10 Most Useful Items for the Boatyard

It seems to be a trendy thing in the blog world to make lists of things.  Since many of those blogs are more popular than mine, I figure I'd give it ago.  This first list of mine is about the top 10 most useful things in my restoration, in no particular order.  I would have called it the top 10 tools, but some of these things aren't really tools, but are as useful as anything else in the yard.  Another disclaimer, these apply to my boat, an older fiberglass boat.  I know a wooden or metal hull would have a few different items of necessity.  Without further ado....

1. Shop-Vac - Ah the shop-vac.  Without it the place would be a dusty, wet mess.  Tearing down a boat makes a ton of mess, particularly when the boat has an ungodly amount of rotten wood and 35 year old crud taking up much of the nooks and crannies.  These days, I am sanding a whole lot and that creates a mess of epic proportions that only the shop-vac can handle. On top of general cleanup, the shop-vac is also my bilge pump.  Water accumulates in the bilge by finding its way through the many exposed holes on deck, or via my hose as I clean through the boat.  The water accumulates in the bilge, taking with it a plethora of dirt, grime, screws, nuts, and all sorts of goodies.  I've tried using a pump, but they would clog and burn out very quickly.  The solution is the rugged shop-vac with its waterproof capabilities.  The shop-vac efficiently sucks out all of the water and grime together to be disposed of.  Mine is only the 6 gallon version, so when the bilge gets really full it can take quite a few fills.  However, without it, I would have burned out a ridiculous amount of pumps and have pounds of grime in the bilge.

2.  Drill/Driver Combo - Most things on the boat were held on by screws and bolts.  I stated taking the boat apart with a simple 18v drill with screwdriver bits, thats all I knew to use.  When it came time to remove the teak handrails on deck, the drill began to show its weakness.  The bolts in the teak were so snug, wrapped in old sealant, and impossible to budge without ruining the heads.  Eventually, the drill burned out trying to turn a bolt.  My dad and I spent many hours trying to get these bolts out manually with little success, often breaking the teak in the process.  A boat neighbor came over with his small impact driver to let me experiment with, a tool I've only read about in passing.  The impact driver pulled out a single bolt in a few seconds, a job that was taking us 15-20 minutes (each!) to do by hand.   I was instantly convinced of this mighty tool and purchased a Milwaukee Drill and Impact Driver Combo Kit from Amazon.  The Lithium Ion batteries are quite light and last forever compared to my old one.  The driver is extremely powerful and accelerated the deconstruction by weeks, if not months.  It really shines on screws and bolts where the head is threatening to shear, in addition to just the stubborn ones.

3.  Blue Tape - I seem to go back to the hardware store for a few things more frequently than others.  Aside from sandpaper, blue tape is the next most purchased item.   Blue tape is the blue (duh) painters masking tape.  It is much more expensive than regular masking, but the fact that it is easily removable, durable enough, and doesn't leave a mess makes it worth it.  I use the tape for covering deck holes, sealing my temporary plastic windows, mask off epoxy and paint work, and numerous improvised uses.  I use duct tape here and there, but it is too messy to remove after baking in the Florida heat.  I finally stopped buying single rolls of blue tape and finally went with the bulk package the last time I needed to buy some.  Easily one of the items in the boat that has the most utility.

4.  Vice Grips - When tearing apart the boat, many things seemed impossible to remove.  Corrosion, breakages, sheared heads, etc made many screws and bolts a royal pain in the rear.  I soon discovered the power of vice grips and their ability to latch onto screw or bolt shafts and allow me to turn and remove the remaining hardware.  In addition, sometimes a deck bolt needing removal would have a nut in the most inaccessible place, but I could usually attach a vice grip to the nut and remove the bolt just fine.  The vice grips became life savers in many improvised ways such as these and I continue to find improvised uses for these things.  It seems that people with proper mechanical experience like to laugh at guys like me who don't know what they are doing, and often mention the use of vice grips where another proper tool should be. Sure, many of the jobs I put them to are improper and very noobish of me, but they get the job done and I don't have to buy another tool.

5.  Sanders - Sanding is one of the most laborious, frequent, but necessary jobs when restoring a boat.  I began to sand a lot when I first started restoring the interior woodwork, and now am sanding nearly every surface on the boat.  As mentioned previously about the blue tape, sand paper is probably the thing I go to the hardware store the most to buy.  Also, like the blue tape, I've given in and just buy in bulk online now.  My primary sander is a DeWalt Random Orbit Sander that I enjoy very much.  I also have an old Bosch square vibrating sander, which is moreso for back-up or for a helper if I have any.  The other sander I use the most is my Dremel Multi-Max with the triangle sanding pad attached.  This tool gets in the small or hard to reach areas that the RO sander can't get to.  While the Fein Multi-Master is the pro choice for an oscillating tool, I just couldn't afford to drop $300+ when cheaper alternatives exist.  I trust the Dremel brand and have nothing but good things to say about the Multi-Max.  Those two sanders get used a LOT, but have held up very well to the abuse I've put them through.  I'll be very proud if the RO gets through this entire project still running.

