Saturday, May 17, 2008

Flying Scot Balsa Repair

I knew it was going to be a long day after making the first few cuts. The balsa core was a bit worse than I imagined and the wood was soaked 3/4 of the length of the centerboard. Using a circular saw and a grinder with a metal cutting wheel (to cut close the the centerboard) I exposed all of the rotten and wet balsa. I basically stopped cutting when I saw good dry balsa. Unfortunately my saw cut to a min depth of 1/4" so I left some small kerfs in the balsa, but that later turned out to be no big deal since the roving hides it well.

Next it was time to clean out all rotten or delaminated balsa. I have reason to believe FS #338 was trailered/stored in a harsh manner: when I purchased the boat, she came out of the water resting on the very aft tip of the bunks...concentrating the entire weight of the boat on two small spots of the hull (which I knew was already soft). We lowered the bunks before trailering it home, lest a pothole create some large holes! Note, according to FS, the boat should be resting 100% on the keel. The bunks just provide stability...but I digress.

I started cleaning out the blocks with a large flat head screwdriver; not really sure why I chose that implement since the 3/4" chisel that I switched to later was much better suited to the job. The rotten and delaminated blocks come out very easily. There were sever more wet blocks that I exposed, but they didn't want to come out so I was content to leave them. I chiseled out the rough resin trying to get it as clean as possible before sanding. At this point, about 50% of the balsa was removed or exposed.
It seemed like the instructions were saying to sand the hull smooth, but there seemed to be lots of voids approximately 1/8" deep (possibly balsa that never had a good bond?) so I determined that I would just try to get it as flat as possible, but not worry about a perfectly faired surface. At this point I reached once again for my trusty Harbor Freight 4" grinder ($6.99) with a 40 grit "flap disk", and a quality 3M dust mask. If I was smart, I would have donned long sleeves, as the fiberglass itch was pretty annoying for the rest of the night. The grinder worked wonders on the raised glass/resin and for creating a 12:1 feather of the existing glass. Since I only had 1.5" of faired with, I doubt I achieved 12:1, but it seemed like enough bevel for a good bond considering the circumstances. After additionaly sanding of the surrounding glass with an 80 grit orbital sander, I vacuumed the dust out.
I mixed up way too much resin for the "seal coat". I think I mixed 8oz, but probably didn't use half that much. After that cured 24 hrs, I cut the 3/4oz mat and balsa to fit. At this point, I should have made better notes about how resin I used; I'm guessing I mixed up two pints for the mat + balsa lay-in. Turns out it probably wasn't enough and/or wasn't catalyzed enough for the cooler temperature (below 70F) we were having. I think the fiberglass scrim on the back of the balsa may have soaked up more resin than I anticipated and by the end, I was buttering it up as well before placing the block in. I kept checking the stiffness as the original hull flex was a major factor in doing this repair and was not happy to see the hull still flexing quite a bit. After several hours, I decided to see if I could wiggle the blocks and I was disappointed at being able to remove several blocks on the port side (the resin was still wet). I mixed up anther 8oz of resin with plenty of catalyst and reset the blocks. Checking the next day, there was a noticible difference in stiffness and the blocks were not coming out. Lesson: use plenty of resin when setting the balsa. I was quite liberal with the next seal coat, as I wanted to fill the small gaps in the scrimmed balsa sheets. Again, stiffness improved.

At this point I was getting a bit antsy to have finish the project.
The fumes were invading the house (a box fan in the window helped immensely). I kept being surprised at how long it took to do relatively simple things like cut the glass to fit the shape (1-2 hrs though running short on roving didn't help). I layed all four glass layers in dry and was just about to start mixing resin when it became clear I was nearly two quarts short. I decided to put off the layup until I had enough to finish the job. Fortunately a local boat store had polyester by the gallon for $30. It was waxed, but since this was the last lamination before gel coat, I figured I could live with it (you have to sand between coats if it's waxed). I started mixing 1qt batches and realized quickly the squeege was worthless. The 4" paint roller and grooved roller were much better suited to wetting out for me. It took quite a bit of resin and working to get the centerboard section wetted out with the four layers of glass, but everything came together. I was amzaed how the opaqe roving turn crystal clear!
After letting the layup cure for 24hrs, I cleaned out the boat, sanded, vacuumed and wiped the entire area with a good amount of acetone. I masked the centerboard trunk and mixed up my first quart batch of gel coat. I ditched the 4" roller in favor of a 9" considering the gel time was 10-15 minutes. I knew I needed to work fast. Unfortunately mixing in a roller tray was difficult and it ate up my precious gel time. I only used about half of the first batch befored it gelled. I tried a little less catalyst for the second batch, but it also gelled before I had finished rolling. Even the third pint I mixed gelled faster than expected. You really can't mess around with the gel coat. It goes FAST! I am surprised how slippery it feels. Now I see why FS recommends adding sand as non-skid. Hopefully docksiders will keep a grip on the new stuff. While it's not perfect, it is 100x stronger/safer than before and I am glad I tackled the project myself. While I'm sure the factory does an amazing job - actually I have seen the results and they are amazing, I was glad to save the driving and try something new. Saving $1,500 bucks doesn't hurt either.
Materials used (in order of appearance):
  • Safety glasses/goggles
  • Hearing protection
  • Dust mask
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Circular saw
  • Grinder w/ metal cut off
  • Chisel
  • Polyester resin (2 gal)
  • Acetone
  • 3/4oz mat
  • balsa
  • roving
  • scissors
  • tape measure
  • 1/4" nap roller
  • gel coat
  • celebratory beer!
I purchased most of my fiberglass supplies at Fiberglass - very helpful staff!

