Main Salon, Overhead, Trim, Mahogany

The mahogany trim on the overhead of the main salon
Trimwork enhances the beauty of any boat. Just as in home, trimwork helps to define a space. Crown molding, for example, helps the eye distinguish between the ceiling and the wall. Baseboards help the viewer draw a clear line in his mind between the wall and the floor. Well-crafted trim around windows and doors helps to set those portals apart from the walls around them. These are just the most basic forms of residential trimwork. There are quite a few others. Generally, the greater the amount of trim, the greater the perceived value, which often translates into the greater real value of the home. The same can be said, to some degree, about boats.
The Ericson 25 sailboat has abundant amounts of mahogany trim, but unlike many of the larger Ericsons, it was not manufactured with a single piece of trim on the cabin trunk. Specifically, it lacks trimwork around the portlights. Likewise, it lacks trimwork on the overhead. Displeased with the lack of trimwork in these area, I sought to bring beauty to this space. At the same time, I sought to remedy several different practical problems that I was facing. In this particular article, I focus on the trim that I created for the overhead. As we shall see, this trim did much to enhance the beauty, and it provided attractive solutions to issues that I was confronting on Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.
To help me figure out how I might trim-out the overhead, I started, as I often do, by making a cardboard mock-up. It's difficult to see in the picture below, but the strips of cardboard are laid out along the edges of a small lip or bead that frames the overhead space. Ericson appears to have created this rectangular-shaped bead in an effort to provide some limited amount of trimwork integral to the fiberglass hull liner. Ericson also gave the fiberglass within this rectangular space a grainy texture, not unlike the grain often seen on leather or vinyl surfaces. One benefit of this grainy texture is that it lessens the amount of light that is reflected, and thus gives the overhead a less antiseptic appearance.
After I had created the initial mock-up, I began to experiment with additional configurations. The first, involved the addition of two strips of cardboard running athwartships. With these strips I sought to mimic the deckbeams found on traditional wooden vessels and the faux deckbeams found on some larger fiberglass boats. Given that the standing head room in the main salon of the Ericson 25 is less than 6 feet, the most that this space could reasonably handle would be thin strips of mahogany no more than 1/2 inch in thickness. A buddy of mine liked the look of the cardboard mock-up strips. To me, though, they made the space look just a little too crowded. They also inhibited the practical use of the overhead space for the lighting that I planned to install.
For quite some time I had planned to install two, rectangular-shaped LED lights on the overhead. To mimic the shape of these LEDs, I created two cardboard mock-ups. These provided a more balanced and less-cluttered appearance to the overhead than the faux deckbeams.
While I was letting my imagination run wild, I thought it might be nice to see what it would look like to extend this trim design into the space between the main salon and the V-berth. If you look closely, you can see the cardboard mock-ups in that small space.
Below we see a closer look.
I wasn't so sure about this design, so I added a couple of extra pieces of cardboard. These didn't help very much, and after a little bit of reflection on this, I decided that the trim in this area was not only unnecessary but also unattractive.
One real practical problem that I had to solve involved the placement of the new vent in the main salon. The old plastic vent that came with the boat had deteriorated. To replace it, I purchased a Nicro brand Day/Night Plus solar vent. The old vent was three inches in diameter. I could have replaced it with a three-inch Nicro vent. I opted, however, to replace it with a four-inch one. Why? Because the four-inch vent, although only one inch larger in diameter, was capable of moving a lot more air. In the balmy, sub-tropical climate of the Carolina Lowcountry, moving a lot of air is a good thing. To make this new four-inch vent fit into the old hole, I had to enlarge that old hole. In deciding exactly how to enlarge that hole, I had to take into account the angle at which the line for the centerboard would run from the base of the mast to the block on the starboard side of the cabin trunk. The strip of wood below replicates the route that the centerboard line would take.
To scribe the circle for the cutout, I began by cutting a circular plywood pattern with a hole saw. I then placed this circular pattern on the cabin top and shifted it around to make it line up with the marks that I had made when the Nicro vent was in place.
Initially, I thought that the orientation of the scribed circle, as seen below, was just fine.
After a little more thought on the route of the centerboard line, however, I decided that it would be smart to orient the new hole farther to starboard. This would allow the centerboard line to have a little more space.

