Sunday, January 27, 2008

Single-handed Maintenance

I don't like having to scrounge for help when I'm working on my boat. So I usually don't. When I was removing deck hardware I was able to work alone by using ViceGrip pliers as my below-deck helper. I could clamp them onto a nut and remove the machine screw topside by myself. Usually the nut was loose enough to finish taking off by hand if I stopped unscrewing in time. But if not, it didn't matter if the nut fell off with the ViceGrips clamped to it.

That wasn't going to work for reinstalling hardware, however. Also, I wasn't too impressed with the small diameter washers that provided the only bearing surface under the deck for the stanchion, bow and stern railings and mooring cleats. I decided to make threaded mounting plates for each item and glue them in place under the decks with 3M 5200 adhesive.

The plates were cut from 1/4-inch aluminum plate, 3-1/2-inches wide. Aligning the plate holes with the fitting holes was critical, as was tapping the holes absolutely vertical for the 1/4-20 machine screws.

Using a drill press, I started by drilling one hole in the plate, using the fitting as the template. Then, using the drill press mandrel to assure the threads were vertical, I threaded the hole with a tap manually, turning the mandrel by hand rather than using the motor.

Next, using short screws cut to length for the purpose, I fastened the fitting to the plate and then drilled and tapped the next hole. I repeated that process until all the holes were drilled and tapped.

Installing the fittings and the underdeck plates was made much easier by using a couple of extra-long machine screws, plus the normal length screws required to be able to reinstall the side boards that cover the under decks inside the cabin. I put two long screws through the fitting on deck and then went below deck. The long length of the screws allowed me to hold the backing plate under the deck and turn the scews with my fingers to get them started into the tapped holes.

Next I used a small mixing stick to apply 3M 5200 adhesive to the top edges of the plate before I screwed it up against the deck. Going topside, I took up the slack on the long screws to bring the plates up against the underside of the deck. Then the normal length screws could be inserted in the remaining holes. The mooring cleats had four mounting screws, while the railings and stanchions had three holes. Finally, I removed the long screws and replaced them with standard-length screws and then drew all of the screws up tight on that fitting. The same process was repeated for each fitting.

This process could have been done using LifeCaulk or a similar product to seal the fitting from leaks. But it would have been messier. Instead, I cut sealing gaskets from 1/8-inch hard rubber sheet, available at the hardware store. I used a gasket cutter hole punch to make the screw holes. Finally, when I put each standard screw into the backing plate, I put a ring of sealant around the threads just below the head to seal the hole from the top.

I think that the rubber gaskets will ensure a leak-proof seal for years to come. But when and if I have to remove and replace any of the fittings, I expect to be able to do so working alone and only from topside.

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