The Deck Project: part #1: Pressure-Washers

In retrospect, the discovery this morning of a shard of ice more than a centimetre thick atop some standing water on Neville’s boat should have been something of a warning.

These depths of winter notwithstanding, I nevertheless decided recently that now was the perfect time to get cracking on Project Deck which we’re aiming to have completed by the end of June. I borrowed a neighbour’s pressure-washer and set aside today as Day#1.

20140112-162236.jpg(We will get our own eventually, but it seemed sensible to try one out before investing the best part of £200 in a piece of kit we’ve never used before.)

After an uncertain start getting it to work properly (which saw us get as far as looking up pressure washers we could hire instead from our local HSS), we discovered the ON/ OFF switch and I got going. Ahem. But I very quickly stopped again when I saw how much paint was coming up. Not so much because it’s a problem – the end goal is to repaint anyway – but to re-take stock of the situation.

It was immediately apparent that having started this job, one could easily keep going – through the dense dirt and flaking paint, down through layers of perfectly healthy-looking paint, primer and oxide (not to mention the frequent bubbles blooming into unexpected eruptions of rust), all the way down to bare metal – and never finish the job. Have I mentioned recently how large the surface area of the deck and topsides is? And all paint is not applied equal. So in some areas it comes off unexpectedly in vast and copious sheets, and some of it flatly refuses to shift whatsoever under any circumstances.

As I see it, the possibilities with a pressure washer on an old steel oft-badly-painted boat are twofold:

1) CLEANING. Four years build-up of slime and grime made this today’s no.1 priority. Optimal impact while we decide what to do about point (2) below.

I read somewhere that ideally one should use a pressure washer to hose one’s decks down once a month to keep everything shipshape. Preferably one with a ‘gentle’ setting that doesn’t rip all the paint off.

Unsurprisingly, the rust stains were much more visible on the white paint than on any of the darker painted areas. This is only relevant as we have previously discussed painting the whole top-deck white so it’s not as hot underfoot during the summer, but maybe a subtle shade of peach would be a wiser choice. Just kidding. Sort of. I hate peach.

Here are some before and after shots of the cleaning goodness:

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The second possibility with a pressure washer is:
2) PAINT/ LOOSE SURFACE DEBRIS REMOVAL. This is the bit that freaked me out when I started: it was startling how easily the top-layer of paint came up, even where it looked completely fine and rust-free:
20140112-192317.jpgWhere there were just the smallest patches of rust, a few seconds under the nozzle stripped back layers and layers of paint down to primer and even the oxide beneath. My favourite bit was this one, which in ten minutes went from this:

20140112-192444.jpg To this:

20140112-192512.jpg See that great new patch of darkness? That’s bare metal.

So not only are we up against substantial areas of rust (we knew this) but there are also several layers of paint on top of each other (and occasionally on top of said rust), applied with varying degrees of effectiveness over the years.

To repaint the boat effectively, we’re going to need to get all this rubbish off and strip the surface back to the primer if not the metal itself, to ensure the cleanest base for the new paint that we can manage.

This is a massive job. I think we’re going to need a bigger washer: specifically a UHPWJ (680-1700bar/ 10,000-25,000 bar) if not a slurry blaster.

Which makes me feel slightly better about starting this very wet job on one of the coldest days so far this winter, and freezing my feet so solid that I had to climb off the deck on my knees and actually went so far as to Google ‘frostbite‘. Holy Moses, defrosting them again seriously hurt.

20140112-193453.jpgFinally: a moment for the environment. I’m not sure what to do about this one. All those flakes of paint inevitably make their way into the river and affect the wildlife around us, which is awful – but as far as I can work out, unavoidable. Boats are filthy, obnoxious things; with all the chemicals not to mention poor insulation and coal/diesel consumption, we are not eco-friendly by any means. Hell, we don’t even have anywhere to recycle our food waste, although that’s partly down to the council and we will be getting a wormery when it gets warmer. Then (and this does not make it ok) I looked down the side between the boats and saw this:

20140112-194836.jpgand remembered the hundreds of plastic bottles caught in the reeds at low tide on my afternoon walk downstream last weekend. We’re adding to a problem that’s already particularly bad around here (refer this post from the summer)…

So I’m going to do some research into what ‘better’ ways there are to do work like this, if any. I believe Jotun does an ‘eco’ paint, although I don’t know how it compares in quality. In the meantime, if any of you know of anything else helpful along these lines, please let me know.

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2 thoughts on “The Deck Project: part #1: Pressure-Washers

  1. charlie says:

    Brilliant post – thanks! I will put out into the sustainability arena questions about what to do with old paint – perhaps a call to the/a manufacturer might be fun – and what paint to use that is eco friendly on an old barge…. might prove quite a fun investigation! Did you know you can buy heated inner shoes to go inside your motorbike boots – I have some inner gloves for inside my bike gloves – glorious!!!!

    • I definitely need some of those!

      I think the challenge is twofold:
      a) how to stop the old paint flakes getting into the river, and then
      b) how to dispose of them… Not to mention the usual issues around disposing of all the cleaning and application accessories.

      Today I smell of diesel. I feel like I’ve finally arrived at the gates of Bona Fide Boatdom!

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