How to: reseal a timber handrail

I had a small leak that would drip on the top of the chart table. It would appear after a lot of rain yet, while annoying, it did not appear to be too serious.

After checking what was above the chart table that may leak after rain, I came to the conclusion it could very well be one of the handrails on the cabin top was letting water wick under the mounting pad. I deliberated for a while and in the end thought even if it was not the culprit, the job wasn’t an enormous task any way and the handrails did need a good refurbish.


Pull the plug

Since the first and the last step in the job is removing and reinstalling wood plugs I will go into some detail about removing and replacing the plugs first. These wooden plugs used externally are the same type used in the interior joinery of your vessel.

Well, I better clarify that last statement, this would be correct if your fit-out is teak. If your fit-out is a different timber you may be able to stain the plugs to suit or perhaps cut plugs from oak or other light-coloured timber. But more on cutting plugs later.

Not knowing how to remove wooden plugs can do damage to the surrounding timbers and I have seen this on several occasions. There is from my experience outdated information available, prescribing the use of a screw in to the middle of the plug and, by screwing into the plug, it will come clear of its hole.

This may have worked in the old days, however time moves on and the adhesives used in boat building and fit-out have improved. I would say the adhesive is stronger than the timber and if you do get the plug to come out it will normally tear out an enormous amount of timber around the hole with it. This does not look very nice and the repair work to fix it will always be there and will catch your eye every time you look that way.

To remove a plug easily I use a forstner drill bit, these bits are not usually found at your local hardware. You will find these bits at woodworking machinery suppliers or on eBay. Some of the large hardware chains stock them, however, unless things have changed the ones they stock will be too large for the purpose of removing plugs. I get mine from a woodworking tool supplier: Along with the flexible plug cut-off saw plus the drill bit needed to cut new wooden plugs.

The most common size plugs are 3/8″ and ½” of course those of you with European vessels will find the Imperial plug sizes are close to metric equivalent and I have found that they will work.

So removing the plug is relatively straight forward: find the centre of the plug and, using the drill on slow speed, carefully drill through the old plug. Remember: slow speed. Be careful not to place too much pressure on the drill so that when it cuts through the plug it does not damage the screw head under the plug.

Once you have drilled out the plugs and find the head of the screw is full of adhesive and your screwdriver will not get into the slot, a scribe can be used to pick out the old adhesive. If the screw head is damaged, screw extractors are available and work very well. The one I like to use has a drill bit which cuts anti-clockwise, which takes a bit of getting used to. On the other end of the tool is a tool that will screw into the freshly cut hole and, when used in the drill, will drive out the old screw.

You can buy precut wood plugs from most chandleries, but if you do not want to pay the prices the chandleries charge for the wooden plugs you can cut your own quite easily. You will find, however, that the plugs are on average 50 cents each, so this does add up quite quickly.

A plug cutter tool is available at wood working machinery suppliers. This will allow new plugs to be cut from a variety of timber types to suit your interior. Then you will need timber to make into plugs, I usually wait until I see someone undertaking work and then, when they are cleaning up, ask for offcuts that were headed to the bin.

If you find previous work has damaged the timber around the wooden plugs, go up a plug size is the simple answer; but to do this will involve plugging the hole, sawing off the excess and sanding smooth. Once the glue has set, centre the drill on the newly-installed plug and cut a new larger hole. A damaged 3/8″ hole will easily take a ½” plug, if you need plug larger than ½” to cover the damaged area then you will need to buy a plug cutter and cut the plugs yourself or approach the local joinery cabinet maker to cut some plugs for you. Of course you could try the local boat builder/repairer.

Where were we?

Back to the handrail reseal.

When the timber plugs are removed the rest of the job does not take long. Using masking tape on the bases of the handrail and around where the bases will sit saves a lot of grief with clean up. There are no dirty fingers covered with sealant and cloths or paper towel to dispose of, the excess sealant is removed the next day after set up, nice and easy.

You will not have to screw the handrail down tight. Try and aim for two millimetre of sealant under the base, just tighten down gently or cut small spacers to put into the sealant under the handrail bases to obtain the gap. If I require a spacer I will clip small pieces from heavy duty cable ties, these will be imbedded into the sealant on the finished job.

I use epoxy to reinsert the plugs, this will form a watertight seal so there should not be any darkening of the timber around the plug due to water wicking into a glue that is not waterproof.

View breakout box for the procedure.

Jeanneau JY60
JPK August 2023
Cyclops Marine
Jeanneau JY60
M.O.S.S Australia
NAV at Home
Cyclops Marine