Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Hello.  I'm interested in building my first kit boat!  However, I also live in a townhouse apartment with no garage or good outdoor space to work in.

I'd be comfortable with my living room commandeered by a Chester Yawl for several months.  I'm also willing to use cabinet scrapers and wet-sanding techniques in an attempt to keep dust and noise down--even if it requires many more hours.  The room has 3 smallish windows that could have fans for ventilation...

Maybe an experienced builder can tell me;  is this feasible, or will I just soil my apartment with toxic fumes?

19 replies:

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RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

There have been many boats built in apartments with no ill effect's on the surroundings or the inhabitants thereof. The most important thing to consider is, will the finished boat fit thru an opening to find freedom outside the living room or will it have to become part of the furniture. Measure carefully. Twice.

George K 

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Yips--I thought my shop was small and inconvienient--but the thought of the amount of sanding and the resin spills and the urethane smell which your neighbors will be sharing makes me feel for them to say nothing of what the better half would say if their is one. Then their is the combustibility factor of finishing products and solvents that just need a spark from the hot water heater, furnace, or static charge from the carpet that make's me feel for the land lord if its not you and the poor saps next door---sort of an insult followed by an injury., or possible explosion. Of course it could be just me and how I personally would want my neighbors to behave --if you can keep them happy with an occasional beer purchase go for it...Glad I am not your land lord.....CZ

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

I once built a Cartopper sailing skiff on the deck of my condominium and kept the neighbors entertained all summer. I didn't do any of it indoors, however. The epoxy work shouldn't be a problem as long as you cover the floors to catch drips and wear a respirator while working with it. Epoxy fumes are very mild and shouldn't bother your neighbors. Varnish and paint are a different story, though. I would highly recommend you do that somewhere else. -Wes

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Sorry CZ but with that advice most of us would have never build a boat...

Yes it can be done. Slowrower your idea in not a dream and building a boat in a living room can be done.  You would be surprised at the builders who have built boats in their house. My Mill Creek 16.5 was built in the living room and no power tools were used except a cordless drill. The following items will get you started:

- Will it fit out of the house when completed. Will you be able to navigate thru doors and windows. CLC has info on all of the boats for this.

- Don't be in a hurry.

- No power tools. Hand sanding, scrapers, planes and saws. You don't need a power sander or router, power tools are not faster most of the time.

- Drop cloths both plastic and canvas. I never got anything on the carpet!

- A PVC plumbing tent works well to control epoxy fumes and dust.

- Be neat and take you time, don't set a schedule, set a task. By working to a schedule you will focus more on time than quality, shortcuts will lead to mistakes and also a big mess because you are hurrying to meet the schedule. By setting a reasonable task you will stay focused and work.

- Clean up when you are done for the night and prepare for tomorrows task. By doing this you can get right to work the next day instead of cleaning and wondering what to do next.

- Epoxy does not explode but the fumes are bad for your health. A window fan and a PVC tent will be necessary while coating and fiber glassing. Save the varnish for outside.

If you have any questions be sure to ask but be patient as we are usually out paddling...

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

I built a canoe in my living room. If you proceed slowly and clean meticulously then building a boat indoors is very possible. In fact, having to look at it daily may encourage you to work on it more often and will get it done faster.

Have a big bottle of rubbing alcohol (mineral spirits on the other side of the pond) for cleaning up epoxy drips. Perhaps look into "Peel Ply" to limit the amount of sanding that must be done. 

On the other hand, varnish and paint should be done outside because of the fumes. Is there a local artist studio you can rent for a week? Community college?

I say go for it. You'll be immensely proud in the end.


RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Although I have built my boats in the garage, I still do not like the amount of dust generated by sanding. And the Alaskan winter makes sanding outdoors problematic. I just finished a Shearwater and wetsanded the entire boat by hand and prefer this method over the electric sander. I started with 80 grit, which cut through the high points quickly, then 150 grit, and finished with 180. The entire hull took maybe 3 hours and I had perfect control of how much epoxy I removed and from where. Spread a sheet of plastic to catch the drips and building a boat in the living room is very doable. If neighbors complain about fumes during varnishing, just tell them you are refinishing your cabinets :-)



RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Thanks for the replies everybody.  I'm still mulling this over, but think I may do it...  A few thoughts I'm having:

-The boat will fit out the front door but will need to be turned on its side.  Could be awkward.

-Will use plenty of dropcloth.  I like the PVC tent too--hadn't thought of that.  Thanks for the photos.  

-I guess my assumption is that cabinet scrapers will mostly produce shavings that fall to the floor rather than dust, and that wet-sanding is nearly dust-free.  Correct?  I DON'T intend to use a power sander.

-Point taken about the varnish and paint fumes.  I suppose I could try a small amount (with plenty of fans and windows open) and see how it goes.  If it's apparent that it will cause a mess, I can just stop.  By this point it may look enough like a boat to convince a friend to let me finish in his yard...

-Point also taken about not trying to meet a schedule or rush to get it done.  I'll try to adopt the attitude that the project can be shelved at any time--until such time that I have a better workspace.  There's an empty area along the wall where I could lean the unfinished boat without disturbing the room too much.  I don't have a lot of other clutter, so worst case scenario would be having an unfinished rowboat next to my rowing machine to give me inspiration.

-One thing still egging me:  CZ pointed out this is a rented space.  I know I wouldn't feel too kosher calling up the landlord and admitting I'm building a 15-foot yawl in here, so maybe it isn't really a proper thing to do.

