Usually once we’ve made a plaque and it’s left the premises we never see it again, but just occasionally we get asked to do some repair work or give a plaque a bit of TLC.
Recently we were asked to restore the paintwork on one of our memorial plaques in North Uist, and it turned out to be quite an adventure.
Steven and Jordan travelled up to North Uist via Skye – a nine-hour trip. The ferry was delayed because of the strength of the wind and the lads were nearly blown over when they landed.
As self-confessed “townies” they found the barrenness of Uist rather unnerving, but they managed to find both their B&B and, the next morning, the monument they had come to maintain.
We had supplied them with a small tent to protect them while they worked. It was so windy that they hadn’t even managed to put it up before the poles snapped, rendering it useless. Luckily a local farmer took pity on them and provided pallets and a tarpaulin to make a shelter from, which proved sturdy enough to survive the wind and let them get on with their work.
A pallet-and-tarpaulin shelter in a howling wind, with a short period in which to finish a job, is no place to make mistakes, so the lads had tried out what they needed to do before leaving our Angus base, including using a power-washer on the finished paintwork to simulate the conditions it was likely to endure. They were glad of the practice when it came to doing the job for real in a gale!
The plaque they were working on was one of a group of three, a memorial to several doctors from the same family who looked after the islanders during the 20th century.
Two of the memorial plaques, which tell the story of the doctors, are set into the walls surrounding the third, the actual memorial, which is fixed to a free-standing base. It was this memorial that needed attention; the two plaques in the wall were fine.
Only the paint at the bottom of the memorial was damaged but, to ensure that it would look equally good all over when they had finished, Stephen and Jordan cleaned off all the paint and started again from bare metal. In this case, as with many of our memorial plaques for outdoor sites, we had used marine-grade stainless steel 316, which will outface the harsh climate of the islands.
The first job (before they even tried to put up the tent) was to use thinners to remove the old paint. Then, using a vinyl stencil to mask the areas that weren’t going to be painted, they applied undercoat. This etching primer “bites” into the metal to create a good grippy surface for the paint. The undercoat was left to dry with the help of a small camping heater they’d taken with them (Steven and Jordan were quite glad of the warmth themselves, too, crouched in their makeshift shelter).
Next they sprayed on two coats of paint, leaving each one to dry with the help of the heater before the next was applied. By then it was time for the boys to return to their B&B to get properly warmed up.
The following morning, when the paint had had plenty of time to dry, they gave all three memorial plaques a good polish before catching the ferry back to Skye for the long drive home.
None of the three memorial plaques should ever need any more work done to them – and there are two lads here who are very thankful for that!