Jean Brady of Dry Suit Repairs in Shankill, Dublin, has a great deal of experience repairing suits and has fixed suits for many in the club. A few years ago she kindly sent us this page of trade secrets to help solve your leaky suit problems. If after reading you still don’t feel up to having a go yourself, you can always contact Jean through her website at www.drysuitrepairs.com.
How to be a D.I.Y drysuit repairman/woman
by Jean Brady
Have you ever thought of doing your own drysuit repairs? If you’ve ever repaired a bicycle puncture, then you’re half way there.
Testing your drysuit to locate a leak is very simple. Firstly, there are two main types of drysuit. Neoprene and membrane. Neoprene drysuits are best tested right way out, while membrane drysuits would be better tested turned inside out. The boots will not go completely inside out, particularly if heavy duty boots are fitted. Try to get the suit inside out to where the junction of the suit and boots is visible. This will show if there is a leak between the suit and the boots, a frequent cause of wet feet.
Wine bottles make good stoppers for the wrists (first drink the wine!). Pull the bottles down so they wedge in the wristseals. If necessary put masking tape around the end of the wrist seals to stop the bottles flying out while under pressure.
If testing a suit inside out, reverse the inlet valve so you have something through which you can fill the suit with air. The dump valve should not leak when the suit is inside out. If it does leak, then I suggest you get a new diaphragm (diving shops should be able to supply these). If testing the suit the right way out, then the dump valve will either have to be reversed, or have a pad of neoprene inserted under the cap to block the valve. (It is always a good idea to attach some sort of reminder – like a piece of RED material on the zip pull tag- to make sure you remember to remove the neoprene blocking pad!!!!).
Put a suitable object into the neckseal of the suit and close the zip. If testing the suit inside out, the zip will have to be closed through the neckseal first, and then the neckseal blocked. Use something like a half gallon bucket or a ball. Some D.I.Y. specialists use a traffic cone. We use a special beaker with an inlet valve fitted to the base of it. (Copywrite design – patent pending – see W.S.) Secure the edge of the neckseal with two bands of masking tape. Inflate the suit through the reversed inlet valve until it is full. Full means that when you knock the body of the suit with your knuckles, you get a nice bass drum sound. If you don’t get this sound, fill until you do. You’d be amazed how large a suit will inflate to, particularly a neoprene one. Michelin Man eat your heart out!
Here’s where the bicycle thingy comes in. Fill a bucket with warm water, (why freeze your little fingers off?), and a use generous squirt of good quality washing up liquid. Use a cloth and wash over the entire suit. Be methodical, It’s amazing how a sneaky little leak can escape the eye. Start on the neck and shoulder and work down the length of the suit and up the other side to the shoulder. Turn the suit over and do the same again. It may be necessary to pump the suit up a bit more at any stage, depending on the extent of the leaks. Use tailors chalk to mark any leaks with an “X”, the leak being at the centre of the “X”. Blackboard chalk will do but watch out, it washes off very easily, and you can “lose” a leak if you are not careful. When the suit is dry, it will be lovely and clean, with all traces of salt well washed off in the testing process. It can now be patched or have aquasure applied to leaks.
Patches should be well cleaned before glueing. Two or three thin layers of Bostik 2402 two part glue should be applied to both surfaces, allowing each layer to become touch dry between applications. Frequently four coats of glue will be necessary, depending on the absorption of the materials. When the final coats are touch dry apply the patch, beginning with an edge first, and working towards the centre, through to the other side, pressing down with a rubbing motion to expel any bubbles which may occur.
Seam leaks generally require a wide tape patch. These are done exactly the same way using two to three layers of glue on the suit and just one or two on the tape. Tape is inclined to want to curl up when the glue is applied. One of the ways to avoid this is to clean both sides of the tape with M501 cleaner, or alcohol, cleaning the dull side first and then the shiny side, which will be the side the glue is applied to. Allow the tape to “rest” for a couple of minutes before painting the glue on to it. Peel the glued tape off the glueing board and stick it onto the suit starting at one end putting a very slight stretch on it as you rub down towards the other end of the tape. Again, try to expel any bubbles as you go along. When the tape is in place, use a wallpaper roller to press the tape into all grooves and folds to make sure of maximum contact.
Instructions on how to replace wrist and neckseals will be dealt with in the next edition of Subsea. (hopefully!)
