Head start: make your own headliner

Sometimes we are forced into DIY, even when we are prepared to pay 
a professional.

Last year I tried to obtain quotes to replace the headliner in the forward cabin. It was the original early 1980s perforated vinyl, sewn into panels and stapled in place.

Popular and quite attractive in its day, it had outlived its service life. A large tear just above the bunk showed it was also quite brittle.Although I was prepared to consider any recommended method to replace it, no one would even give me a price. If I wanted a new headliner, I would have to make it myself.

I needed to think of a way to produce a professional looking job. This ruled out anything to do with sewing. I was also averse to the common vinyl-covered plywood panel method. Partly because I dislike vinyl, but also because I was not sure I could stick it to plywood without wrinkles.

I considered making panels from plywood or some similar material and then sealing and painting them. This seemed promising, but quite labour intensive. I wanted to find a stiff board-like material that could be cut and shaped easily, either a light cream colour or something I could paint to suit.

By this point, I was confident of producing a headliner from something, so took the seemingly drastic step of removing the old perforated vinyl. Firstly, all the teak trim pieces were unscrewed, marked and stored for re-use later. The easiest way to remove the dozens of staples was a combination of levering with a small, flat blade screwdriver and lifting with needle nose pliers. At this stage I was unsure whether I needed the old vinyl for a pattern so kept it in one piece, rolling it up as I went.
Eeeuw! Although there was not a single leak above the liner, over three decades-worth of dirt had turned to mould. Perhaps this was the source of our persistent respiratory problems since moving aboard?

Fortunately I was familiar with mould removal methods from my time in far north Queensland, following mould expert Doctor Leigh Winsor’s advice once more. This was, basically, to wear a proper facemask and gloves and to use vinegar to kill the mould. Dr. Winsor and other scientists caution against using bleach because it only hides the mould and does not actually kill it. See the sidebar for more detailed information about mould removal.

With everything clean, it was time to start on the actual job. In my search for a stable, non-toxic, easily worked and economical panel material I stumbled on common Corflute, polypropylene twin-wall plastic sheet that is light and rigid. You probably know it as the material used for real estate signs.

It is not completely flat as it has small ridges, or flutes, moulded in. I thought these would actually add some texture to the panels and enhance the appearance over plain, flat panelling. I intended to paint the headlining in a semi-flat, off-white or cream colour, so the original colour of the material was irrelevant.

Corflute is available in large panels, but not locally to me. In any case, the panels would need support, so I was able to use the relatively small sheets available at Bunnings.

I decided to have each panel span the space between the existing beams that held up the old headliner. As our forward cabin is wide, but not very long I chose to make the space seem longer by aligning the ridges in the Corflute fore and aft.
Every panel was different, even supposedly mirror-image panels on opposite sides of the boat. However, the beams were straight and square to the centreline (except one!) so spiling the panel to the curves of the cabin ceiling was relatively simple.

Having misplaced my joggle stick, as you do, I used a ruler to mark the shapes of the new panels in the same way. This involved clamping a piece of flat material, in my case an old piece of Corflute, within the space to be occupied by the panel. See the sidebar on joggle sticks for a more detailed description of how this works.

One end of the ruler was positioned where the edge of the new panel would be and I traced around the other end on to the Corflute. I then transferred these marks to a new piece of Corflute, creating the exact shape of each panel.

Well, nearly anyway. Corflute is easily worked with a utility knife and block plane, so any indiscretions were easily remedied. As I moved aft to simpler, less rounded shapes, I ditched the ruler method and was able to measure the sizes required with a tape measure. The beams were parallel at right angles to the centreline, so the shapes were basically a rectangle with one sloped edge. By measuring the three known sides, I arrived at the right shape for the fourth.

When transferring measurements to the Corflute, take care to align the panels correctly. I cut one with the flutes facing athwartships and had to make another to replace it.

After trial fitting the panels to ensure they all fit together, I rolled on an undercoat and two coats of Dulux ‘Wash&Wear’ low sheen. Any low sheen paint would have been fine but Wash&Wear was the only one available locally in a half litre tin. Buying in small amounts is an expensive way to buy paint, but it was only needed for this one small job.

Before covering the beam structure, consider whether any extra support is required for the new trim pieces. On this project, the central bits needed small wooden blocks attached to existing beams to provide a landing place for the end screws. Also remember to allow for any wiring that comes through the panelling and, if necessary, mark the position of any lights.

Once the paint hardened, I temporarily nailed the panels in place using small brass brads I had on board. The original teak trim supported the edges at each end and around the hatch. Next job was to make new trim to cover the panel joins and support the outboard edges.

