Monday, August 26, 2013

How to: Mask a Handrail

Do you keep your teak handrails finished bright?  On Eolian we do, and so varnishing them is a part of the annual varnishing task.  Therefore masking off the loops where they meet the deck is a necessity.  We have 40 loops on Eolian - this is not a trivial task.  So then, how to do it?

There used to be available masking tape that was pre-cut to fit the curves at the ends of the loops, but I can't find it online anymore.  In any case, this was a very expensive solution - we've never used it.

Instead, here's how we mask off the loops, using just regular 1" tape.  To illustrate, I'll show the process on an end loop because there is increased visibility there.

The first step is to find a nice anchorage!  There is no need to do this at the dock.  Why stay at the dock when you could be at anchor in a quiet cove somewhere?  We are anchored in Eagle Harbor for these pictures.
The starting point

First, apply tape strips along the long sides.  As I have mentioned before, it is wise to hold the tape back from the loop by a tiny amount so that the varnish will help with sealing the loop to the deck.
Apply two strips to the sides

Next, apply strips at the ends of the loops.  The fit will be terrible of course, leaving triangular areas uncovered.
Add strips at the ends

Next, tear a 3" or so strip of tape down the middle, lengthwise.  If you are using 1" tape like us, this will give you two short lengths of 1/2" wide tape.
Tear some tape down the middle

Now you can tear off pieces of the narrow strips, making roughly 1/2" square pieces of tape with one straight edge.  These are too small to place accurately with your hands, so I stick them gently to the tip of a knife for ease of handling.

Using the knife as a handle, position the tape, and then press it down with a finger tip when it is correctly positioned.  The knife allows you to get at every corner. 

Apply overlapping pieces of tape to follow the curve.

The process sounds tedious, and well, it is.  But with practice, I do each one in under 2 minutes (and having 40 to do each year gives me lots of practice).
Ready for sanding and varnish

So we're talking about roughly an hour and a half to mask off all the handrails - that's not a terrible way to spend an afternoon at anchor, is it?

And a shoutout to the folks on the dark blue catamaran that said they read this blog as they motored out of Eagle Harbor Sunday morning!



Anonymous said...

Why don't you just buy wider tape, trace the outline from a template you make onto the tape and cut out the "filled" area. Cut the tape down the middle and you have two mirrored pieces that perfectly mask your deck when mated back up. You could cut these three or four at a time by just layering the tape on top of itself.

Robert Salnick said...

Anon -

You mean kind of like this?

I actually had considered that. But Eolian's handrails have been getting 2-3 coats of varnish annually for 16 years now. There is a buildup at the bottom that makes each handrail base a unique shape. If/when I take them back to wood and have some uniformity of shape, I will take your suggestion!


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