Nothing about boats here…

23 Aug

When I moved down to New Orleans I was following my sister, who in turn came down here to help build the New Orleans Community Printshop. They’ve been pushed out of two spaces in the last two years, rebuilding each time, and now they’ve moved into a great place that they’re building up with the help of a sucessful kickstarter campaign. A piece of that pie was set aside for a gigantic darkroom sink, which they decided should be 8’x3′. Originally they were thinking stainless steel – very nice but very expensive- but after a couple brainstorming sessions in the bar they decided on plywood and fiberglass. Not that I had anything to do with that…

So I agreed to make it for them, despite being too damn busy and having promised myself not to ever work with this nasty stuff for pay! The printshop always gets an exception, plus I still owe my sister for my boat’s beautiful paintjob.

The printshop built the sink itself, which was great for me. All they had was quite pretty plywood. Don’t worry, I fixed that for them.

The sink as delivered

I started with a quick sand at 50-grit to rough things up and by routing all the edges to give a radius the fiberglass would conform to.

I used a 1/2″ router bit

Next was a rough fillet of poly resin and whatever I had around, which happened to be sawdust.

Make a fillet by cutting a rounded corner in anything handy and running it along the corner
The sawdust dried a bit chunky but it won’t matter in a moment

At this point it got too sticky for photos. I mixed up more polyester resin, about a quart at a time, and wet out the entire sink. Then I laid down a big sheet of 1.5oz chopped-strand mat. I cut it to size before starting with just little cut-outs in the corners to help it roughly fit the box shape. Chopped-strand mat is very easy to work with because it essentially loses all its integrity as a sheet when you wet it out with resin so you can easily make it take a given shape.

I actually did the opposite of usual, slapping on resin with the brush and squeezing it in with the roller.

It takes a lot of resin to wet out chopped-strand mat! About now is the point where I realized I was going about the whole thing wrong, and shouldn’t have bothered with polyester in the first place. Essentially all I was doing here was building up the structure of the sink with a nice thick layer of resin and chopped mat. Overkill. Most likely it would have been plenty strong enough with just a few coats of epoxy to waterproof everything and a single layer of light fiberglass cloth. Plus I went with the polyester to make things a bit cheaper but I ended up using so much of it that the difference was minimal. Oh well, I suppose making it extra strong doesn’t hurt.

Here’s one end mostly wet out. The fiberglass becomes totally transparent when it has been fully saturated with resin

At this point I was freaking out a bit, realizing just how hard it is trying to glass 30+ square feet on your own in one go. I was working backwards, trying to wet out an reasonable area and then stipple it smooth with the brush before moving on, but sometimes the fiberglass pops back up as it starts to set. So I was running around trying to stick little bits back down while making sure to keep a wet edge and use up each pot of resin before it started to kick. It got a bit sloppy in the end and I had a couple bits that needed sanding down but all in all the chopped-strand mat went down well, if a bit panicky. I let it set up for the night and came back the next day, when I inexplicable forgot to take any photos. Here’s the next shot.

So much for things going smoothly

Foolishly, I tried to do the same thing with the fiberglass cloth that I had with the chopped-strand mat and cut one large piece to fit the entire sink. A bit big but by now I was a fiberglass expert so I could handle it, right?Well except I forgot that bit about how hard fiberglass cloth is to work with. Where the chopped-strand mat ceases to be a single piece as soon as you wet it out the cloth just gets alternately slippery and sticky and always harder to work with. As I laid down my giant piece of cloth I found that it wouldn’t stay where I put it and each time I tried to stick down a bit more it would screw up what I had already done.Before the resin started to kick I was constantly scurrying around knocking down bubbles and then when things started to get sticky there were five panicked minutes where I made things worse before I had to give up. Oops.

Well, lesson learned. The next day I cut out the air bubbles with a razor-blade scraper and tried again with the cloth. This time I did much more manageable pieces and made sure each piece only folded on one axis.

This time I laid everything out veeeery carefully before starting

The second try went well and the sink came out not bad after all, and plenty strong.

I finished it out with two coats of very old epoxy paint I bought for a dollar at the recycled materials store, finally taking care of that pretty woodgrain… And forgot to take a photo, of course. I’ll have to go get one in-situ when they open up the printshop in a couple months!

Oh, and the Community Printshop could really use an etching press, if you happen to have one laying around…

‘Beatrice Ward’ – Meg Turner of the New Orleans Community Printshop

See my Index of DIY and How-to Posts

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


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