sunfish rudder and daggerboard repair – progress

a long while back I posted about refinishing my Sunfish and Super Porpoise rudders and daggerboards.  I proceeded to sand down a bit of the finish on the Super Porpoise parts, but sailing seasons got in the way, along with various other winter woodworking projects, and I never got back to finishing them, or even starting on the Sunfish wood parts.

so this winter, I bit the bullet and plunged full bore into refinishing the wood parts from all (3) of my boats – (2) Sunfish and (1) Super Porpoise.  here is a look at the (2) Sunfish rudders.

the lower rudder is from my new(er) 2000 Sunfish, the upper rudder is from my 1960’s Sunfish.  strangely the older rudder seems to be in quite a bit better shape, and the newer rudder appears to have some type of finish glooped onto it, some sloppily gumming up the rudder spring as well.

step 1 was removing the hardware and inspecting the condition of each piece.  the older rudder has a couple cracks up near the head, and the drilled holes for the rudder pins are all misshapen from years of use.

the newer rudder is in similar condition at the rudder pin holes, with no noticeable cracks.  but the finish that was used is all gummed up and just looks horrible.  pretty severe were is noticeable at the one rudder pin hole.

the daggerboard from the newer Sunfish was coated with the same finish, and was likewise a sloppy mess.  step 2 would be to strip the finish from the wooden parts.  since I would be working in my make-shift woodshop in my basement, I opted for the Citristrip (“safer”) Paint & Varnish Gel.  after brushing the orange stripping agent on and letting it sit for a while, I then used various scrapers to remove the finish.

the Citristrip gel worked pretty well for the older wooden parts, but the (2) newer pieces with the strange finish were hardly phased by it.  I hit them with a 2nd coat, and let is sit and soak longer, but it didn’t work much better the 2nd time around.  after consulting with some a Sunfish expert (thanks Alan!), I think we determined that the sloppy finish was some type of epoxy, which made it that much more difficult to remove.

step 3 was thus my process to get each board to a stripped and ready-to-finish condition.  I used my random orbit sander, and worked my way through several grits, carefully starting with 40 grit.  normally, I wouldn’t use 40 grit, as it is quite rough, and even then I only used it for the flat portions, but extreme measures were required to get through that sloppy epoxy. 

I then would work my way up to 60, 80, 100, and 120 grit papers, and by then the boards felt pretty smooth.  I used a bit of 60 grit paper by hand on the edges, and then jumped right up to 150 grit to finish out smoothing the edges.  during the power-sanding, I wore a sanding mask, and had my large shop dust collector running right near the workpiece, as well as my air cleaner that is hanging from the floor joists to help keep dust down as much as possible.  every once in a while, I would empty the small bag that collects sanding sawdust on the random orbit sandpaper into a plastic jug – as I will be re-using some of the sawdust later for repairs.

I didn’t try to sand out some of the deep gouges, as you can see above, but will use a filler later on those areas.  some of the leading and trailing edges of the boards had some dry rot that I removed as best I could.  I used a block plane to slightly re-shape the daggerboard edges by hand.

step 4 is various repairs.  the upper ends of the daggerboard have holes of various shapes and sizes from the hardware that had kept the handle in place.  some were just stripped nail holes, some were bolt holes that had pulled right out of the board end grain.

I used some blue painter’s tape to dam off the end, as well as to close of the bottom of the board.  I then mixed up a batch of West System epoxy (I buy mine at Jamestown Distributors or US Composites).  I have the 105 resin and 206 slow hardener as shown above.  to this I mixed in some of the 404 high-density adhesive filler (white in color), and I added in some of the saved sawdust (in the plastic container on the left in the picture above) to get the epoxy mixture colored similar to the wood.

this picture is the end result – from the side the blue tape was on.  the other side needs to be sanded and smoothed down some as I didn’t apply the epoxy perfectly level.  but I was impressed at how well the simple blue painter’s tape worked on the bottom and end grain areas.  I will probably use this same mixture to fill in the out of round holes in the rudder heads, and just re-drill new holes after the epoxy has hardened.

for the cracked sections, I am going to try to reinforce the cracked area by drilling a hole and inserting a dowel, set in place with some epoxy.  I cut a small notch in my Super Porpoise rudder to create a flat area to start drilling.  I’m sure it would help immensely to have a drill press, or create some sort of jig – but I don’t have either, so I just free-hand drilled the 1/4″ diameter hole.  I had bought an 18″ long drill bit at the hardware store that worked well. for the dowel – I am using a stainless steel piece of 1/4″ diameter threaded rod, cut to length after I’ve drilled the hole.  it is shown below, only partially inserted into the drilled hole.  it won’t be visible after I’ve filled the hole with epoxy.

again, I just mixed up some of the West System epoxy (which with the metered pumps is a breeze to get the ratios correct).  this time I didn’t add any filler (although I probably could have used the 404 for added strength), and used the dowel to insert as much as I could down into the drilled hole before placing the threaded rod in there for good.  I will use this same repair on the cracked Sunfish rudder head.

with the remainder of the epoxy I had mixed up, I added some 407 low-density fairing filler (the 404 sets up really hard and is difficult to sand, the 407 is softer and easier to sand into a nice finish).  the 407 filler is already a brown color, but I think I added some sawdust anyway.  I then just applied this to various small gouges and nicks on the various rudders and daggerboards to fill any spots as required.

after this has dried and hardened, I will sand the patched areas smooth, and do a final check on each board before the finishing process can begin.

I still have some work to do (dowels in the Sunfish rudder head, epoxy the Sunfish rudder pin holes to then re-drill, etc), but progress has been made.  now the weather has been crazy warm in Michigan this late winter(?) and early spring, so I’ve got to get in high gear to make sure the parts are ready for sailing as soon as possible.

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7 Responses to “sunfish rudder and daggerboard repair – progress”


  1. 1 Peter March 22, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    They’re looking pretty good!

    • 2 my2fish March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      thanks Cap’n Black! in retrospect, I wonder if I should have just picked up a few new pieces of mahogany and used my old pieces as templates to start brand new.

      oh well, live and learn.

  2. 3 dixie harrison July 4, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I don’t know if you’ll receive this reply, but how did you take those springs off. Did you use a special tool? They are so hard, I’m afraid to remove them and my husband doesn’t have the strength.

    • 4 my2fish July 4, 2012 at 11:30 am

      dixie, I think I just used my hands. maybe with a pair of pliers to help grip it? I think I initially tried to pry a flat screwdriver under the end loop, but it slipped and I poked myself pretty good in my other hand.

      try grabbing the spring (maybe with some tough gloves on), and just try to extend it just enough and twist it off the support post. you might try flipping the rudder head either up or down to see which way makes it easier.

      • 5 Ernie Zarra August 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm

        EZ in Phoenx,
        An automotive brake spring tool will do the trick. It can be inserted into the end of the spring then levered over the opposite post.


  1. 1 daggerboard & rudder repairs « my2fish: a blog about sunfish sailing Trackback on March 19, 2012 at 9:31 pm
  2. 2 it is well with my soul « my2fish: a blog about sunfish sailing Trackback on April 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm

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