What is the best material for these new trim pieces? Varnished teak to match the originals, or something that will blend in with the headliner? For such a small amount of timber the cost of teak was not an issue, however I thought the result would be a bit like a patchwork quilt, breaking an already small area into smaller sections. I decided to have the trim match the panels, which meant I could use standard hardwood mouldings from Bunnings.

The outer edges of the cabin sides are quite curved, so I chose a kind of quad moulding that would bend for these, while the straight joins would be covered by flat section with rounded edges. I wanted them all as small as possible to minimise visual impact.

I am happy with the result, although I may have been able to use even smaller mouldings for the straight pieces. Shaping each piece to fit involved using a bevel gauge, because of the angle where the athwartships bits met the sides. Each one was different due to the changing curve of the outboard edge of the cabin.

I sanded and painted this collection of shaped sticks, screwed them in place, and refitted the cabin light.
Suddenly the job was finished. The forward cabin is much brighter and neater than before. It is healthier now, the previously unseen mould is gone and it looks 100 per cent better.

As with all DIY, it is worth reflecting on how to improve. While the battens are consistent with the era of the boat, I would prefer them to be less obvious. Fewer panels might look more streamlined. A more skilled person could reduce the number of panels, but would need to find a way to support them. Velcro on the beams perhaps?

I think one large panel a side would look fantastic, with the flutes running fore and aft then a central trim piece in teak. This would involve chiselling the beam ends slightly to enable the Corflute to be rebated above the pelmets, negating the need for the outboard trim. However, that is all beyond my patience and talent level.

So what did it cost?

Corflute $45, timber $32, screws $8, paint $28 plus undercoat I already had on hand, paint roller kit (completely reusable) $11. Lets say less than $140, including the undercoat. I also spent about $30 on vinegar, but that was not part of the actual headliner replacement.
Labour? Lots, because I had to work it out as I went. But that is DIY for you. By the end of the job you know how to do it and usually have ideas about how to do it better next time. ≈


Mould removal

Mould is a serious adversary. The spores can cause permanent harm so protection is needed while dealing with it. My doctor strongly recommended wearing a respirator fitted with both dust and organic vapour filters to protect against ingesting more mould spores into my lungs. I already owned one of these respirators, but even if you do not, at around $60 they are good value. Just remember to replace the filters once you finish with mould.

To kill the mould prepare three buckets, the first with four parts vinegar to one part water, the second one 4:2, and the third plain water. Use a cloth dipped in the first bucket to clean off the mould, rinse it in the second one and then again in the water.

Some people add clove oil to discourage further mould growth. However, clove oil can be allergenic and may stain soft furnishings.

Dr Winsor also suggests using disinfectant wipes or anti-bacterial sprays containing 60% alcohol as an alternative to the vinegar/water method.

Preparation included removing everything possible from the forward cabin then covering the bunk cushions with sheets. I would have preferred to remove the cushions too but had nowhere to put them. Afterwards, the sheets were carefully removed, washed in hot water and dried in the sun to kill the mould spores they had inevitably collected.

As I could only deal with a little mould at a time, I pulled down one panel at a time, cleaning up the mould as I went. Although this reduced the quantity of mould spores potentially floating around, I also bought a HEPA air filter to help reduce the risk of contaminating the whole boat. My doctor reckoned that once the mould spores were disturbed, they would spread throughout the boat. Therefore, I needed to wipe down all hard surfaces and either discard soft furnishings or place them in the sun to kill the spores. Small items were to be collected into plastic bags before removal from inside, then given the sun treatment. All this took ages, but I did not want to risk further contamination.

More info:


Joggle sticks

A joggle stick, or tick stick if you hail from the far side of the Pacific, is a device used to transfer an irregular shape, like a bulkhead, to a pattern board. It is made from whatever flat, stable material is to hand, like thin plywood.
Usually about half a metre long, it can be whatever size is appropriate. The shape is like a long triangle, wide at one end and pointed at the other, with irregular notches cut along one edge.
To use, clamp a piece of flat pattern stock, like plywood or cardboard, in the same plane as the area for which you are making the pattern. Place the point of the joggle stick at intervals along the edges of the bulkhead and trace its outline on the pattern board. Repeat until there are enough marks to replicate the desired shape. Move the board to the stock from which the actual item will be cut and transfer the marks by reversing the process.
That is, place the joggle stick exactly on the traced lines and mark the point on the stock. The irregular notches prevent misalignment by ensuring the joggle stick will only fit on one set of traced lines.
More info: Joggle sticks: http://bit.ly/2mIGr0z.
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