In preparation for making the cut, I applied multiple pieces of duct tape around the hole on the hull liner inside of the boat. My purpose was to minimize the chipping of the gelcoat. In case you're wondering, the hull liner is completely separate from the deck structure. In other words, the deck consists of an exterior fiberglass skin and an interior fiberglass skin. Between these two skins is balsa-wood core material. The hull liner in this part of my boat is about 1/8 inch beneath the interior fiberglass skin of the deck.
The new hole, shortly before I had finished the cut. For this cut I used my trusty Makita jig saw with a reverse-cut blade, specifically, a Bosch T101BR. This blade, especially when used on a saw with a low-speed setting, is very good at minimizing the chipping of gelcoat.
After I finished cutting the hole, I dry-fitted the vent into place. The new orientation of the vent provided a little more space for the centerboard line.
On the interior of the boat I dry-fitted the plastic trim piece that came with the Nicro vent.
The fit was a little too snug.
Therefore, I widened the hole just a bit by sanding the edges of the fiberglass with a 50-grit sanding drum on my Dremel.
Not liking the appearance of the white plastic trim piece on the interior of the boat, I decided to craft a secondary trim piece out of Spanish cedar. This exotic wood, despite its "cedar" name, is a member of the mahogany family. For more on this wood and on the type of mahogany I use, refer to the Index on the home page. Specifically, see the labels "Spanish cedar," "sapele," and "Southern Lumber."

Much better.
Next, I needed to figure out how to join the four corners of the rectangle that I was creating for the overhead. My idea was to create four corner pieces that would anchor and define these ends of the rectangle. Curves are a good thing on a boat, so I started by sketching some shapes with graceful curves.
Notice the corner in the foreground. See the holes? Those accommodate the through-bolts for the traveler. I needed backing plates for the bolts, and I figured that the decorative corner pieces that I would create for the rectangle would serve this purpose. In case you're wondering about the stainless steel eye, that helps to support the counter extension in the galley.
Initially, I considered putting curved trim pieces on each side of the rectangle.
I cut paper patterns of various sizes and shapes in an attempt to figure out which one worked best.

Having settled on a design, I moved forward with the necessary wood-working to create these corner pieces. Finding a couple scraps of mahogany in my pile, I ran both of them through the planer so as to take them down to a thickness of 1/2 inch each.

I had just enough wood to get four corner pieces out of these scraps.
When I was finished with the cuts, I arranged the four pieces in such as way as to get some idea how they might look if I mounted them in this fashion on the aft end of the rectangle (for the purpose of serving as backing plates for the traveler. I didn't really like the appearance of these pieces oriented in this fashion, so I postponed thoughts on the traveler at this time and instead focused on the four corners of the rectangle itself.
Not wanting these corner trim pieces to have right angles, I decided to knock off the points and provide them with soft curves. I used the flange of a bronze through-hull to help me scribe the lines.

I liked the thought of each corner piece having three screws to secure it to the overhead. Other pieces of trim that were original to the boat were dressed with finish washers. I therefore opted to use finish washers on these new trim pieces.
The first corner piece installed.
A detailed view.
The second corner piece installed.

For the sides of the rectangle I made use of 1/4 inch mahogany. This was solid mahogany, not plywood. I had obtained these pieces for an excellent price at Southern Lumber here in Charleston, South Carolina. Southern Lumber has its own millwork division. Frequently, there are scraps from the shop that are available on a first-come-first-served basis. One day, when I stopped by to see what they might have on hand, I found several pieces of 1/4 inch mahogany that were each about 8 feet long and about 6 inches wide. I bought all of them with the thought that one day I might make use of them as trim. Now that day had come.

I liked the idea of having small gaps between the corner trim pieces and the mahogany strips. These gaps, from my perspective, emphasized the curvature of the trim pieces.
When I began to focus on the forward trim pieces, I discovered for the first time that the rectangle with which I was dealing was not perfectly square, despite the fact that it appeared to be so from the casual observations I had made of the overhead. Therefore, I had no choice but to re-cut the two corner pieces for this forward end, so that they would correspond to the existing fiberglass lip, which defined this rectangular shape on the overhead.
The picture below gives you some idea of what I mean. Notice that I have marked the mahogany with a pencil to indicate the cut that I need to make.

Having decided where I needed to make the cuts on these corner pieces, I next focused on the two strips of mahogany that would run fore to aft. Another discovery that I had made upon closer examination of the fiberglass lip on the overhead was that the port and starboard sides of the rectangle (in other words, the sides that ran fore to aft) were not straight, but were curved, just like the cabin trunk, the deck, and the hull itself. In order, therefore, to make the mahogany strips conform to the curve of the fiberglass lip, I had to cut these strips so that they themselves would be curved. In the picture below, you see that I have made the first curved cut in the 1/4 inch mahogany.
Although it is difficult to see, on account of the cardboard on which these pieces of mahogany are sitting, the piece on the left is straight, and the piece on the right is curved. The gap between the two is evident, if you look closely.
I used the first curved piece as a pattern for cutting the second curved piece.
Below we see the two curved pieces on the left and in the center. The piece on the right is straight.
I used duct tape to secure the pieces in place while I drilled the holes and installed the screws and washers. If I remember correctly, I used 1/2 inch screws for the strips and 3/4 inch screws for the corner pieces. When drilling the pilot holes, I made sure to recess the drill bit into the chuck, so that only the proper amount of drill bit was showing. This was my idiot-proof way of keeping myself from accidentally drilling all the way through the deck.

