A clear vision

Published On: January 1, 2015Categories: Features, In the Shop
When it comes to marine windows, most customers are interested in a product that will wear well and last.

When it comes to marine windows, most customers are interested in a product that will wear well and last.

Charlene and Chandler Clark, owners of Signature CanvasMakers in Hampton, Va., are always careful to protect their clear vinyl windows throughout the fabrication and installation processes.

“If we are working with a product that does not have a scratch-resistant coating, we will spray the glass with a protectant prior to working with it,” Charlene Clark says. “We have found out, the hard way, how easy it is to damage [windows] during transportation, so we use soft blankets to ensure that they don’t get scratched enroute.”

At SeaCanvas in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., they use two types of window material—.080 EZ2CY Acrylic and .040 Press Polished sheets. According to Carl Pellegrini, owner of SeaCanvas, each of these window plastics are handled very differently during the window fabrication and installation process.

“The .080 EZ2CY Acrylic comes with a protective film, which stays on until we install the window on the boat. This makes the cutting, bonding, transporting and installation easier than our soft .040 vinyls,” Pellegrini says.

SeaCanvas’ .040 Press Polished sheet vinyl is handled very carefully right from delivery.
“We have a table designed just for the .040 sheet,” Pellegrini says. “Five sheets come out of the tube and go right onto the vinyl table. They never get put back in the tube as we go through soft window material quickly.”

Prior to cutting to pattern size, the SeaCanvas team fully waxes each side of the top sheet, thus giving a protective coating as they sew the vinyl into a boat window. They use Evolution fabric on all their sewing tables and also transport the windows in between sheets of the same fabric.

Trends in window design

Fabricators use a variety of systems to protect window materials from damage during handling, from covering tables with protective fabrics to spraying anti-scratch material on the window.

Fabricators use a variety of systems to protect window materials from damage during handling, from covering tables with protective fabrics to spraying anti-scratch material on the window.

When it comes to marine windows, most customers are interested in a product that will wear well and last. But unlike their interest in fabric, they don’t generally site one brand over another.

“Often, they will just refer to all glass with a general term of ‘Eisenglass,’” Clark says. “We are seeing a trend of customers requesting rigid glass, either polycarbonate or acrylic, for their front windshields, whether for a sail or a power boat, because of the optical clarity that it provides.”

Rayco Canvas is trying to have its customers embrace better clear marine window materials. According to Carol Turner of Rayco Canvas, the least costly product marine customers tend

Less-expensive window material tends to turn "cloudy" and makes the whole fabrication job look bad. Better clear material sells itself.

Less-expensive window material tends to turn “cloudy” and makes the whole fabrication job look bad. Better clear material sells itself.

to use is a 30 mil extruded clear, 30 or 40 mil Strataglass, and then the 60 mil polycarbonate—depending on the application. However, marine fabricators agree that the less expensive 30 mil vinyl is not particularly clear and it does not have a very long life.

“I think it’s a mistake to use a quality fabric and then put in a thin roll clear in a job,” Turner says. “Within two years the clear is going to look bad and that makes the whole job look bad. When the customers see the 60 mil hard clear on a boat we’ve done, it sells itself. It’s very clear and has no distortion. That’s why we’ve had more customers asking for the hard clear.”

Most enclosures SeaCanvas fabricates include both .080 EZ2CY acrylic and .040 vinyl material options. Pellegrini says once customers see the .080 EZ2CY uncoated acrylic they generally never go back to a soft window again.

“But there are windows on any enclosure that work better as soft vinyl versus semi rigid .080 acrylic,” Pellegrini says. “U-zippered windows and generally aft windows work better in soft vinyl—but mostly to keep the full enclosure price in check.”

Best practices

Fabricators note that during colder weather, it is generally best to hang the window panels and allow them time to heat up and soften before attempting to fasten them down. “When it is colder, clear vinyl will become more rigid and less pliant,” Clark says. “If necessary, we will bring a small heater to help soften the glass to get the best installation.”

And during any sewing processes, it is also important to ensure that the windows are thoroughly protected.

