Companionway Steps - Part 2, remaking them

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Back to Home ... Projects ... Trick Wood Projects ... s/v Stella Blue home


I've always thought the companionway steps were minimal,
wasting one of the most accessible places in the boat.
The trade off, of course, is that they have
the highest potential to get wet and stay wet.

So while I have everything ripped apart to repower,
it's time to turn the steps into storage compartments.
It's a nice little wood project to do at home
when I can't get to the boat.

First I disassembled it, and managed to knock chips
out of the nice teak sides when I pulled out the bungs.

They were joined
with a nice lap joint,
with a 1/2" overlap,
to make one big plank.

Lots of clamps!

I'm sure a professional woodworker would have a better plan.

I just made it fit and clamped the heck out of it "every way from Sunday"
and then sanded it into plane
with a belt sander.

Hey, it works.

I'm going to make the sides bigger, and had some teak stock in the garage that hadn't been used for anything because
the grain was ugly.

It'll work fine for this.

The old non-skid was really stuck on there, but some work with a putty knife got it off.

A heat gun would have helped,
but my heat gun is on the boat,
and I'm at home,
so I had to use brute force.

"Goof-Off" removed the remaining adhesive, so the steps could be sanded down
without gooping up the sandpaper.

But I saved each chip and glued them back in (above.)

I'm going to lap joint those new hunks of wood onto the existing steps.

The trick to a good joint is clean edges.

To make a sharp clean edge for the joint, I used the router table.

By letting the bit extend out just a hair,
it shaves the edges clean.

Yup, that's just a piece of scrap hardwood, bolted onto the router table with C clamps.

So, anyway, there are the steps.

The zebrawood really turned out nice.
With the complex and random pattern,
it should help hide scuff marks from feet.

It sure is nice to have them back in the boat.
They've been out for eight months, and that was
about three months longer than I had planned.
(I blame the three month loss on the yard boss, who managed to make a three week haulout last three months.)
With the new engine in I could restore the countertops
under the companionway, which support the steps.
It sure is good to get the darn stepladder out of the boat.

The lids do need some kind of a latch.
I had always assumed that the right solution would
suddenly become obvious. A lot of times if you just let a puzzle sit and stew, the perfect answer will just pop into place. Well, that hasn't happened.
I may just put some little hooks and eyes on there.
It's important that the lids not pop up and spill tools
all over the place at the wrong moment.

More clamps!

The front panels for the compartments under the steps are made from Zebrawood.

I've always wanted to use Zebrawood for something.

It's expensive, though, so I bought a 1/4" thick plank and glued it onto a backing of 1/4" marine plywood.

The existing steps are going to become hinged lids,
and they'll be supported by teak shelves.

The shelves have a groove routed along the edges and back, so that water will be caught and drained away instead of dripping down into the storage compartment.

I used a router to cut the shelves
. The router kept the edges straight
and the corners rounded with a small radius.


Gluing this thing together was a *major* Pain In The Butt.
There were so many pieces, with so many slots and grooves.

One trial fit, without glue, took an hour.
I don't know why I tried to glue it together at 2 a.m.
That was stupid.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I started out trying
to tap it together
with a rubber mallet, but then I got frustrated
and just started
beating the crap out of it.
(Rubber Mallet,
now a therapeutic tool.)

So I took it apart,
wiped all the glue off, and went to bed.

The next day, I tried again,
and got it done.

I had some treadmaster sitting in the garage, leftover from an expensive mistake five years ago.

This is a good time to use it.
It's glued on with West System Epoxy, but I put a solid six coats
of varnish over the teak first.
The treadmaster is epoxied onto varnish,
and the epoxy isn't soaked into the teak.

I want to be able to take this stuff off
someday without destroying the wood.

About three months have passed
since the last picture.

Somehow, I finished it
in little fits and bursts,
without taking any pictures.

All I did was bolt the piano hinges on.
That took a month, but I wasn't really trying.
It was difficult.

All the screws are buried at an oblique angle that no tool can handle. I finally drilled 3/4" holes through the plywood plate in back
and stuck a nut driver through,
and bolted the hinges into place.

I kinda sorta had a plan,
but hadn't really thought it through.
I should have spent a bit more time planning. But what the heck, this didn't
really have my attention.
At the time, this was an ancillary"subproject."

Well, the steps sat around for a few months
while I worked on the repower. There was no rush.

After gluing it together, I put a about 12 coats of
Minwax Spar Urethane varnish on it. The first two coats were brushed on, using the canned stuff thinned in half.

But I got lazy. Why sand between coats when you can spray a new coat on once an hour and build it up fast?

So I used up about six cans of this stuff putting a dozen coats of varnish on. The final two coats were satin finish.
No point going for gloss when it's going to get banged up.
Heck, they're companionway steps.
The important thing is putting a thick finish on,
so that scars don't dig into the wood.

If you think about it, you'll know that the top compartment would have a really deep bottom corner, which would be a constant annoyance. I built it up by sealing the cracks with epoxy, then pouring layers of resin in, then slopping some Rust-o-leum
on top.

Of course, that means that the bolts that hold the step in place are now permanently buried in resin. Oh well. If I were to do it again, I'd do the old oiled bolt trick, and allowed a way to pull the steps off in the future for refinishing. At the moment, I have bigger problems. This is my moment to be shortsighted, and I'm running with it.

The bottom compartments are
sealed and reinforced with
fiberglass and epoxy.

I thought about painting them,
but why.

The lowest compartment is
nice and big and low,
and this is where I'll keep my pipe wrenches and all those big heavy tools that I always want to have nearby when crawling into the engine room,
but don't want to
actually look at on a daily basis.

So why paint it?