This is one project that I was not looking forward to doing but it needed to be done. Our topside woodwork was badly damaged and downright ugly.
Refinishing anything is just a slow, tedious, messy undertaking to do well. But the results are very gratifying when you get to the end. It was the same with the Interior teak restoration project, so I dove in.
Who knows what evil lurks beneath your teak?
Work began by removing all the exterior teak trim pieces. That sounds simple and it should be, but it was actually the hardest part of this project. The previous owner had used 3M 5200 sealant/adhesive when they last refinished the wood. It does a really good job at being an adhesive! I literally had to cut the pieces off the boat by working a sharp putty knife under the length of each piece together with a lot of pulling, prying, twisting, and patience.
The weather board was so glued to the companionway hatch that it pulled off some of the gel coat with it. So for your own sake and the sake of anyone that will ever have to work on your boat, don’t use 5200 on any parts that will ever have to be separated. Use the more forgiving 4200 instead if you must. Better yet, use Butyl tape, which never hardens completely.
After repairing the gel coat, the next step was to strip off what was left of the old finish. I haven’t found a chemical stripper yet that works any better, faster, cleaner, or greener than a heat gun and a sharp putty knife. The old finish came of easily and revealed the sun bleached, weathered, and mildewed wood underneath. Since I have a large, stationary belt sander in my shop, cleaning off the last bit of finish, damaged wood, and smoothing was easy as well.
Bleaching, or “Is that your teak’s natural color?”
After I got down to solid, useful wood, the coloring needed to be evened out and any remaining mildew in the wood’s pores destroyed. I decided to try a series of bleaching agents, starting at mild and progressing to wild, to see what would be the most conservative product that would work.
At first, I tried a paste made with Bartender’s Friend, which has a mild Oxalic acid component to it. It did nothing. Next, I tried the expensive two-part West Marine Heavy Duty Teak Cleaner Kit that gets many positive reviews. I could barely see a difference. It was time to bring out the big guns. I purchased some relatively inexpensive Oxalic Acid Crystals from a local woodworker’s supply store. I mixed as much as would dissolve in a container of hot water and followed the instructions to bleach once and neutralize three times. It took two full treatments this way to even out the teak’s coloring from the abuse it had suffered.
Teak oil works miracles
Finally, the wood was ready to start bringing it back to life. I began by applying two generous coats of Dalys SeaFin Teak Oil. Those warm, rich colors that we love about teak jumped to the surface. Teak being a naturally oily wood, after letting the oil dry for several weeks, I wiped down all the pieces with Acetone to remove any remaining surface oils so that the varnish would adhere well.
Time to varnish, finally
To make it easier to varnish all sides of the pieces at the same time, see my tips on Simple jigs for varnishing parts.
For the varnish itself, I chose Epifanes Clear Varnish. Every owner who has done this job seems to have their own personal favorite finish. I don’t have one yet, so ask me in a few years if I chose wisely.
The application process consisted of one coat of varnish thinned 50%, followed by one coat thinned 25%, one coat thinned 10%, and two coats unthinned. The varnish can be tricky to work with unthinned as it’s the consistency of molasses. It helped that I kept it warmed double boiler-style over a hot plate.
I lightly sanded with a maroon Scotch-Brite pad in between each coat except for the next to last coat. For that one, I waited two weeks for the varnish to cure before sanding with 220 grit paper. I wiped the pieces with a tack cloth before each coat. It took all of two pints of varnish for the hatch rails, weather board, crib boards, the companionway trim inside and out, the winch cover panel, and the inside step board. I did not varnish the hand rails because I left them off to make room on the roof for the lines led aft project.
Depending on the weather, it can take weeks for the varnish to cure completely so wait before reinstalling the pieces and don’t take on this project if you plan on using the boat soon after.
The edges of the crib boards wear first and are the places most likely for water to seep in and ruin them. So after the varnish had cured, I masked off each edge about 1/4″ on the front back of each board and brushed a coat of slightly thickened epoxy on the edges. This gives them a hard coating that seals them completely and will protect them for many years to come.
The fun part
Reattaching the parts is a downhill run. I used Butyl tape at every joint between wood and fiberglass for a watertight seal. Finally, it was that time we all love when we can stand back and admire a job well done.
The Bottom Line
Suggest price: n/a
$tingy Sailor cost: $59.98
If you have refinished your teak woodwork, what’s your favorite varnish and why?