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PAINTING TECHNIQUES



Is painting your canal boat something you can do yourself? Is it a job for the professionals?

Canal boat painting is an art form. A walk along any tow path or marina will show the individuality of the owners as well as the traditional designs and colour schemes that have evolved over the last 250 years.

There are no hard and fast rules on colour schemes, styles or designs it’s really up to you.

What is common to all boats is that it is not an inexpensive process. Whether you DIY or have a top professional paint your boat, it will cost a considerable amount of money. Medium range paint jobs will be done by budget builders and the paint is usually spray applied. Nothing wrong with that!

At the top end of the spectrum are the professional hand painters. Meticulous preparation, patience and highly developed coach painting skills are exhibited by the top craftsmen and expect to pay over £100 per liner foot of boat for a basic job. A second craftsman specialising in signwriting is then often employed for the finishing touches.

For a DIY job, factor £500 total. A huge saving and whether you employ a professional or DIY will be a decision only you can make.
If you DIY some basic kit will help. Buy the best brushes you can afford. A 6 inch natural bristle brush of high quality will make the “laying off” a pleasure. An DA or random orbital sander will make light work of paint surface preparation and a set of knee pads is a must when tackling the roof.

Consider booking your boat into a covered dock. Ideal painting conditions are not too hot, no breeze and no insects. The environment can be controlled much easier if you are under cover.

Preparation is the key. If you can take out the windows and mask the openings. Remove all fittings that you don’t want painted and there can be a surprising amount of these from deck labels to door catches.

When sanding wear protective clothing and dust masks. Paint dust is nasty stuff. Start with a medium grade, maybe 120 grit depending on the state of the existing paint and work smoothly and quickly with the random orbital sander. The use of an ordinary rotary or vibrating sander will create marks in the surface of the boat that will show through your new paint, don’t use them.
All you are doing at this stage is providing a key for your new paint. Sand only until you have removed loose material and dirt and corrosion. There is no need to bare metal the boat. Reduce the grit on the sander to 180 and blow over the surface again, removing any blemishes that are likely to cause you emotional grief in the future.

Now the fun begins. If possible, all dust must be removed from your working environment and surfaces.

Synthetic mohair rollers 7 inches wide are ideal for applying the paint. Don’t apply it too thickly or it will run. Morning is best, you are fresh and it’s not too hot. It’s best to work in small sections about 70 cm to 100cm wide. Lay the paint on thinly with the roller left to right, then go over up and down evenly spreading the paint onto the panel. Put the roller down and pick up the bristle brush. It’s your friend so treat is with love. The purpose here is to gently smooth out the little bubbles that have formed in the paint as a result of the roller action. Left to right then up and down with the dry brush. Do the movements once in each direction then stop. Don’t fiddle with it, don’t watch it, it won’t dry! Pick up the roller, lightly load it and do the next 70cm or so and repeat the process. Once you start, you can’t stop. It will take you about 45 minutes to do an average narrowboat side.

If you’ve never done this before, the first coat might be horrendous. It doesn’t matter, as your next best friend is your DA sander. 400 grit will remove any runs and imperfections and you can start again. It gets easier as your technique improves, and remember, you’ve decided to DIY so passed on that pro paint job the moment you made that decision!

Two or three top coats will do the job. Then the same for the roof (which you have already prepared). You can sometimes get away with not laying off the paint  on the roof if you are careful. A little texture is no bad thing here. Even better if you are applying anti-slip.

Whatever the standard of finish you end up with, you can be proud that you had a go. It’s your boat so who are you trying to impress? You’ll be looking at the boat anyway from 6 feet away and not 6 inches and we all know things look better from a distance!
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