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April 2007

Have epoxy adhesives improved recently?

We received the following email a few weeks ago:

From:Philippe Sandel

Subject: Epoxy Question


I have been reading your books time and again in preparation for some extended offshore cruising. Your views greatly help to keep some common sense amongst all the hype being offered.

As I am entering the final planning phase, can I ask you a short question on hull construction materials? In your book on Details of Classic Boat Construction(edition 1999) you make a case against the use of epoxies in combination with wood. Is this position still valid in 2007 or has there been an evolution in current epoxy-products which would allow for a dependable, long-lasting woodcore-epoxy type construction (the design I am looking at is found on www.chantiermer.com/presselordjim.htm

Could you maybe address this epoxy-issue briefly in an upcoming cruising tip on your site?


Philippe Sandel, Belgium

Our answer is, unfortunately, little has changed since Larry wrote the appendix to Details of Classic Boat Construction for the 1999 edition. It showed why we are uncomfortable about using epoxy adhesives for any structural members of a wooden boat or for any wood to wood gluing where the joint will be subjected to either heat, regular soaking in water, and what is called deep cycling, i.e. being wet then dry, time and again, or exposure to UV light. None of the epoxies we see being sold for boatbuilding purposes are rated waterproof, all have low Heat Deflection Temperatures. HTD is the temperature at which any plastic (epoxy is a plastic) will soften enough to loose 30% of its strength. With each degree rise in temperature more strength is lost. You can look for yourself at www.westsystem.com under product information, typical physical properties. There you will see the epoxy distributed by West System has HTD's ranging from as low as 116°F to a top value of 123°F. Products from other companies such as System Three, Poly-shield etc. are little different.

The one thing that has changed is, since we began writing about the problems with epoxy adhesives for boat building, the distributors and marketers have become much more careful with advertising and information pamphlets than they were even eight or ten years ago. If you read carefully you will see these products are called "water resistant" not water proof. Furthermore, if you search through the information you can find on most of their sites or by ordering instructional booklets, there are warnings that using these epoxies in temperatures below 65°F will result in less than optimal results (this is couched in terms such as - will loose physical properties.)

To our knowledge, there is still only one adhesive that can be advertised as waterproof, for extreme exposure exterior use and that is resorcinol glue. Many wonderful, long lasting laminated boats have been built using this adhesive. Take a look at John Guzzwell's Treasure to see a fine example as are the Luder 16's and Sparkman Stephens boats built in the 50's and 60's. Those built using dark purple adhesives - resorcinol, are still in fine shape today.

An interesting aside, when the second edition of Details of Classic Boat Construction came out with the appendix on problems with epoxy adhesives, the attorney for West System called and said her office was reviewing our appendix. The upshot was a request that in future we capitalize the name West System and if possible use the trademark symbol. I.e. they could not refute any of the problems we stated.


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