Happy glueing and safe diving – or should that be safe glueing and happy diving?!!
Replacing wrist and neck seals
Well how did you get on with the pressure testing and patching? Not too high from the fumes? Good. Then we can continue.
Perhaps a word of warning here regarding glue fumes would not be a bad thing. When using substances of this kind, the room should be well ventilated, and as with all highly flammable materials, great care should be taken not to leave these substances where children can get their hands on them. Healthcare warnings are usually printed on the labels, and a couple of minutes taken reading these, could prevent accidents.
The secret of doing wristseal and neckseal replacements is:-
1. Preparation – getting as much of the old seal, tape and glue off as possible.
2. Cleaning both surfaces to be glued with M501 cleaner.
3. Having a “former” which will fit the sleeve or neck opening snugly.
I have a series of different size “formers” ranging from cat food tins to cocoa tins to large baby food tins, for various sized arms of drysuits and ankles of sailing suits. For the neckseal “former” I use a 10″ flowerpot. Just make sure that any sharp projections have been filed down to reduce the risk of tearing the neckseal. Equally a small bucket, or traffic cone could be used as a former. If a “former” is not quite large enough, then a layer or two of Cornflake packet cardboard wrapped around the outside of the former to enlarge it, and secured with masking tape should do the job.
As with all repairs, clean both surfaces to be glued thoroughly with M501 cleaner. Fix the former into the arm or neck opening, so that the seal can be stretched over it. In the case of wristseals, put the seal on and overlap the seal up to the line of where the old seal went. Fix the seal in place by putting a strip or two of masking tape around it. Fold the seal back over the masking tape. This has two purposes, it holds the seal in place, and it gives you something to glue against and leaves the outside of the seal nice and clean and free of unwanted glue. Paint two layers of glue on both surfaces, allowing them to become touch dry between layers. When the second layer of glue is dry enough, roll the seal down over the arm of the suit and press out any bubbles which may try to form. With the seal in place, the whole arm can be rolled using the former inside as a roller. If there is a seam in the sleeve of the suit, make sure to press the seal down into the groove of the seam. Your thumb nail will do this, provided it is not too sharp!
Measure the tape around the wristseal and allow about one to one and a half inches for the overlap. It is a good idea to buff (with sandpaper) about half an inch of the edge of the wristseal. This will give the glue something to key into. The inside of the seal is already buffed in the manufacture, so it is not necessary to do it on the inside. Clean down the buffed edge of the seal with M501 cleaner. Clean the tape too, both sides. Apply one coat of glue to the arm of the suit, and one to the tape. Sometimes it will be necessary to apply two coats, depending on the material absorption – use your common sense. Getting the width of the glue line on the suit to match the tape is a thing which will come with practice, but if you want you can mark the width with chalk before applying the glue, it will make for a neater edge for your glue line. Apply the tape to the arm and press well down. Glue the tag end of the tape to overlap and when dry enough stick this down too. When the tape is stuck down on the outside of the arm, take out the former and roll the seal and tape, making sure that contact is made in all the little grooves and folds. Turn the arm inside out, clean down the edge of the suit where it joins the seal, and repeat the taping process once more.
N.B. If talc is used to assist you in getting into the suit, then the cleaning process must be very thorough on the inside to get rid of surplus talc.
The process is exactly the same for replacing a neckseal.
Here are a couple of extra hints which may be of use to the D.I.Y Repairman/woman.
1. Use a jam jar with about half an inch of M501 cleaner to keep your glueing brush in. The top can be sealed with a couple of pieces of masking tape (where-would-we-be-without-it) when you are not using it. A certain amount of evaporation will occur, so keep the level topped up around the bristles.
2. A cheap three-quarter inch paintbrush is adequate for glueing – get one with a plastic only handle. If you get a nice varnished handle, the M501 will dissolve the varnish!
3. Trim the bristles of the paintbrush into a semi-circle at the ends before you start. I have found that it makes it easier to paint glue with when the end of the brush is rounded.
Well, that’s about it. If I tell you any more, I’ll be able to retire, and I don’t propose doing that for another few years!
If any of you out there would like a “hands-on” session, I would be willing to do a group session for about six people at a time. Feel free to phone me – during business hours please, on 01-2721255. Or mobile 087-2043356.