots of the parts, but nothing was assembled and there were no instructions.

Meandrous came with a trove of teak lumber, much of which was 3/8" thick, custom milled tongue and groove boards in 6-8' lengths. There was enough lumber for Meandrous' interior, and we've been using the leftovers to outfit Phoenix's interior as well.

One of the last major woodworking projects to complete on Phoenix was the cabin sole. We believe at one point in time she had a teak or mahogany sole, but by the time we got her, all of the floorboards had been replaced with marine plywood.

We'd been vacillating about how we wanted to finish the flooring, and one major concern was whether or not we had enough tongue and groove teak to complete the job. After measuring, counting boards and doing some calculations, we determined that we could probably do the head, forward and aft cabins but we didn't have enough for the the entire job. So it was time to get creative.

We thought about augmenting the teak with holly, but it's hard to find clear holly lumber in our area without a lot of knots. We looked at the thermal expansion characteristics of many species of wood, and toyed with using ash lumber. However, Maryland and the Midwest were recently hit with ash borer disease, making this lumber very difficult to come by. We found that we could get clear white oak from a local saw mill at an extremely reasonable price, so finally our decision was made. We bought several 5/4 6"x16' flat sawn white oak boards for the job.

White oak is more thermally stable when quarter sawn, and it exposes the really cool ray flecks in the wood, so the plan was to augment the teak boards with strips of quarter sawn white oak. We planed the 5/4 boards until they were ~7/8" thick, ran one edge through the joiner to give a true, straight edge, and then Bill used the table saw with a thin kerf blade to cut each 6" board into several ~1/2" thick strips. 

Raw 5/4 white oak boards ready for the planer

White oak planed and ready to but cut into quarter sawn strips
Bill checking each board for thickness before cutting into strips
White oak quarter sawn strips for our cabin sole
He then ran each strip through the planer until they were 3/8" thick. We had hoped to be able to use a router to cut the tongue and grooves; however, most tongue and groove router bits were designed for 3/4" boards rather than 3/8", and none matched the tongue and groove of our teak. Bill determined that our teak had a 1/8" tongue/groove, so he could use the table saw with a standard blade rather than a router. Each strip had one center pass to make the groove, and two passes on the opposite length for the tongue.

Finally, we ran the teak boards through the planer to clean up their faces, and the lumber was all prepped and ready for installing. We created a TON of sawdust in the process, but nothing in comparison to what we had in store for us with the installation!

Had to wear lots of protection to prevent getting sensitized with all of the wood dust!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Komax Biokips Ice Cube Tray Review

We love having ice cubes when we are out in the summer, but don't have a freezer on board Phoenix just yet. We're hoping that our Frigoboat evaporator plate is cold enough to freeze a tray of cubes, but in order to do so, we need to find a leak-proof vertical ice cube tray. We've been looking for a suitable ice cube tray to try, and thought we found a possible solution with Komax Biokips Ice Cube Trays.

The Komax brand ice cube trays were advertised on Amazon to be:

  • Leak-proof: Silicone lid seals water into tray before freezing and prevents spills from any angle
  • Storage: Sealed lid allows for stacking and angled placement in freezer
  • Comfortable: Contoured handle allows for a firm grip while filling or carrying
  • Odor-free: Tray keeps ice cubes from absorbing freezer smells
  • Cleaning: The body and lid are easy to cleaning, and the tray is also top-rack dishwasher safe

The reviews were very good on Amazon and we were eager to try them out; however Amazon sells either 2- or 4-packs and we didn't really want to commit to buying that many if we didn't like them.

While shopping the other day at our local Asian supermarket (H-Mart) we found the same Komax ice tray on sale for $2.99 each. Unlike at Amazon, we could purchase them individually, so we decided to give them a try.

During our first test of the ice trays, we did find that they sealed well and didn't drip any water when turned on their side or flipped over. When placed in the freezer on its side, the water from the top row emptied into the bottom 2 rows, so we only got 2 very full rows of cubes. In this position, the cubes froze and the top seal remained intact. After opening, we were able to seal the lid again even though the cubes were bulging out. It was difficult to get the lid back on securely, but not impossible.

For our second freeze test, we simply placed the tray in the freezer in the normal, flat position. As predicted, all 3 of the rows froze well. Unfortunately, when we removed the tray from the freezer and tried to open the lid, one locking tab broke off.

One tab broke off of our Komax ice cube tray after the second use

Now with only 3 of the 4 locking tabs, the container won't seal well and leaks water when inverted or is on it's side.

We've seen many complaints online about locking tabs breaking with some brands of "snap lid" products, but haven't had that problem with our Snapware containers or our Lock and Lock egg container. Admittedly we only use those in the refrigerator and haven't used them much in the freezer. Possibly waiting a few minutes after the tray came out of the freezer could have extended its life beyond two uses, though we're not sure...

We'll try to return this to the store, exchange it for a second tray and then see if the warming theory holds water! :lol:

Stay tuned.