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Wetsanding is not nearly dust free, it is completely dust free. And the fumes during varnishing are minor. One window van blowing out will keep the air circulating. My garage is attached to my house and I do not ventilate it at all because I do not want any air movement to bring in any dust. There is a minor smell in the house for a couple of hours, but that's it. I used to keep my motorcycle in the living room of my apartment and rebuilt the engine in my kitchen one winter. 



RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?


>>I guess my assumption is that cabinet scrapers will mostly produce shavings that fall to the floor rather than dust...Correct?

Correct.  Same is true of carbide scraper, which I recommend as a supplement to cabinet scraper.  Get the larger size if you only get one (1.5 inch maybe?) , but having the small size (3/4 inch?) can be handy.  The principle of the carbide scraper is identical to cabinet scraper (cheap, clean/no dust, quiet, no electricity, effective, touches only the unwanted material rather than removing both the drips and the good epoxy, and a pleasure to use. )   Perfect for apartment build.

The advantage of carbide scraper is that you never have to sharpen it, and yet it lasts a very long time.  With epoxy, and especially with fused silica/epoxy, cabinet scraper requires frequent sharpening.

On the other hand, the advantage of the cabinet scraper is that, if you know how to sharpen it, it lasts forever, it is even cheaper than carbide scraper, and the much greater width is nice on large flat areas.

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

"I know I wouldn't feel too kosher calling up the landlord and admitting I'm building a 15-foot yawl in here, so maybe it isn't really a proper thing to do."

Oh, I don't know.  Your sense of propriety is admirable.  But your landlord probably has other tenants who are committing some seriously heinous acts in their rental units - especially if they are luxury suites! ;-) 

So I'm not sure you need to ask for permission.  If you aren't damaging his property, your neighbors aren't complaining, and there's no applicable clause in the contract, isn't some latitude in order?

If he does hear what's going on, stimulate his interest.  Who can resist being included in the excitement of someone's boatbuilding project?  It'll be fine!


RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

slow rower

I guess my remarks are in left field on this one judging by the remarks made. This would definately raise the bar in the challenges of doing a build and it does on that point alone command my respect.

My opinions and thoughts do come from repairs that I have done for home owners as a carpenter after getting rid of bad renters. One of the better ones was a guy who some-how got a V-8 engine and an engine hoist on a second story apartment living room floor and attemted a rebuild----fluids all through the carpet etc.

Another was from one of my former painters who in order to make a tight deadline worked through the night spraying laquer which went well till someone kick over a light and when the bulb broke it caused an explosion which took out all of the windows in the place. They faired pretty well as they were in the center of the blast --which is better than near the exterior walls which is were the windows were.

I believe the remarks made for the need to be neat, orderly, to have plenty of coverings for the floor, and not get in a hurry is right on. I was wrong to go to the lowest common denominator with your post. This does how-ever put a responsibility upon you to do this right because if you mess up it makes us all look bad. We do not need a bad sterio type started regarding boat builders. Best Regards---CZ

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

There is another reason to be clean, other than protecting the floors and walls: when it come time to varnish, every little speck of dust will be magnetically drawn to your freshly varnished surface! Same for cat/dog/chinchilla hair and mosquitos...

I think scrapers, planes and hand sanding are the way to go. They are infinately more enjoyable than power tools and make larger shavings that fall to the floor and not float in the air. Learning how to sharpen a planing iron is a skill in itself.

Regarding the nuissance to neighbours, here in Quebec the landlord can only kick you out after proving in court that you comprimise the "peaceable enjoyment" of other tenants. That is, be reasonable and listen to your neighbours and all should be hunky dory! (like my boat humour?)

Be sure to post pictures of your build!


RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Well said CZ.

At the end of the project you should hear the words from your neighbors, "I can't beleive you build a boat nextdoor...".


RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

It might be worth snapping a few photos along the way that demonstrate how careful you're being to protect the landlord's interests, in case that discussion ever needs to happen.  And in the worst case scenario, what would you do if, midway through the build, you're forced to "cease and desist"? 


RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

For a different take on this problem, I am building a Northeast Dory in my drivewqay and it's quite do-able. Yes there is more dust in my final coat of paint than I like and one needs to be very careful with the weather. ie postpone the varnish job until there is no threat of thunderstorms etc. Daytime temps must be between 60 and 90 degrees for epoxy, paint and varnish as well. But as sailors we need to be alert to weather anyway.

 I'm nearly done with only a few weather related frustrations.

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

I built a surf board in my bed room in the early 70's .The fiberglass resin is still all over the place.

RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

Here is another possible solution to your building a boat while living in an apartment: Rent some industrial space or a hangar space to use as a work shop.

When I lived in an apartment I used a 10X15 storage space as a "garage" to work on projects. It had enough power to use my Sears air compressor.

In this economy you can probably find a small cabinet maker in an industrial area who'll rent you space to build in.

Or you can go to the local general aviation airport and rent some hangar space to build in. Airplane owners are always looking for ways to cut storage costs for their hobby and many hangars are filled with things being stored or worked on, including kit airplanes being made of......FIBERGLASS. An airplane builder would probably be happy to rent you some space in his hangar.

Contact your local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association to see who is building in your area, or contact the airport manager as he'll know who is using a hangar to build an aircraft. 


RE: Building indoors -- an epoxy and varnish disaster?

You forgot to mention the most important thing- do you have a WIFE?? If so, forget it, uh uh, no way! 

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