The shot below makes it quite easy to see the curvature of the rectangle. This shot also makes it easy to see the size differences between the 1/2 inch mahogany corner pieces and the 1/4 inch mahogany strips. I intentionally made the corner pieces thicker in order to emphasize the corners and provide some interesting visual differences to the composition.
When I came to the corner where the Nicro vent would be located, I discovered that the corner piece was a bit too large for the space that was available.
To remedy this problem, I notched the corner piece so that it would accommodate the trim ring of the vent.

As you can see in the picture below, I also had to notch the mahogany strip to accommodate the ring.
Again, the curvature of the for-to-aft mahogany strip is evident.
Despite me earlier rejection of the cardboard deckbeam strips, I continued to wonder if there was some way that I could make them work with the two LED lights that I planned to install. Thus, I reinstalled the mock-ups and took another look at them. Still, I did not like the way they looked, so I rejected this idea permanently.
In their place I devised something new. I began to think that it might look good to have a fairly large piece of mahogany as a backer or a trim piece for these two lights. This trim piece could help to accentuate the longitudinal lines of the fore-to-aft mahogany strips. It could also help to conceal the wires that I would need to route along the overhead.
I did not have a scrap piece of mahogany of the size that I needed, so I had no choice but to make another trip to Southern Lumber. There, in their exotic wood shed, I picked through many a rough-sawn piece, until I came across the one you see below. I especially liked this one, because of the many ribbon stripes that ran the entire length of the piece.
Taking this piece to the miter saw, I cut off the appropriate length.
Then I set up my planer and prepared to take this 4/4 (1 inch) piece of rough-sawn wood down to 1/2 inch.
After one pass through the planer, the wood was smooth in some places and still rough in others. This just goes to show how rough-sawn wood is full of irregularities.
Below we see the board after I had taken it down to 1/2 inch. I would make this side the concealed side, in other words the side that would be mounted against the overhead), because of the dark streak that was visible at the top end.
Having finished my work at the planer, I took the board to the table saw and ripped it to the proper width. Then I rounded the corners with my jig saw. Below, we see the finished piece next to the cardboard mockup.
Next, I needed to figure out the centerline of the space, so that the mahogany and thus the LED lights would be centered. To accomplish this task, I used neon green surveyor's line.
Having determined the centerline, I then experimented with different placements of the mock-up mahogany. I wanted the LED lights to shine down directly on the mahogany table that I had built for the main salon, and I didn't want the mahogany bookcase (pictured left) to block any of the light. For more on the table, see my article, "Main Salon, Table, Custom Mahogany."
Eventually, I settled on the position pictured below.
Moving on to the next stage of this project, I began to experiment with various placements of the lights on the large piece of mahogany. Below, you can see one of the LED lights that I had previously purchased for this purpose. This light was manufactured by Bebi Electronics on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. This small company, specializing in marine grade LEDs, was founded by two American expatriates, Michael and Kendra, who tailored their products specifically for cruising sailors. I'm speaking in the past tense about Bebi Electronics, because the company, unfortunately, is no longer in business due to political instability in Fiji. Fortunately, I was able to buy all of the LEDs that I needed for my refitting of Oystercatcher, before Michael and Kendra shut their doors permanently in the fall of 2013. The light you see below was known as the Fautasi, and it was manufactured by Fijian workers out of an exotic wood native to the islands.
There were several different types of Fautasi lights. I purchased the ones that had two different toggle switches. One switch allowed for the dimming of the lights; the other for the use of green, night-vision lights.
For the time being, I decided that I would mount only two of these lights on the large piece of mahogany, even though I had enough room for three. I wanted to see if these would be sufficient. If they were, I would use the third light in another area of the boat.
Note that I created trim pieces for the individual lights. These created variety and visual detail. From a practical standpoint, they would help me to conceal the wires for each light.
After I had installed the large piece of mahogany, I took several pictures of the finished job from several different angles.

This ends this posting on the mahogany trim that I created for the overhead of the main salon on Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

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