6.  Dremel Tool - The Dremel tool is the most utilitarian power tool I have.  I use it to cut fiberglass and metal, grind edges, route, open deck holes for epoxy potting, beveling edges, opening cracks for fairing...and the list goes on.  I burned out or broke 3 of the cheaper Dremel tools before I finally was given the 4000 series for Christmas last year.  Dremel 4000 has the power to do any job I've tasked it with, and continues to be useful nearly every day on the boat.

7.  Chisels - I purchased a pack of different size chisels early on in the restoration for no particular reason.  I knew I would need them for some of the wood work, but didn't really have much of a task for them when they were bought.  Shortly afterwards, they became some of the most important tools on the boat.  I use chisels for an incredible variety of tasks, and through some improvisation they have become my go-to solution for many problems, much like vice-grips.  I will need to buy a second set for woodworking, as these have been put through abuse they weren't designed for.  While I had a few scrapers for removing hardware and their bedding, nothing beats a sharp chisel to get off old sealant or prying off a piece of hardware. However, the most frequent job I used a chisel for was bung removal.  Nearly every piece of wood on the boat was taken out, and nearly every single one was held on with slotted screws hidden by wood bungs.  I tried multiple techniques to remove the bungs, but in the end nothing beat using the small chisel to get them out after a pilot hole was drilled.  Once the bung was removed, the slotted screw awaited to give me grief.  About 50% of the time, the head would shear quickly, even with careful impact driving.  I discovered that I could hammer the small chisel into the sheared slot and deepen the slot just enough to get the driver bit on it and back out the screw.  I've performed this bung/screw ordeal thousands of times during the deconstruction, and must thank that impulse chisel buy for getting me through it.  The chisels will come in handy once again when I need to install new bungs.

8.  Grinder - The 4.5" angle grinder is essential for any serious fiberglass or epoxy work.   I first purchased the grinder as my tool to remove the hull bottom down to bare fiberglass.  I went cheap, and bought the Chinese "Chicago Power Tools" grinder from Harbor Freight, only $25.  The grinder lasted the whole bottom job, constantly being clogged with fiberglass dust and over-use.  I burned out the brushes twice, but those were easy to replace.  The $25 grinder did the same job as a $1,000+ peeling tool (or the $100/ft to get it professionally done), and I'm happy with the results.  I spent the first 3 months of this whole project with the grinder in my hand putting punishment on the bottom, it became an extension of my body by the end.  The grinder has been revived recently for fiberglass repairs and continues to serve as a necessary tool.  I mainly use it to grind out large bevels for filling in holes, or roughing up surfaces for epoxy or fiberglass application.

9.  Safety Gear - Grinding the bottom was a nasty, hazardous job.  I originally started it with just safety glasses and a nose/mouth only mask as shown below:

I quickly realized that this set-up was not going to work.  Too much fiberglass was getting into my eyes, hair, and everywhere else.   Shortly after, I upgraded to the 3M 6900 Full Facepiece Respirator and modified clothing as shown below.

The respirator is used whenever dust is flying, fiberglass or otherwise.  I also use it for heavy fume painting.  I feel very comfortable in it and like having the extra protection.

In addition to the mask, other necessary safety gear includes heavy duty leather gloves, earplugs for prolonged grinding and sanding, and plenty of long sleeve clothes to protect my skin.  While I probably should be using a full-body Tyvek suit, the Florida heat makes those things impossible to last in. This whole project is very dangerous and safety gear is not only useful, but necessary.

10.  Trash Box - As mentioned with the Shop-vac, this project is a messy one.  Necessary for the job is a trash receptacle, and I've found nothing better than a simple cardboard box.  It is durable, light, can hold a lot, can be abused, and can be disposed of when used up.  I feel awful about the amount of waste this project has made, but better the waste be in the landfill than on my boat.


Honorable Mentions:

Ladder - while it may not have a wide variety of uses, I happen to use the ladder every time I am at the boat.  While some on this list might not get used every day, I can't even get on the boat without the trusty ladder.

Water Bottle - The boat is an oven in the Florida heat, you must keep hydrated.  Throw on full-coverage safety gear and hard manual labor, there is no escaping the need to keep throwing back water.

Box Fan - I've mentioned it a few times already, but it is HOT here in Florida.  The boat becomes an oven when locked up all day, and when I come to it after work I need to move a lot of hot air out of it.   I use two box fans to flow air through the boat, one on a hatch and the other blowing right at me.  Hot days would be completely miserable without the box fans.