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DIY floor panels
  |  First Published: May 2005



My Quintrex Top Ender is aging gracefully (unlike its owner) but it was high time some of the ply flooring was replaced. My fishing buddy Rob Cannon and I recently spent a morning replacing the panels, and we were surprised at how quickly we got the job done. If you’ve been procrastinating about replacing floor panels in your boat, the following may give you some hints and the motivation to finally bite the bullet and just do it!

Having the right tools is the key to an easy job. You’ll need a jigsaw and a battery (or electric) drill, but after that the usual handyman tools will get you through. One tool worth having on hand is a pair of lock pliers, as invariably a screw or two will break when you’re removing or replacing the panels. Lock pliers are the best tool I’ve found for removing broken screws.

It’s obvious when it’s time to replace panels, as they start to get spongy underfoot. Eventually someone will put a foot through the floor if the panels aren’t replaced, so don’t leave it for too long.

PLY SELECTION

It’s important that you select the right ply. There are numerous types of ply available on the market, and three types worth considering for floor panels are structural ply, external hardwood ply and a new product called form ply. I used structural ply when I last replaced some panels about five years ago and they are still going strong. Just remember that ply with waterproof glue is essential if you want any sort of life out of your new floor.

For maximum life it pays to seal the ply faces and edges with paint or epoxy resin before gluing the carpet on. If you don’t want to have to paint the faces you can opt to use form ply, which already has a sealed surface made of black paper impregnated with resin. This outside layer of the ply is bonded to the timber ply during manufacture. It is designed for forming up concrete work, and the black paper/resin surface is super-smooth and developed to stop the concrete from sticking to the ply.

I used form ply when I recently replaced my floor panels, and I’m keen to see how long it will last in the marine environment. It removed a whole stage of the process, allowing us to finish the job in a morning instead of over a couple of days, waiting for the paint/epoxy to dry. I opted not to seal the edges this time to see how it goes. I have replaced only four small panels in the boat, so the risk is minimal.

PROCEDURE

The first step is to remove the panels to be replaced and lay them out on the ply sheet to get the best fit and minimize waste. It pays to use the original panels, with the carpet still attached, as templates. If the flooring is well gone it will disintegrate when you pull the carpet off and you’ll be left without a good template, making the job very fiddly. The first time I replaced some flooring I took the carpet off the first panel and it was a pain in the butt trying to use the rotting ply as a template.

Once you have drawn the outline using the original panel, the secret is to use a straight edge where possible (draw free hand on the curves) to draw a line 5mm inside the outline to allow room for the carpet to be re-glued. After I had so much trouble with the ply-only template (after removing the carpet on the first refit), I left the second panel intact but cut only 3mm inside the outline. This margin was too narrow and I had to do a lot of trimming to get it to fit. This time around, taking 5mm off the outline resulted in a perfect fit, first time.

Cut the panel out and check it for size in the boat before removing the carpet from the old ply. If you have the time and the cash you can opt to replace the carpet, but it's not really necessary. Marine grade carpet will far outlast the ply. And as well as saving you money, the original carpet already has the right shape and fold lines. It won’t take nearly as long to re-fit the old carpeting as it would if you had to cut and fit a new carpet.

The old carpet will pull off pretty easily from the flat surfaces unless the old ply is really rotten, in which case the outside layer of ply will separate from the sheet. A blunt chisel is a good tool for getting off the stubborn pieces and a sharp chisel is better for the edges, which stick strongly to the carpet.

Once you have scraped the carpet clean, give it a good shake and lay it out in direct sunlight to dry. There will still be some moisture in the carpet, unless the boat hasn’t been used for several weeks.

By the time you have removed the other panels and cut out the new ones, and stripped off all the carpet, the first piece of carpet should be dry enough to glue. I used Selley’s Kiwi Grip last time and again this time. It is heat- and water-resistant and has lasted five years on the original replacement job, so I know it works.

Coat the flat surface of the ply and the carpet with Kiwi Grip and leave until it’s touch dry. Next, place the carpet sticky side up and then place the ply onto the carpet. It gives you more control to make sure the ply is centred on the carpet correctly.

Once you are happy with the positioning, press it down by hand, then turn it over and walk on it to press it down firmly. Glue the flat surface first, and then do the roll over edges as a second run. Press the edges down by hand, then use a hammer to bang it down and in to get a snug fit. Check again that the panel fits in the boat, with the carpet on, so it can still be pulled apart if necessary before it fully dries.

I have gone up a size in thickness from the original ply so it was necessary to slightly bend up the alloy plates around the base of the ribs, and then bang them down tight once the new panels were screwed back in place. Use the old screw holes in the carpet as a guide to drill the ply and into the alloy frames. If you are spot-on with your work, most of the holes will line up again in the alloy frame. If not, it’s no drama to drill new holes into the alloy. All up, it took us four hours to replace four panels, from go to whoa, and we didn’t burst a boiler in the process.

Facts

PLY INFO

Structural ply, for a 1200mm x 2400mm x 17mm sheet, costs about $50. Form ply in the same size costs about $75. External hardwood ply will cost you around $130 for the same size sheet.

Whatever ply you use, seal the faces and edges with paint or resin. This will significantly prolong the life of the flooring.

[CAPTIONS]

1) Use the old panel, with the carpet still on, as a template.

2) Use a straight edge to draw a cut line 5mm inside the template line.

3) Use a hammer to tap the fold over edge down. Hit towards the centre of the panel to pull the carpet tight around the edge.

4) The foot plates around the base of the ribs can be lifted up to take a slightly thicker ply, then tapped back down for a tight fit.

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