Fairing And Painting Topsides, With Nat Bryant

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December 1, 2011

Nat Bryant and his father Paul are so good at caring for classic boats that they have been Maynard Bray’s mentors for maintaining boats for many years. In this video, Nat walks us through how he fairs and paints the topsides of his newly acquired Hinckley Pilot, which needed a lot of cosmetic work after sitting neglected for years.

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Written by Maynard Bray

First, about the machines Nat uses—a 7” angle grinder for fairing and an 8” disc sander for smoothing. Both of them are well used, having been used on hundreds of boats over two or three decades. Guided by Nat’s dad Paul, I bought duplicate machines many years ago and have found they work fine for me as well. But they’re heavy, and to get good results, you have to hold them flat (so their edges don’t dig in and leave crescent-shaped gouges), and have to keep them moving because they’re both aggressive. That said, this system is much faster than any other I know of.

I’ve found that the annual sanding of a 30-footer’s topsides, using the 8” machine with a soft foam pad and 150-grit discs, takes only a half hour (if you’re not too fussy), and uses only 4 or 5 discs. By comparison, palm sanders are a joke!

Here are photos of my two machines, which I believe duplicate those that Nat is using. Both his and mine are old and are no longer available. Besides being rather heavy, they’re rugged, both rated at 10 amps (at 120 volts), with the sander turning at 2,000 rpm and the grinder at 4,800. Maybe there’s now a two-speed unit now that can do both jobs.

Paul helped me thin down the washer/nut on my grinder to get it below the surface of the sanding disc—an important consideration. You can’t keep it flat otherwise.

For fairing, using the 4,800 rpm grinder, Nat employs a stiff phenolic backing disc, with the abrasive discs above it in grits ranging from #36 to #60 or 80. (This is the way to strip off paint and out-performs burning or chemical removers, hands-down. (See my articles in WoodenBoat #40 and 63.) Sanding begins with 3M “gold” stick-on discs, beginning on bare wood with #80, then switches to #120 and finally to #220 as the finest grit. A soft foam rubber pad is needed for this operation; Nat says that most are made of plastic and are too firm.

Nat thins his paint on hot days with Interlux 333 brushing liquid, which retards drying and helps maintain a wet edge to avoid lap marks. But he’s found that it takes away some of the gloss, so normally Nat will thin his paint with a citrus thinner so as not to dull the gloss.
Paintbrushes are flushed out with K-1 kerosene followed by common paint thinner. (They’ve found that the kerosene will jell up if not flushed out.)

Nat is using a 3” paintbrush in the video.
Filling is by Epifanes Combi-filler for shallow dings (1/8” or so deep) and Bondo for deeper ones. If more adhesion is needed, West System #407 and epoxy is used, as #407 doesn’t shrink as much as #410.

On his topsides, Nat had to do very little hand sanding. With machine, he used 80, 120, then 220 grits. He also applied the two topcoats without sanding between, applied within 48 hours of each other.

Nat’s boat’s name is Hopestill and she was built by Hinckley in 1957 as one of eight Pilots sloops constructed before the yard switched to fiberglass. During the past summer (2011), Nat says that some of the seam filler squeezed out of the topsides which he’ll sand flush before next year’s painting.

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