Home     News     Plans   Dimensions   Projects    Modifications    Sources     Links     About     Site Map     Search

Replacing the Cabin Headliner


So for almost 20 years I have been staring at the bland white bathtub look of the cabin overhead and just hating it. (Even though one of the features of Bristol 29’s over other boats of the same period—such as the earlier Tritons, Alberg 30’s, early cape Dory’s—is the clean, smooth molded cabin top liner of the B-29.) But, in my view it’s just plain and unattractive and screams at me that I own a fiberglass boat. Besides, the full liner has many limitations:

  • Access to the underside of the cabin top is impossible.

  • Inspection is impossible.

  • Thru-bolt mounting must be made thru the liner as well as the cabin top, which squeezes the liner in that area. I have gotten around this problem in the past by either not thru-bolting, but over drilling the holes, filling with epoxy and then drilling and tapping the epoxy; or foaming the area between the cabin top and liner before mounting.

  • Impossible to chase leaks.

  • Impossible to chase problems with wiring above the liner.

  • A mass-production solution that just doesn’t appeal to me.

But until I decided to replace all the ports I lived with it. Now, with the task at hand to fill in the holes in the cabin sides and add reinforcing plywood to the insides, the correct way to accomplish the work is to remove the inside liner and get at the actual glass of the cabin sides.

The steps to remove the liner are:

  • Use a RotoZip or similar rotary cutter to cut away the liner in manageable sections.
    Note: I gave up on the RotoZip early--it worked but was hard work to get into the small places I needed to cut and threw off enormous quantities of material. I then when to a metal cutting disk on a 3/8" drill--better but still slow progress and lots of material thrown off by it. Finally I tried a ceramic cutting blade (about $14 at Home Depot) for my Dremel tool. That when through the liner like the proverbial knife through warmed butter. Very little dust and a tiny kerf. One blade lasted for the whole job and is still sharp. A great investment!

  • Protect the overhead light wiring that runs between the cabin top and the liner.

  • Sand/grind the underside of the cabin top relatively even.

  • Glue strips of ¼ ply to the underside, in a grid that allow me to cut and install panels of new material—maybe Formica panels, maybe painted bead-board, I haven’t decided yet.

  • Cut the panels to fit and label for installation.

  • Add insulation between the plywood grid—I haven’t decided what kind yet or thought much about this step.

  • Do the port installation.

  • Button it up with the new overhead.

December 10, 2005

Today I started demolition in earnest. I began cutting the headliner with a RotoZip rotary cutter, but frankly it was awkward to use and not easily controlled. I gave it up before I cut through something important, and went to a thin metal cutting disk mounted to a 90 degree Hitachi 3/8 drill. The cutting wheel works very well, throws off much less fiberglass shavings and is easy to control.

The liner in the Bristol is about 1/8-in thick and poorly bonded to the underside of the cabin top with adhesive sealant. Over the years it had mostly worked loose from that bond, dropped a bit and basically floated in position. I took care to cut the liner but not cut into the underside of the cabin trunk and top. It is easy once you get access by taking out a small section to then drive a wedge into the gap between the liner and the cabin. The wedge gives more space and less likelihood of cutting too deeply.  The underside of the cabin is surprisingly well finished out. It is painted or tinted dark green, with few irregularities that will have to be ground smooth. Stay tuned for more details as I continue removal.

December 11, 2005

I continued cutting out the liner today until rain forced me to quit and cover the boat. Here are some of the things I have discovered so far.

  • Bristol 29's have a bad habit of working, which results in cracking the teak toerail amidships and causing stress cracks in the topsides amidships. I had always blamed this weakness on lack of a bridge deck, but now I have discovered that the main saloon bulkhead is not tabbed to the underside of the cabin top, nor to the cabin trunk. There is good 3/8-in gap that was filled with the liner and the foam filled, vinyl covered edging. Tabbing this bulkhead essentially to the hull and deck will significantly strengthen the boat.
    Note: On closer inspection I find that there is tabbing to the cabin top on the head sides of the main bulkhead and the forward head bulkhead as well. However, the tabbing does not extend down to the side decks, which are not tabbed anywhere to interior structures.

  • The original wiring can only be described as nasty. I found original splices made with wire nuts. Luckily I bypassed all the original wiring when I rewired the boat, but if you have ever considered rewiring, one look at the spaghetti tangle above the liner will convince you.

  • The best method for cutting sections of the liner without damaging the underside of the cabin structure is to drive long wedges between the two and force a larger gap. It's easy to do.

  • The liner is coming out faster than I had estimated, but I haven't figured out yet is how to handle the ash navigation center, nor the ash rear cabin trunk I built. Both are screwed to the liner and I hate to think that will have to removed all that and unwire everything to get those portions of the liner out. Perhaps I can find a way to cut around the ash and tab the edges of the liner in those areas to the boat.

December 22 - January 2

Over the Christmas holidays I continue cutting away at the headliner. I decided not to unwire the navigation cabinet and remove it to get to the liner it is attached to. Instead I carefully cut around it--frankly it's just too damn much trouble to remove it. I have removed all the trim around the companionway--this will all be replaced with new teak. And, I continue to work on the headliner in the starboard quarter berth. My goal is to get all the liner out of the boat before I return to work on Jan 3.

The hanging locker caused the most problems in removing the liner. I had to disassemble most of it first, and to do that I had to remove the white "Herreshoff" Formica  to get at the wood screws that held it together. Once I got the top off (it was one of those assemblies that had been done prior to the deck going on and a couple of the screws were inaccessible), I could reach the liner and cut it out.

Moving forward I reached the vee berth began cutting the headliner away.


After removing all the liner from the starboard quarter berth, I removed the port I had installed into the side of the cockpit. I will fill in this hole when I fill in the other port holes, and build a starboard cockpit locker in this area.

Finally some general clean up and I was ready to start grinding and beveling the edges of the port openings. Click here to read more.

January 2

This morning I finished cutting out the final bit of headliner. I will probably go ahead and replace the chainplates before continuing with any further strengthening or construction.

The new cabin liner will be white matt finished Formica panels, held in place with teak battens. I have order the Formica from Lowes. Now is the time to add some insulation and after some research, I have decided to use two types of insulation on all inside fiberglass surfaces:

First, painting the inside of the fiberglass with BilgeKote mixed with insulative ceramic beads from Hy-Tech Thermal Solutions. I have used this product in ceiling paint for my home and it has worked very well.  I purchased enough product for two gallons of paint, and will add it to both the BilgeKote as well as the epoxy mix used to glue the framework for the panels to the underside of the cabin. Here are some pictures of the furring strips and paint in progress.




Copyright © 2005 - 2014 by David Browne, all rights reserved, hosted in USA