I only had a small amount of previous fiberglass experience (sunfish repair 10 years ago). There were ups and down, but I think anyone who is handy can tackle this job! GOOD LUCK!


The grinder w/ the metal cutoff wheel was essential for cutting close; I was able to cut within 1/8" of the trunk pretty quickly. I wasn't kidding, I got mine for $7 and has been a total lifesaver (last year I used it to cut the frozen lug nut on my trailer in half w/o damaging my wheel). Total time to cut out the bad glass was probably under an hour. It was removing the bad wood and smoothing that took another 2-3 hours. Next time (aft deck), I will probably just get the wood out and use the grinder/sander to smooth instead of so much time with the chisel.

As for reusing, I'm no expert on fiberglass, but I would think it would be difficult to make a solid bond to the original. I noticed this morning that there are just a couple of small 2-3" spots that are not totally laminated (dull thud) so even with fresh glass it was tough. Not to mention, if you are anywhere close to the trunk, I think you would lose a lot of strength. My trunk used to move a bit, but now it is rock solid. I could see reusing for a small area, but personally I wouldn't do it. The roving was pretty easy to work with (though the course weave is easy to fray).

Next time I would definitely use more resin when laying in the blocks. Oh, and I would have ordered some "filler" to mix w/ the polyester to be able to smooth the joints out before the final glass. I think if I could have filled and sanded better, the repair would have been nearly invisible w/o adding much work. As it is, the repair outline is obvious, but not ugly. Particularly compared to the mess that my floor was before.

For calculation purposes, I used nearly 3qts of resin to wet out the top layer of glass and about 3qts of gel coat to cover the entire balsa area.


Dave said...

I did a similar repair on FS 812 only I did it in smaller sections.
I have a blogger blog as well its about Flying Scots in Florida.
Good job.

JHS said...

Nice job and nice of you to take the time to post all of this. I'll be doing the exact same repair this winter. Three questions: 1) How did you test the flex of the hull? 2) How long did this take - 3 days? 4? 5? Finally, where did you get your balsa wood?


ChrisS said...

Everything related to the fiberglass (including balsa) was purchased at They were super helpful and everything was carefully packed.

The flex that I observed was mainly the "squishy" feeling of the cockpit; I also tested the floor with a screwdriver handle to determine where it was delaminated. After the repair, the boat is very stiff (though I still feel waves hitting the hull) and the squishy is all gone. If I remember correctly, it was about 20 hours of work that I spread over 2 weeks. I waited 24 hrs between coats of resin, but I don't think you have to do that...I know in production boats, they do not wait. Good luck!

JHS said...

Hey thanks for the prompt and helpful follow up. You have gotten me over the hump of uncertainty as to whether I wanted to tackle this. My boat has that same flex but it's sailable so I will do it over the winter. I think you're right about the trailering causing the problem. I think that I am going to add much wider planks on which the boat can rest while trailing (although the rule about the keel is noted). As for the feeling of the waves - that's sailing man!

Anonymous said...

Very informative. Repair looks nice. I have some balsa rot near my shroudline on #763, and am going to harbor freight for my grinder now!

Sail Fast

Mark Geer said...

I'm not sure if you still check this blog, but I just started to recore my Scot and I have a question you. How much flex did you have in the hull after placing the blocks? I just checked on my boat and I have quite a bit of flex in the hull with just the wood. I'm hoping it will firm up once I get a few layers of mat and roven down, but I'm worried about proceeding and having to start over because of an error installing the wood.
Let me know if you can.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you'll have any problems. The strength comes from the mat and glass which gives it integrity.

Carlos rudge said...

Nice job Chris… I’m about to start mine soon: just to add an order to the chaos: (I’m new on this stuff as well) - Prep. First: cut the top layer and expose the bad balsa with a circular saw, remove the old stuff and scrape /sand the left over resin from the bottom and vacuum. Now, I believe is time to lay the new resin on the bottom (with a mat?) and add pieces of balsa on top correct (like a puzzle)? what will happen, I believe, is the resin will come up from the cracks as soon as you squeeze the balsa against the bottom, is that correct? After the job is dry, should I sand the small parts or add another layer of the resin with the mat again on top? Like balsa sandwich … (The order will be: resin with mat/balsa/resin with mat again going over the new balsa area to prevent leaks – it will be ugly but solid…) Thanks, Carlos

ChrisS said...

