Terri Madden’s May/June 2015 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Most likely you will be reading this article as warmer weather streams across your state and your customers delight in contacting your marine business with new challenges.
If you have never had the opportunity to fabricated wall panels, consider a customer request as an opportunity to add to your skill set – toolbox. Why? Boat interior hulls of every size and shape have some type of surface treatment that require finishing detail. The visual surface most likely will be in wood, laminate, wallpaper or padded panels. Padded wall panels are esthetically pleasing; they can provide protection as well as sound/heat insulation. Panels can be easily removed for repair &/or replacement if they become damaged. Generally no sewing is required.
This article will be a guide in determining where to start, what materials are necessary and how to provide solutions for a timely and profitable product.
As with most marine projects a request for new wall panels is either cosmetic, such as when a boat is bought or sold or when an owner realizes that the materials are moldy, discolored or abraded.
We have had requests for all types of panels including accent topstitching on the perimeter of the panel.
A major consideration is budget, what “look” your customer envisions vs. what you can offer for their vessel. Yacht designers showcase vertical panels one year and horizontal panels the next. Recently panels have been separated with handsome wood trim. Determine if the panels will be flush mount, side by side or will they be set individually within a frame? Will you need to replace only the covering on the existing panel, replacing water damaged panels and the surface material, or patterning to fabricate and install new panels for the first time on the vessel.
Our very first wall panel project encompassed replacing wallpaper with horizontal panels down 5 steps from the Salon to a curved hallway with 4 cabin doors on a 50’ Bertram. The unforeseen obstacle was removing the handrail, as the visible cap nuts and screws would not detach and it required access to remove them from a portside guest cabin wall. This alone added significant hours to the project.
Tools to Have on Hand
- Circular / Jig saw
- Tack / Claw hammer
- Staple gun / staple puller
- Stud finder
Basic Wall Panels – Approach and Evaluate
Traditionally a padded vinyl is wrapped and stapled around ¼” wood or PVC panel. These panels are held “in-place” via heavy duty Velcro or Panel Fasteners. Velcro allows for easy removal / installation / replacement when access to electric cables, AC vents etc. is required. When using panel fasteners consider the spacing, size and weight of the panel to hold up against the jostling / size of the boat.
Determine who will prepare the area if you are making new panels and verify if other contractors are working inside the vessel in order that your access is coordinated. Decide which system you will use to adhere the panels to the surface. Make a small sample to verify height next to doorframes or trim as this can prevent any unforeseen obstacles. Consider the difference between a thin silk vs. leather or a 30 oz. vinyl; add foam height and each sample will be slightly different. Perhaps a 1/8” panel is needed or a 3/8” would be a better fit. It is a good idea to display these samples in your shop and use them to show new customers!
Vinyl with foam backing is frequently used over panels. Vendors such as Covin Sales and Majilite offer an extensive selection of vinyl patterns that can be laminated with stock foam thicknesses in a range from 1/16″ to 3/4″, with a 5-yard minimum order. *Do not attempt to laminate material to foam by yourself as it is practically impossible to get 100% contact and any separation will bubble and be quite noticeable when the panels are mounted.
Let the Project Begin
If you are making new panels, schedule sufficient time to prepare the area by removing all furniture or trim if necessary. Use a stud finder to locate studs in areas that may prevent installation of panel fasteners.
Pattern areas and record details and measurements for all areas/double check/ record a number sequence for Port / Starboard panels. Frame out the areas for Velcro or fasteners and indicate these locations on your patterns. Determine the spacing between panels as 1/8” foam + vinyl = thickness on a panel edge – when the panels are side by side – you need to multiply the thickness by 2 to get the space you need to allow in-between panels. This may require ¼” spacing or more between adjacent panels.
Consider ordering PVC panels pre-cut from your supplier for accurate edges or be sure to check the cutting blade on your saw and how it will affect the finished edge, which your space requires. An extra trip to the boat is recommended after panels are cut to verify multiple panels for adjustments and final fit of all edges prior to covering.
When ordering and cutting vinyl or fabric add +2” on all sides of the L + W for sufficient material to wrap and pull to the back of the panel for stapling. Practice corners by folding and notching the material at panel edges so that there is no overlap. If you are using heavy duty 1” Velcro on the panel back consider using 2” heavy duty Velcro “on-site” for 100% contact. After stapling, cut any extra vinyl away so that the Velcro is mounted next to the vinyl in order that the finished panel mounts as flush to the wall surface as possible. Occasionally decorative screws are used to secure panels “in place” on a vessel yet we have never used this system.
During your evaluation the fastening system was determined and now mounting fasteners like Velcro are stapled on the back of a panel after the panel is covered whereas other mounting fasteners like fast mount and Christmas trees need to be in place prior to the panel being covered. Be aware that the spacing between your staples is important as most manufacturers do them almost side by side to keep consistent tension. Check that the size and length of the staples you are using are adequate/correct for the finished project. Staples that are too long could pierce thru the face of the vinyl when pressed against. If you are using 1/8” PVC be aware that a ¼” staple may be too long and needs to be stapled in at an angle. A 1/8” panel is not a typical size yet on a lo-profile door project we covered with fine silk we had to be extremely cautious to place staples one right next to the other to prevent visual ripples and insert the staples at an angle to hold the material “in-place” as well as prevent the tips of the staples from protruding the fabric surface.
Understanding, researching and applying various wall panel systems for a finished “look” will provide an additional level of expertise as a marine fabricator. Additionally other applications with the same techniques above can be utilized for upselling as a project for your customers on locations such as headboards – residential padded walls for sound systems and door panels. The “skies the limit” and there is numerous information and “How To” videos on the Internet. I am an email or phone call nearby to assist you for any questions or concerns. May a dose of confidence and your craftsmanship guide you on a new adventure!