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Cockpit Renovations looks at Pedestal Painting

Most modern steering pedestals are made from aluminum and usually are powder coated in the factory. This deteriorates over time. As powder coating is not something we can do on board, we use an alternative method of spray painting our pedestal.

Our pedestal is very simple with very few added extras. You need to dismantle and remove any auxiliary bits including any navigation equipment and fixtures and fittings like tables and cup holders. Our steering system is an Edson, but many other systems follow a similar design. It is always a good idea to separate individual components as corrosion always starts at the joints, it is also important to treat the bits we can’t see.

Remove the compass and disconnect the wire from the compass light. Inside the binnacle, which houses the compass, you will find four long slotted bolts, remove these and you will release the binnacle and the engine controls.  Next remove the split pins and disconnect the engine controls. You can leave the steering shaft and chain in place. It’s a good idea to take this opportunity to check this part of your steering system.

Now that you have all the bits dismantled, scrape off all the old coating with a knife, then rub down using wet and dry sand paper. Start with180 grit and gradually increase to 400 grit so that you are left with a smooth surface. The column of our pedestal was in better condition than the other parts, so only needed to be rubbed down to give a key and to even out some minor imperfections.

Aluminum requires a rather special treatment as regular paints and primers don’t stick for very long. You need to use an etch primer to ensure a good adhesion of paint. Two-pack etch primers have been the norm but recently aerosol spray etch primers have become available and are very good, especially as you will be using aerosols for the final coats.

Our pedestal separates into five separate pieces, so the next stage is to prime and paint the mating surfaces. Make sure that you have covered the area in which you are working. Once the paint has dried, reassemble the pedestal. Now we are ready to paint the whole unit. Again mask up the area thoroughly and cover all surrounding areas before spray painting.

Spray painting is a bit of an acquired art and so it is a good idea to buy an extra can of paint to first have something to practice with. Keep the can as upright as possible, use a slow gentle pressure on the nozzle and even sideways strokes. The trick is to use many thin coats rather than just one or two heavier coats. Always try to maintain a wet edge. Once it looks good, stop! Putting more coats on could lead to the paint running or dripping. Use this technique for the etch primer, then a regular primer and finally an enamel gloss top coat. There are a whole range of aerosol paints available, but you get what you pay for. You can apply almost continuously only leaving a few minutes between each coat. However, if you get a run or a blemish you will need to leave for 24 hours before you can rub down with 600 grit wet and dry and start again.

Our compass is an early Ritchie Navigator with a painted brass bezel. (Later models have a plastic bezel; which is much better.) This can also be scrapped of its old paint, being very careful not to scratch the glass. After carefully masking with fine line masking tape the brass bezel is first primed and then painted in the same manner as the pedestal to your choice of color – we chose black.

Finally, any wood trims and fixtures surrounding the pedestal should be stripped of their old varnish by scraping and then sanding using progressively finer sandpaper. We like to use 180 grit orbital disks then increasing to 240 grit sandpaper by hand. The wood in our case is teak and is wiped down with a damp rag to remove dust and then wiped with acetone to remove any residue or traces of oil inherent in teak. There are different varnishes out there to suit your needs and again you get what you pay for. We chose to use a professional yacht varnish as this tends to give a better gloss finish. Use a 1½ inch good quality foam brush. The first coat of varnish should be thinned down by 50% with thinners. A second coat can be added the same day. Reduce the amount of thinners with each coat until you are only adding a tiny amount for the final coats, just to help the varnish brush on more easily. Bush strokes should be long and continuous in the direction of the wood grain, always keeping a wet edge. Between applications, each coat should be gently rubbed down with 280 grit sandpaper.

The varnishing is the most time consuming part of the refurbishment. Once varnishing is completed everything can go back together and you now have a newly refurbished unit. As with all paints and varnishes manufacturers’ instructions should be carefully read and followed, as products vary.

Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth, both from the UK, have cruised the Caribbean and North America for the last seven years on ‘Alianna’ their Corbin39.

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