Check out the How To guide on the FS website. It give a lamination schedule. I followed it to a T and was pleased with the results.

Mark Tabacchini said...

I hope some one is still checking this post. I have replaced the aft section balsa and I am now on the starboard side. I used 1/2 inch balsa in the aft and along the centerboard, about 4 inches wide. My problem is two fold:

1. Can I keep skim coating the balsa, I am using polyester , to fill in kerfs and any areas that may be under the balsa that may have missed a good contact?

2. My second order of balsa was not 1/2 inch, rather it was 3/8. I did not realize the order was wrong, I paid for the 1/2, now I have a 14 inch by 6 foot strip of 3/8 on the starboard side.

The 3/8 balsa is set. I am thinking I am going to have to either grind the 1/2 down on the edge to be flush with the 3/8 or apply some sort of filler material the smooth out the edge. I am concerned about a loss of strength from the thinner balsa, I was going to apply a biaxal cloth in hopes of making up the strength loss.

This boat is not going to be for racing, strictly for teaching my children how to sail so strength is most important to me. The extra weight in polyester resin is irrelevant. Some please advise me


JHS said...

Maybe give Harry @ Flying Scot a call. I met one of the guys who builds the hulls - both are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I'm sure they can give you some advice.

Donnie said...

Just wanted to say THANKS for this site! I'm in the process of recoring FS#625. I'd never done fiberglass work before, but decided to give it a try after coming across this site (and the instructions from FS). I'm well along the way and am pleased with the results. For info, my entire cockpit was squishy. I started cutting up the old stuff just aft of the centerboard and worked my way back. I made it all the way back to the transom without finding any good balsa -- it all had the consistently of cardboard left out in the rain for a few days. Am about to work my way up alongside the centerboard trunk now.

... And after all this work I'm installing a topping lift instead of using the boom crutch!


Ben Fairweather said...

Hope someone is still following this blog. I recently "inherited" FS 3389 from my late father-in-law. He had the boat parked in the weeds on some land that he owned for the last 10 years. I went to retrieve it last weekend. After killing the three wasp nests on the gunwale, I hooked it up to my truck and pulled it to the driveway (on two flat tires). After it's first 50 yard journey in more than 10 years, I noticed a metal tube sticking out of the bottom of the boat just aft of the centerboard tunnel. The boom crutch punctured the completely rotten bottom. My first reaction was to part out the boat to local sailing club and junk the hull. After seeing this post, I'm thinking of giving it another chance.

What do you people that have done a core replacement think? Can I save this thing? Is the standard core replacement described above going to be enough or is it too far gone? I'm very handy, but have never done fiberglass work before.

I have a picture of the crutch sticking through the bottom, but it doesn't look like there's a way to post pictures here.

ChrisS said...

With fiberglass, anything is possible...that being said, this project was a major pain and did not add much to the value of the boat. If you have the means and opportunity to buy a boat that has solid core, that would be my recommendation. In theory, parting out a Scot should net a tidy profit (centerboards, rudders, masts and booms are expensive new) however finding local buyers could prove difficult.

There is no great mystery or skill, but you will get very itchy unless you take a lot of precaution (Tyvek suit, gloves, talc on skin before sanding). Definitely not too far gone as I have heard of people taking the deck off to refurb. You likely just have a lot of core damage in the hull. You can tell the extent by tapping on the fiberglass with a plastic screwdriver or such.

Ben Fairweather said...

Thanks for the advise. I think I'll try to cut the core out this fall and let it dry out until next spring. I'll decide then whether to try to tackle the core replacement. I've got nothing in this boat so I've got nothing to lose.

Ben Fairweather said...

I'm going to go for it. I checked out the boat again a couple weeks ago. It's not as bad as I thought. Thumping the floor with the end of a screw driver showed that there's only about a 1 foot by 1 foot area around the hole caused by the boom crutch that's rotten. I think I can fix that.

I'm thinking of using a West System epoxy kit to fix the hole (from outside the hull) and then use polyester resin from inside to do the balsa/fiberglass layup. What do you think of that plan? I've read that epoxy is more waterproof than polyester (by not as compatible with gel coat)which is why I want to use it on the outside. Polyester is most compatible with chopped strand mat which is part of the layup recommended by FS for the balsa core (and considerably cheaper).

One other question - you said that you got most of your supplies from Fiberglass Supply. Did you get your balsa there too? Looks like they only sell endgrain sheets and not the grain-long individual blocks that FS uses. What did you use?