Skipper and I like to usher small boats to their natural habitat, and after 29 years at this work we are creeping up on 80 restorations or new builds. Many of these projects involved smoothing a wood or fiberglass surface prior to application of primer and paint. With our first few projects we used an epoxy-based system that required a guessing game of resin, hardener, and various types and amounts of thickening powders. Four years ago we tried TotalBoat’s TotalFair epoxy-based fairing compound and have stuck with it ever since.
TotalFair is a two-part epoxy-based compound, packaged in separate containers of resin and hardener. The fairing filler is mixed into both parts, so there is no guessing how much filler needs to be added and nothing runny to make a mess. The resin is yellow, the hardener is blue, and each part is scooped out onto a mixing board. We measure the parts by eyeball; ratio has not proven to be super-critical. Cardboard makes a handy palette for mixing the yellow and blue until the compound is a uniform green. The opaque materials and the color combination make it much easier to see when the two parts have been completely mixed than with clear resin and hardener.
We apply TotalFair with a rubber spreader or plastic putty knife, using different tools appropriately sized to the area we are covering—some boats require only the filling of small holes while others need fairing compound for the entire hull or deck to fill in irregularities from surface grain or to hide the vagaries of our fiberglass repairs.
The compound dries quickly. On a summer day, when temperatures are about 80°F, we can fair a surface in the morning, sand three hours later, and move on to priming the same day. Cooler temperatures will mean longer drying times, up to 12 hours at 50°F. The product is simple to apply and easy to sand—so easy that the main risk is sanding away all of the compound. There is little risk of sanding away the adjacent fiberglass or wood. When fully cured the compound sands away as dry powder that doesn’t clog sandpaper. The TotalBoat website cautions, “If it sits for more than two days, it can become harder to sand,” but we usually sand the same day or the next and have not experienced the compound becoming any less easy to work. TotalFair isn’t prone to trap air bubbles while mixing, so sanding doesn’t result in pinholes to fill; most of the time this eliminates the need for a second application.
TotalFair is formulated for the marine environment, unlike other often-used fillers from the automotive market, and we have used it successfully on our trailered fleet on wood and fiberglass, under and over compatible primers, and above and below the waterline. While Jamestown Distributors states that “TotalFair will not stick to one-component paints or primers,” we haven’t had adhesion problems with these simple coatings. Jamestown recommends using TotalFair under “epoxy, polyester, or a two-component urethane in good condition, with good adhesion.” When repairing fiberglass boats, use a primer over TotalFair if a gelcoat finish is to be applied or the gelcoat may not cure properly.
The compound can fill divots up to 3/4″ deep, though for a fill that deep it is best to use two, layered applications. It can be applied to vertical or overhead surfaces without sagging or running. It is easy and fast to mix small or large batches of the compound; we have had working times out to 30 minutes at 70° F. Being able to mix the two pre-thickened components eliminates guesswork and minimizes waste. Once finished with fairing, we have stored the remaining TotalFair resin and hardener for several months before popping the containers open again for use the following season. (A plastic sheet inside each container reduces air intrusion and ensures fresh TotalFair when the next fun fairing times arrive.)
Skipper (Audrey) and Clark (Kent) Lewis mess about in a small armada of sail, oar, paddle, and motorboats in the Tidewater Region of Virginia, when not fairing and sanding. Their adventures are logged at Small Boat Restoration.
Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.