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What's the best thing for caulking a wooden boat?
A traditional boatbuilder has told me oakum & putty. I'm definately not convinced with putty, it always dries out & cracks up.
A friend has told me epoxy, but I'm not sure it will flex properly.
Having owned wooden sailing yachts for 30 years and lived aboard and cruised them in the Caribbean and made a living as a boatbuilder:
Oakum is good only on larger boats with big gaping seams and something solid behind them, ie the garboard or along the stem/transom, as oakum is a big hairy thing that takes along time to expand and then really expands and can blow the planking off a boat...saw it happen NOT pretty.
What has worked for about 500 years is cotton caulking..it comes in along long skein from Distributors and Defender Industries, you pull out a few feet at a time, twist it so its now a tightly twisted line of cotton about , oh, the size of a pencil, and drive it into the seem with a caulking iron, which looks like a fat putty knife and is also available from Jamestown. It takes a while to develop the feel for setting the cotton deep enough to putty over without driving it all the way through; if a seam is really open, you might have to wind the cotton a little looser, say tot he diameter of a crayon and push it gently in rather than drive it in... Paint the caulking with a thin coat of paint, then under the water line use Pettits brown seam compound; above the waterline Pettits white seam compound. Both remain flexible for a goodly while and if protected by paint wont crumble out. Epoxy will NOT work; the plank swelling will spit it out.
There is a fair amount of controversy about using 3-Ms 5200 under the waterline and Life Caulk above.it's not old timey, its not traditional, but it works.
Remember if the boat has been out a while and the seams need a lot of caulking...cotton, putty, 5200....as the planks swell they will force out the putty/5200, and you will have to scrape and sand and repaint the topsides until the wood is swollen to where it wants to be...
Seams that have shrunk so you can see daylight will swell back up..but it may take several days..when you first launch the boat be prepared for a lot of water coming in...(I needed a crash pump to back up two 1750 bilge pumps after being out for 6 months...)if you can, hose the boat down inside and out a few days before launching...use LOTS of water..it will save a lot of Ohmygod we're sinking trauma at launch...
There is a magazine devoted to fools like us with wooden boats. Its called (DUH) WoodenBoat, web site is www.woodenboat.com. Filled with all sorts of do it yourself tips and references and books and good stuff..Start reading it today.
In the old days didn't they use tar?
Expoxy would be best and is very reliable. Make sure that you contact a boat repair shop to see where you can buy expoxy designed for marine use.
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