1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Helm Windshield Frames (part I)

With the paint work nearly done and the new tinted glass ready to be installed, I need to get the helm windshields back in the boat. I removed the windshield frames back in March 2013, when we were preparing to make the cabin top bullet-proof. There are a few issues I need to resolve before I can reinstall the frames: 1) a previous owner removed the original center (opening) windshield and replaced it with plexiglass; 2) instead of keeping the OE center windshield extruded aluminum frame with its integral hinge, the PO just attached the plexiglass to the frame by drilling holes and attaching a piano hinge with screws; and 3) the anodizing on all of the aluminum frames that were exposed to weather has gone cloudy.

The center opening windshield as found in late 2007

The missing center windshield frame is by far the biggest problem. The plexiglass panel and piano hinge looked bad and worked poorly. But the extrusions for the OE window frames are no longer available and having custom pieces made up would be ridiculously expensive. Similarly, having a brand new windshield assembly made would be very expensive and impractical, since dry fitting the pieces to the brand new Awlgrip paint might cause damage. After searching fruitlessly for properly sized windshield assemblies in boat boneyards across the country (gotta love the internet!), I went to Plan B: find an old Chris Craft with opening windshields and make a new center windshield frame out of the parts.

OE opening windows from a 38' Commander

OE opening windows from a 38′ Commander

A friend who was parting out a 38′ Chris Craft Commander was kind enough to dismantle his two opening windshields and ship them to me. Though each of his windows were smaller in both dimensions than mine, I hoped to be able to cut the pieces and weld them together, making one frame from the pieces. Upon arrival though, I realized that though they looked identical from the outside in pictures, the extrusion profile was quite different between the 38 Commander and 46 Roamer.

My outer frame on the left, the "new" window frame on the right

My outer frame on the left, the “new” window frame on the right

Everything was looking pretty good at this point. So I tried to put the two pieces together…

The two round hinge halves fit together just fine

In the pic above, the two pieces are in the fully open position with the window frame 90° to the outer frame. Next, I rotated the window frame to see if the hinge worked.

All stop

All stop

The window frame rotated 45°, at which point the inside corner of the extrusion ran into the outer windshield extrusion. Though identical in use on comparable-sized boats of the same manufacture and model year, the two extrusion pieces are incompatible. Chris Craft used different extrusions between models.

It’s always something…  😦

While staring at the extrusion bits, I realized that even if the hinges weren’t compatible maybe all was not lost. There were four side extrusions and two bottom ones. Maybe I could make them work.

Side extrusions might work with aftermarket hinges

Side extrusions might work with aftermarket hinges

Measure, mark, cut, fit, & repeat

Measure, mark, cut, fit, & repeat

Fortunately, common woodworking tools can be used to machine aluminum. My miter saw worked fine to cut all of the corner and straight cuts.

Paint stir stick spacers help maintain consistent gaps

Frame on top or frame inset?

Frame on top or frame inset?

Since I’m making the custom frame, I’m not limited to whatever approach Chris Craft used. I stared at the extrusions for quite a while before deciding that it was best to have the windshield frames set inside the outer frame when closed than resting against the face.

The extrusions were not cooperating

The extrusions were not cooperating

The gap around the frame opening between the two extrusions opened up to 3/8″ if I didn’t modify the windshield extrusions. Such a big gap leaves a very narrow sealing surface…plus, it just looked goofy. So I marked the lines to indicate how much material I needed to remove and brought the pieces back home.

Jigging up the Shop Smith mill

Jigging up the Shop Smith mill

With a Freud carbide tipped router bit in my Shop Smith, I used mahogany guides to hold the extrusions in place as I pushed each piece through the mill.

Hot metal flyin'!

Hot metal flyin’!

Note to self: next time, do not wear a tee-shirt when milling aluminum! The flying bits are hot as Hades and, it turns out, stick to human skin!

Extrusion before milling

Extrusion before milling

Extrusion after milling

Extrusion after milling

With all of the bits cut to size and milled, the next step will be welding everything together followed by paint. But before that happens, I need to get back to the boat and finish up the exterior paint work–the last coat of Imron MS1 on the toe rail.

Up next on our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit:  Off Comes the Plastic (AKA the Paint Job is Done)!

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