You PMY readers are never satisfied. From the time you take delivery of your latest boat, you're thinking about just two things: the next one you're going to buy or ways to improve the one you just bought. We know you don't need advice on how to shop for a new boat—you're veterans at that—but if you're looking for a few projects to either do yourself or have your yard take care of, there's one material you need to know about. You've heard us refer to it many times in our boat tests, but you may not know that it's an ideal material for making after-market improvements.
It's called King StarBoard, and its manufacturer, King Plastics, describes it as "made of the finest polymers available using our proprietary K-Stran process." I don't know exactly what that means, but you needn't worry about the chemical makeup. Suffice to say that it's a plastic board with characteristics that make it ideal for use on a boat, for everything from rod holders to boarding ladders. It will not warp and will not degrade when exposed to sun, moisture, salt, or most chemicals. It's also stain-resistant and easy to clean, never needs refinishing, comes in eight standard colors and a variety of custom colors, and has a matte, textured finish that's aggressive enough to give it nonskid properties yet not so rough as to make it unsuitable for finish and trim items. But for boaters StarBoard's arguably most endearing quality is the fact that it can be fabricated with standard tools and needs virtually no finishing.
Sound perfect? Well, it is—almost. As a material for making steps, rod racks, seats, bow pulpits, swim platforms, hatch covers, and even dock boxes, it's hard to find a better candidate. (King makes a related product, King CuttingBoard, that's ideal for bait-prep station work surfaces.) But before you rush out and buy a load of it, you need to know that it's not exactly like wood or other construction materials you've worked with. It has a few quirks that if you know about ahead of time will make working with it a lot easier.
Although hard, StarBoard is relatively easy to cut. King recommends using a jigsaw with a blade containing ten teeth per inch or a table or Skil saw having a blade with 70 to 80 teeth. Be careful: The blade may tend to wander, and you'll need to fully support the board while cutting it. When you cut StarBoard, you'll get a sharp edge that must be knocked down, either with a router (left) or by power or hand sanding; 100- to 200-grit paper works well. Conversely, when you drill StarBoard, either with a bit or a hole saw, you may be left with a rough edge that you can remove with 200- to 400-grit paper or with a sharp knife. Mechanical fastening is relatively straightforward. DIY Boat Owner's excellent DVD, Building With Starboard, which also contains step-by-step directions for 22 projects, points out that because StarBoard does expand and contract in reaction to temperature changes, you should drill oversize holes for any fasteners; it suggests adding 1⁄32 inch for every foot of length or width. By the way, you can bend StarBoard after heating it, and you can make bungs out of it with the same tool you use on wood, so you won't need to leave any exposed screw heads.
StarBoard is available from King in large sheets (minimum width is 54 inches) and in thicknesses ranging from 1⁄4 inch to 11⁄2 inches. Smaller sizes are available from many marine stores, including West Marine. When you purchase a sheet of any size, one side will be covered in a plastic film, which King suggests you leave on as long as you can to prevent errant scratches.
The biggest challenge with StarBoard is using the proper adhesive/ sealant. Most conventional products do not bond well to it. King does make a proprietary adhesive that only it sells (I was unable to find any information about it on the King Web site), but it's said to be relatively costly, and application is quite involved. For instance, the board must first be heated with a torch before the adhesive is applied.
As an alternative some boatbuilders use a combination of 3M 5200 adhesive and mechanical fasteners, but, DIY says, "this doesn't provide the same high-tensile structural bond only achieved by gluing." Note that such a bond may not be necessary for small projects that won't be under great stress. DIY goes on to suggest 3M DP-8005, Scotch-Weld, a two-part product that does not require heating. However, individual tubes of it run about $40, you'll need a special applicator (reusable) that costs nearly $100, and working time is only about three minutes. If you go this route, you'll want to review the DIY DVD first.
Given the complexities of using adhesives compatible with StarBoard, you may want to restrict yourself to small projects like rod racks, step plates, and covering boards, where mechanical fastening will be sufficient. If you do, you'll find working with this product no more daunting than working with wood—and in the case of some hard and soft woods, less daunting.
A final note: Although King says StarBoard is "made entirely from FDA- and USDA-approved materials" and does not chip or splinter like wood, you should wear protective eyewear and a respirator, just as you do when working with any wood product.
StarBoard isn't perfect, but for boaters who are looking for a low-maintenance, visually pleasing alternative to wood and other trim products, it's in a class by itself—at least until the next new wonder material comes along.
This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.