Occasionally I tell you about a product I’ve used and really like. Often when you read product reviews they’re about product that’s been sent in to an editorial office, sat on a shelf until somebody picked it up and read the accompanying marketing material — which was then paraphrased into a short blurb. I don’t do it that way. I try it out in the real world with my own hands on one or more of my boats.
I have used 3M 5200 many times. I’ve loved this glue/sealant of eternity except for one thing, with which you, I’m sure, are familiar. Because of the slow passage of time or the rapid realization that I’d glued and sealed the wrong thing in the wrong place, I had to undo what I’d done. Then I hated it with a passion. I’ve removed winches, hatches, portholes, fingernails, eye glasses, flip flops and innumerable other things that had been, either deliberately or accidentally, sealed and glued with 5200. And it’s always been an ordeal beyond description, usually resulting in totally or partially destroying the object of my attention. But I’ve continued to use the stuff (as well as the faster curing 4200 and various other sealant products) because it works so well except for undoing it. When that time came, I just accepted the ugly truth and got down and groveled, cut, cursed, pushed, pulled and screamed.
I’ve now been enlightened. I’m embarrassed that it didn’t “get it” earlier. Stubbornness is a cruel thing. The enlightenment comes in the nature of “Marine Formula” by DeBond Corp. It’s stuff in a bottle that de-bonds 5200 as well as 4200, silicone sealant and other things. I’d seen it mentioned occasionally but didn’t give it proper attention because, well, because it was stuff in a bottle and it sounded too good to be true. I’ve been leery of stuff in a bottle ever since the carnivals would come to the county seat when I was growing up and for a few dollars various grownups would buy bottles of liquid that would make their hair grow, make it fall out, make their stomachs more melodious and their warts fly away. But this isn’t like that stuff. This is a product that’s been around since 1999, according to their site, and has won quite a few converts.
I don’t know what’s in it; this, as you’d expect, is proprietary. It’s also patented. As I’ve said many times, I’m not a scientist and I’m certainly not a chemist. So I couldn’t attest to the nuances of the ingredients even if I knew what they were. All I know is that the stuff in this bottle worked for me and I’m very glad that I finally tried it. I also know that it’s important, as usual, to follow the instructions and cautions. And don’t make my mistakes.
I tried it on the job of removing some porthole rings that I’d sealed to the cabin sides and porthole bodies with 4200. (In my view, 4200 is much the same as 5200 when it comes to undoing it.) The portholes were leaking, probably because of a particularly bad storm that tossed the boat about in massive ocean waves on a trip down the coast. We’d removed the former portholes, rings and all, some years back. The job had been unbelievably difficult and time consuming. We used an oscillating saw, putty knives, wood chisels, razor blades and many other tools to get the pieces off. Often, when they came, they tore off with them large chunks of teak from the inside cabin liner, gel coat and sometimes even some border fiberglass. We really piled the 4200 on when we put in the new ports, because we didn’t want to ever have to do the job again. Then came that storm. The port holes were still fine; but water leaked around them. The DeBond folks had read my article in Soundings where I spoke too lightly of the day I got 5200 in my wife’s hair. They contacted me and, to paraphrase: “Hey Tom, do NOT try this in your wife’s hair, but try it on some job where you’ve got to unstick 5200 or 4200 or something like that. You won’t believe it.”
I didn’t believe it. I also didn’t follow their instructions. I come from the old school. For years I’ve used all the tools and tactics I described above. So, true to my old habits and ignoring the instructions, I got out two wood chisels, my oscillating tool and razor blades. We followed the instructions so far as scoring the 4200 bead with the razor, but after that my wife and I tried to pry the rings off with the chisels. It didn’t work well. I called the folks and the whole thing became, well, biblical in portion. In essence, they said (to paraphrase again), “Oh Ye of Little Faith. Follow the instructions. Use a putty knife or something like that. Follow our instructions.” Girded with this truth, my wife and I went out upon our boat the very next day, squirted just a little of the DeBond on the scored sealant of the other port hole. We waited a few minutes and then just pushed 2 putty knife blades between the rings and the cabin side and we could hear the sealant popping loose. I never thought I would see such a thing. It took about 15 minutes to remove that ring and 4 bolts. Compare this with two hours of screwing around the day before, not following the product instructions. And compare this with about 6 hours per porthole when we replaced them a few years ago.
There was another issue. After the DeBond breaks the seal, the old 4200 or 5200 residue is still there. Likely some will be on the part that you’ve removed and some will be on the boat. DeBond won’t dissolve it off the fiberglass gel coat. But I used my Rockwell oscillating tool with the knife-like cutting blade and it just peeled the residue off the surface. Never in my life had I thought a 5200/4200 removal project would be so easy. See also what Don Casey says in his article “Removing Stubborn Fittings“.
You can also use other tools, such as the plastic razors which the company sells to help pop off the sealant after the DeBond has gone to work. (You can also get these from other sources such as ACE Hardware.) I used two 1.5 inch wide stiff putty knives for my job. You’ll want a quality safe razor knife to score the sealant to give the DeBond a chance to get to work. These are inexpensive. A good oscillating tool can be expensive, especially if you have a lot of blades, but these, in my view, are indispensible when you’re doing boat work.
So if you’ve got a 5200 de-bonding or similar job, don’t keep putting it off. Try this product and make your own conclusions.
Tom’s Tips About Using Boat Chemicals
- There are many “magic in a bottle” products available for boat jobs, made by reliable manufacturers, to high standards enforced by the government. The right product can save you a lot of hassle.
- Only buy from a known and reliable manufacturer.
- Check the instructions to see that they make sense.
- Don’t overlook important issues such as how you clean up and what protective measures you should take. If in doubt, call them.
- Always take proper environmental protection steps.
- Look for an MSDS. It is frequently on the manufacturer’s site.
- Sometimes it may be helpful to read reputable online chat sites to see how other people like a product. But carefully evaluate the knowledge and experience of the contributor.
Tom Neale is Technical Editor of BoatUS Magazine, with a lifetime of liveaboard and cruising experience. Read more of Tom Neale’s articles here.
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