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  • Tower change/modification and polishing


    MartinArcher
    • Year: 1987 Brand: Malibu Model / Trim: Sunsetter Cost: $1500-$1999 DIY or Professional Install: (unspecified)
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    The tower that came on my Malibu Sunsetter when I bought it was a Monster tower.  It did the job and the bimini that came with it was awesome but it constantly would come loose at the top joints.  Being a universal tower, you sacrifice a lot of integrity and strength since the tower is made to fit boats of many different shapes and sizes.  It would creak and groan as a wakeboard cuts out and my crew was less than confident sitting behind it.  It looks alright, but I always wanted a Titan III tower in polished stainless on the boat.  I set out to find one of these unicorns and found a used one in the North West that was powder coated black.  It had the old style connector and was built for a 23LSV.  I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me but I took the plunge and started the project. 

    Here’s what I started with….

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    I talked to Brett at Star One and as always he and Luke were great to work with. These guys are awesome and their willingness to work with a customer to make one of their towers fit and work for a customer is awesome. Most places would discourage a DIY kind of guy and I have certainly got that from other companies. These guys dove in and helped me out. As most of you know I have been a Titan owner in the past and I can tell you I will be a Titan Star/One fan for a long long time.

    The guys at Start one put together a kit with a tow spool and the newer style connectors that bring the two halves together to update it to the newer style tower.  My plan is to shorten the legs up a little to being the front to rear spread together. I'll get the leg's welded back up after removing about 6 inches from each leg. I'll then cut the original connector plates off. I'll mount the two hoops on the boat and mock up the new connectors to match the angle the two hoops come together with. After everything is marked up well both hoops go back to have the connectors welded up. After it comes home the powder coat stripping and polishing begins. I can't wait until it's done and I'm boarding off it.  Here we go….

    After the tower arrived, the powder coat stripping began.  I only got one can of aircraft paint stripper to try as a test. It turns out it works pretty well. It seems if you spray it on, let it sit for 15-30 min and then spray it again it really works well. Too bad I just sprayed the entire tower once and ran out of stripper. After letting the stripper soak for a while we carried it into the garage as it's getting dark fast these days and started removing the old powder coat. It turns out, bending a razor blade in the curvature of the tower and putting it into a set of needle nose vice grips works pretty well. We got about half the tower stripped in a few hours. I know it would be wwwaaayyyy easier if I would have bought a couple more cans of paint stripper or gasket remover as a second heavy coat turns the powder coat into a rubbery coating that peels right off instead of scraping off. Tomorrow I'm coming home prepared with a few more cans and its game on.

    After it's stripped it's time for the cutting and welding. I figured out I can lose about 9 inches of front to rear spacing if I knock 6 inches off each leg. It will also keep me within 1 inch of the current Monster tower height which seems to be about right. That means I need to lose another 11 inches by cutting off the old tabs and welding in the new connectors that Luke and Brett at Star One hooked me up with! That should get the front and rear hoop angles right. I'll have the fabricators tack them in while everything is one the boat before removing for the real welds. After that is comes back off the boat for polishing. I figure I'll leave it on the boat for a quick lake test first!

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    Not too bad of finish for not seeing any polishing yet...

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    Next, I cut off the old tabs with the Sawzall and ground down the welds.

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    Well another good night working on the tower. I got all four tabs cut off and the welds ground off with the air grinder. I also got all four of the leg inserts ground out with the angle grinder. They are pretty nice inserts. The guy whole sold me the tower conveniently forgot to tell me that one of the shipping studs is snapped off in the end of one of the inserts. The other one still has the shipping stud stuck in it and I can't get it out. I broke off an easy out in the snapped off stud tonight so I figured I'd leave them both for the machine shop to get out. Has anyone ever had an easy out actually work?  Lol  I have but it feels like it’s 10% of the time!  I even heated the insert up with the torch and it still snapped off.

    The air grinder did a nice job taking the welds off. I then hit the grinder marks with an 80 grit sanding wheel and then hit the area on the tubing with the wire wheel in the cordless drill. The welds are slowly starting to disappear. I have a lot more sanding before I can bust out the polisher, but I'm getting there. I cleaned up the remaining powder coat and loaded the tower in the truck so I'm ready to go get it cut and welded up on Monday.

    Here's pics of the progress....

    No more tabs!

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    Inserts out. Now I can take 6 inches off each leg and have the shop re-weld the inserts back in.

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    After getting the tower back from the fabricator I mocked it all up on the boat.  I need to lose about another 15 inches off the front hoop legs to meet my current mounts. I think it looks pretty good matching up with the current mounts.

    The only other option I would take is moving the front mounts forward, but the bow starts to narrow pretty fast so I can't go too far forward. I'm certainly leaning on using the existing mounts and just shortening up the tubing to match. I like the way it looks and I really like how from the side the front hoop runs with the windshield line. I think it just looks so killer how it swoops back so cleanly!

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    I cut the front legs down again and re-welded the inserts in.  A total of 22” came off the front legs and back on the boat it went.  I’m really digging it.

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    I headed over to the fabricator to get the tower finished up. The welder TIG welded the inserts in the front hoop. They turned out great. We mounted the tower on the boat and mocked up the connectors. We cut and shaped them with the plasma cutter and the welder then tacked the connectors to the rear hoop.