“We make sure when sewing windows with hard clear that we only remove the edges of the protective paper coating so when we’re working with it, it doesn’t get scratched,” Turner says. With Strataglass Turner tries to be careful when sewing it by minimizing the contact with hard surfaces.

“When doing any repairs to windows, we tape a piece of fabric on both sides of the window before sewing on them,” Turner says.

Turner adds that the hard clear window material is sometimes difficult to sew. For instance, sometimes when sewing, the friction of the needle going through the clear material gets the needle hot and the thread will break.

“If it’s warm it seems to sew better, so sometimes we’ll set it in the sun or use a heat gun to get the clear warmer,” Turner says. “Also if it’s too cold when fabricating the windows, they will expand when it gets hot and sag—so it has to be at least above 65 degrees before we will fit them.”

During framing, Signature CanvasMakers makes sure the vinyl doesn’t directly touch the framework to avoid burning. “We either sew a fabric panel to match the angles of the frame onto the vinyl or will make the customer fabric ‘burn strips’ that will wrap around the frame with Velcro to protect the glass,” Clark says.

Dave Elliott, owner of David’s Custom Trimmers in Brisbane, Australia, stresses that marine fabricators need to take great care in the protection of the window materials within the confines of the workshop itself.

“We make sure that all of our benches and surfaces are completely covered so that the window material doesn’t get scratched,” Elliott says. “This includes making sure there are no sharp points and keeping employees aware of potential scratch points on the benches in our shop.”

And paying attention to these potential scratch points is also paramount during the sewing process, when maneuverability comes into play, Elliott says.

Cleaning and care

The team at Signature CanvasMakers advises all of their customers to rinse the windows well with fresh water before applying any cleaners or polishers, in order to wash away particles that could scratch their glass.

“Once the windows are dry, apply a cleaning product that is recommended by the manufacturer, generally with a microfiber cloth or a soft terry towel,” Charlene Clark says. “Never use harsh chemicals or a brush and follow with a protective polish. We also suggest that they avoid handling or touching the glass with sunscreen or any type of greasy lotion, as it could cause the glass to cloud.”

Clark lets their customers know that, though pressed-polish glass is designed to be rolled up, it is generally not advisable to leave it rolled up for long periods of time. Over time, moisture can gather within the rolls and cause permanent damage to the glass.

“We also suggest that if they do need to roll them for storage, that it is a good practice to roll a soft sheet or towel with the glass to help prevent scratching and reduce the possibility of crushing the glass,” Clark says. “Ultimately, laying panels flat for storage with a soft fabric or sheet between the panels is the best.”

Likewise, when Turner and her team at Rayco Canvas use Makrolon or Strataglass, they try to give the customer the care instructions from the manufacturer so they will use the recommended products on them. “Or if they call for care instructions, I pass on the manufacturers web page on cleaning and care,” Turner says. “We also tell them to store their windows flat with towels or sheets in between them if possible.”

SeaCanvas’ .040 vinyl windows are waxed at the shop so once installed on the boat they can let the customer know the first wax is complete. “We stress to wax the glass with 210 polish as often as you can, preferably every weekend—but once a month should do,” Pellegrini says. “Our EZ2CY enclosures are acrylic and are waxed at the boat as we pull the protective film. We give our customers a cleaning kit with each enclosure we sell, which consists of a Sunbrella bag, large can of 210 polish, two microfiber cloths and other goodies.”

Educating the end consumer about window maintenance also is paramount. That’s why Elliott in Australia provides laminated sheets with instructions thoroughly describing the proper maintenance techniques required to keep windows in good shape. Elliott also provides a can of cleaner and a microfiber cloth.

Of course, as with many marine fabrication processes, there are common mistakes that fabricators make surrounding windows. One common mistake Clark sees is fabricators not protecting the windows properly, as well as using low-quality glass that needs to be replaced early and often.

“We also stay away from coated window material whether it is soft vinyl or semirigid plastic,” Pellegrini says. “I’ve seen more issues with any coated products and let our customer know it’s best to protect the window material with wax. Yep! It’s time to wax again.”

Maura Keller is a freelance writer from Plymouth, Minn.