Four Solvents for Nearly Every Boat Job
In our report on solvents, we discussed in detail the uses of each of the following "major" solvents, as well as several others. For more details, see the full report ("Making Sense of Solvents"). In this short report, for the sake of minimizing storage space on board, we tried to narrow the essentials down to a few. As with cleaners (see “One Bucket Cleaning Kit,” May 2017) it’s easy to be over-specific with solvents. Pretty soon, we end up with a zillion cans in the paint locker. While we would probably pay extra for the “magic” vendor-specific blend for a topside paint job, we’d not be so selective for every single small varnish, fiberglass, or similar job that comes up. For these everyday jobs, a few generics can do the trick.
The foundational Four
Mineral Spirits. Good for thinning varnish and enamels, cleaning brushes, wiping up stray polyurethane sealants, and general cleanup.
Xylene. Reduces most topside paints, bottom paint, removes smudges, and is just the thing for removing fender and black heel marks from the topsides and deck.
Acetone. Nothing dries faster, works well with polyester resins.
Vinegar. Vinegar is not generally regarded as a solvent, but it is. We mention it here because of its usefulness for cleaning up uncured epoxy, where it disrupts the polymerization process and makes the goop easy to wash away with soap and water. It is perfect for cleaning tools after a job. The epoxy experts at West Systems, warn against using it on hands, emphasizing the importance of gloves.
Paint and Solvent Storage
The typical sailor’s garage would give an inspector from the local fire department plenty to recommend. An officer from OSHA (Occupational and Safety Hazards Administration) would also have an ample input of admonishing words . Cans are spread around on open shelving, where they can fall off and spill, are vulnerable to sparks, and can turn a small fire into something deadly in minutes. Clean this mess up.
The expensive solution is an explosion-proof cabinet of the sort required in industry. The price tag will make you faint on the spot. However, any sort of enclosed metal cabinet with a door that latches and a floor that contain some spillage addresses many of our concerns.
The cans cannot fall out and spill, they are protected from sparks, and should a small fire start, it will buy you time to either put the fire out or get out of Dodge, without exploding solvent cans adding to the danger.