    Before tacking them in he assured me that a TIG would not splatter on the boat. As a precaution, I rented moving blankets from the local U-Haul place and covered the entire interior of the boat. I also removed all the seat bases and left them at home. I watched him weld the front hoop and nothing ever hit the floor or left the tower. It was amazing. I've never seen a TIG at work before.

    He tacked up the first connector and everything went great. He started the second one and did one tack, two, and then commented his tip was getting dull and he said he would sharpen it after the last tack before welding them in permanently. As soon as the torch hit the pipe, it blew a hole where he was going to tack it and showered three big embers down on the dogbox immediately burning thee holes in the blanket and catching each place on fire. I immediately put the fire out with my bare hand and pulled the blanket back to reveal three burns in the vinyl!  What blows my mind is the boss in the shop holding the tower and the welder didn't even comment or say anything about it as I inspected the damage to the vinyl. That kind of ticked me off. I know accidents happen, but jeeze, a sorry about that would have went a long way.  I’ll rip the cover off the dogbox and get it remade and reinstalled during the off season.  Live and learn.

    Here's pics I took at the shop.

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    I reshaped the curves in the connectors to match the tower tube and headed back to the fabricator with welding blankets this time to finish tacking the connectors in place. I left the tower there to have them fully weld the connectors in.

    I also got the dogbox skin back re made. It looks awesome. I'll install it next spring - the tower is first priority. 

    I picked the tower up from the fabricator fully welded last Friday. Here's where it gets funny. The dude who started the project and burnt the boat interior isn't a stainless welder. The owner of the shop is the stainless welder and finished the job after I left (the dude who started the project asked him to finish it since the connector welding was over his head). The owner did an awesome job and the welds looks much better than the original ones done by the first dude. He also cleaned up the first guys work and all the welds look great. He apologized when I picked the tower up and said he didn't know how the job fell through the cracks. He knocked 2/3's of the price off to compensate for the damage done. We shook hands and I left happy.

    I got the tower home all excited and happy. I bolted it up to the boat only to find out that all that heat while welding caused all kinds of problems and warped the tower and even twisted one of the connectors on the tower.  The connectors were no longer parallel from the front to rear hoop (warped in) and the mating surfaces on the one connector did not line up (the connector needed twisted about 3/16" of an inch). I was bummed, but certainly not giving up after going this far.

    I called my buddy and told him the tower was back and I needed his 4 ton portable press to push the connectors apart until they were once again parallel. It worked like a champ and after a couple hours of us tweaking and pressing on the connectors with the hydraulic press and pulling on them with ratchet straps they were both parallel and lined up again.

    The twisted connector was a different story and took a few more evening of garage ingenuity.  Eventually we learned lots and lots of heat was the trick there. We tried with one MAPP gas torch with no luck. In the end, last night we used a MAPP gas torch, an Oxy/MAPP torch and a propane torch all on the connector tube at the same time. We got the entire length of the connector tube (starboard rear) absolutely cherry red and then I hung on the connector using a huge crescent wrench and an extension (OK so it was a pipe wrench). We repeated this process three times and got the pipe to turn (twist) enough to align the mating surfaces. About another hour of small tweaks and tuning the heim joints and it fits great. The knobs spin in without any binding.

    All I can say is WOW this tower is rock solid. We tugged and pulled on it. The only thing that would move or shake was the boat on the trailer. 

    I'm stoked. It looks awesome and fits the boat great and I'll still be able to use my Evolution cover without any modifications.  Next project is grinding out a few old welds, sanding it with a 120 grit pad wheel, several grits of sandpaper, then polishing!

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    Let the polishing begin!  Since I did so much cutting and welding and grinding it took quite a bit of work to get it to shine without scratches.

    My buddy had a sanding attachment for a drill that uses a cylinder that is actually a rubber bladder. You put between 1-15psi into it and it will conform to a tube shape. He only had 80 grit "tubes" for it. Using it and the air grinder I got the big nicks and nasty welds taken care of. We then moved to DA sanders with 150 and 220 grit sandpaper. The majority of the time was spent with these cleaning up the medium scratches. After that we ended up making "tubes" for the air bladder wheel using super glue and gorilla tape. We used the air bladder sander with 320 and 400. After that, I polished it with Red Ball compound using a wool pad on the polisher. It is one very very shiny tower now.  We have about 40 man hours of sanding and polishing in it.

    Here's a bunch of pics of the progress and finished product. I need to get all the racks mounted as well as the Pro-80's back on. I love it so far and think it looks awesome. I got one of the new Titan Spinners I snagged a while ago mounted. It looks sweet and is built like a tank.

    Ground zero...

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    Air grinder marks...

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    220 marks....

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    320 marks....

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    Air bladder attachment....

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    After 400 grit....

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    More 400 and a quick hit of 600....

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    Lots and lots of this.....

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    Back on the boat…

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    Back on the boat!

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    Of course dressed out and back on the water….

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    I have seen your boat many times before....on TMC etc....Just wanted to say that it is one of the best looking boats I have seen.  I love the colors and that vintage/style hull.  Just classic lines and you have done an excellent job with it.  Tower looks perfect on the boat.....great work!

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