September 9, 2012

How to build companionway doors for sailboats

Here I describe how to build collapsible companionway doors for sailboats. 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 and varnish. 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

wood 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 varnish.

teak cetol
Sikkens Cetol Marine Natural Teak 

 I know there are a lot of varnish aficionados out there- I am not one of them. But I was advised to go with Sikkens Cetol Natural Teak. The prep work is minimal. I lay 2 heavy coats of this stuff down and I am good for many years. When it is time to re-coat, it just requires a light sand, then apply the Cetol. Whether you want Cetol, or another brand of varnish, you can order it online at the West Marine Store. Orders over 50$ will ship free to your home - that's pretty good incentive not to drive out to the shop...

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 recommend you pick the classic, well-respected bible of old boat maintenance. Don Casey's 'This Old Boat'.



SUP Surf Boards said...

Great way to upgrade your boat! I love when simple upgrades that you can do yourself make a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the inspiration. I just rebuilt my Companionway doors based on your project. Thanks again!

psychosnail said...

Hello, I love your post. The DIY/anarchist/punk sailor tendency has been increasing, so it's time we get together. In this time we can share skills, tell stories, have races, exchange plans, swap charts, and really, anything we want. So come down overflowing with ideas, stories, challenges, discussions, and anything else you'd imagine welcome. thanks a lot!~ Wayne Williams