September 9, 2012

How to build sailboat companionway doors.

Here I describe how to build collapsible sailboat companionway doors. About 4 years ago, I built these for my late model Newport 30 sailboat. It is now 2016 as I update this page, and I am happy to report, the doors are holding up well.
Alright, this is a piece of cake, nothing to it. I am not much of a carpenter, but I was able to piece this together for about 50$ and a few hours of mucking about with saws. Inspiration for this project came from Don Casey's classic book, This Old Boat.

sailboat companionway doors
My finished project: weather treated birch companionway doors

teak companionway doors
So, here are the pieces of the old door. They are withered, on their last legs. I went to Home Depot, and bought a 8 foot by 4 foot sheet of 1/4 inch weather resistant Birch plywood. This is about 40$. You can try other weather resistant woods (teak ext..)

You just pencil out the dimensions and get cracking with a circular line saw.

The individual pieces form complimentary trapeziums. Yes, I looked up that word. One side is parallel, the other is not. So, when you cut the shape from a sheet of wood, the remainder will be in the right dimension for the subsequent piece. This will all make sense when you trace out the panel shapes. It makes for an efficient use of your wood panel.

companionway boardscompanionway doors for sailboats
sailboat hatch doors

sailboat hatch boards

You just replicate the dimensions and angle of cut from the old set of doors. It is pretty intuitive. But you have to put in this staggered cut in each - so as to keep rain from entering through the cracks between each piece. So, I cut in half the depth of the Birch at about 1/2 inch in distance into each board. So each piece slide together like puzzle pieces. Check the arrows, the complimentary cuts.

Trim the height to get it just right. So the hatch slides over properly. You can power sand the bottom piece to get it right. Or re-cut if the correction is large.

Then give it a light sand and she's ready for wood finish.

teak cetol
Sikkens Cetol Marine Natural Teak 

I know there are a lot of varnish aficionados out there- I am not one of them. I was advised to go with Sikkens Cetol Marine Natural Teak.
The prep work is minimal. I lay 3 heavy coats of this stuff down and I am good for 2-3 years. When its time to re-coat, it just requires a light sand, then apply the Cetol. There's no prep work in between coats, just re-apply when dry.

You want the Natural Teak version, not the original Cetol Marine. The Cetol Marine has an unappealing, orange tint. In response to the negative feedback about the orange hue, the folks at Sikkens toned down the orange in the Cetol Marine Natural Teak version. Most boaters prefer this over the original Cetol Marine.
(this Natural teak stuff looks good on teak companionway doors or most other types of wood)

The quart size featured in the photo above is about 47$ plus tax at West Marine.

Depending on your shipping options, you should be able to get it a bit cheaper from Amazon.

And here she is all finished - the new doors give a cool, two-tone effect of Birch with Teak trim on the door.

 If you are about to build companionway doors or are considering embarking on a similar type sailboat project, I also recommend you pick the classic, well-respected bible of old boat maintenance. Don Casey's 'This Old Boat'.

Update July 2016: 
I have just re-done all my external woodwork. I finally did it right and sanded down all my teak to bare wood. So, I've removed all the dark water stains. I wrote up a step by step on why I chose to use cetol instead of varnish to coat the external teak.

Update May 2016:
My dock mate just stopped by my boat to offer me some of his yellow fin tuna. He's been out fishing all day and caught some nice sized tuna off the La Jolla kelp beds. Well, apparently he'd had a few beers while waiting for the fish to bite, because he was hammered. He tripped on the throttle in my cockpit and fell hard into the companionway doors. The top two pieces snapped. Yep, not cool.
So, anyway - I did appreciate the tuna but now I am tasked with rebuilding my sailboat companionway doors. I may go with another wooden version. But I am temped to try a tinted plastic deal. Something that lets a little more light in the cabin. If you have any experience with tinted, plastic doors - please let me know in the comments section. Do they scratch easily?
To be continued...