Is your topside brightwork weathered, worn, and sorely in need of refinishing? If so, this is one project that you’ve probably been putting off but you know it needs to be done. The job isn’t particularly difficult or expensive, it just takes plenty of time to do it right and to get good results. But after it’s done, it can be relatively maintenance free for years to come while looking stunning.
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Refinishing anything is a tedious, messy undertaking to do well whether it’s furniture or a sailboat. But the results are very gratifying when you get to the end. By the way, go over to my Interior teak restoration project if that’s on your to-do list.
Who knows what evil lurks beneath your teak?
Begin by removing all the exterior teak trim pieces. That sounds simple and it should be, but it can actually be the hardest part of this project. Hopefully, you’re not so unfortunate that a previous owner used 3M 5200 sealant/adhesive when they last refinished the wood. It does a really good job at being an adhesive! You might need to literally cut the pieces off the boat by working a sharp putty knife under the length of each piece together with a lot of careful pulling, prying, twisting, and patience.
Parts can be so glued to the fiberglass that they can pull 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 formula instead if you must. Better yet, use Butyl tape, which never hardens completely and makes disassembly much easier.
The next step is to strip off what is left of the old finish. If your brightwork was last finished with varnish, 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. Old finish comes off easily to reveal the sun bleached, weathered, and mildewed wood underneath. Use sandpaper to clean off the last bit of finish, damaged wood, and to smooth out deep scratches and chips.
Bleaching, or “Is that your teak’s natural color?”
After you get down to solid, useful wood, the coloring might be uneven and some mildew remains in the wood’s pores. Bleaching will take care of both problems but don’t use laundry bleach.
Don’t waste your time with Bartender’s Friend or expensive teak cleaning kits either. Instead, purchase some relatively inexpensive Oxalic Acid Crystals. Mix as much as will dissolve in a small container of hot water and follow the instructions to bleach once and neutralize three times. It might take multiple treatments this way to even out the teak’s coloring from the abuse it has suffered but it will get the job done.
Teak oil works miracles
Finally, your wood is ready for you to start bringing it back to life. Begin by applying two generous coats of Dalys SeaFin Teak Oil. Those warm, rich colors that we love about teak will jump to the surface. Teak being a naturally oily wood, let the oil dry for several weeks before you wipe down everything with Acetone to remove any remaining surface oils so that the varnish will 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.
Every owner who has done this job seems to have their own personal favorite finish. I prefer Epifanes Clear Varnish. It leaves a hard, glossy finish.
Apply the first coat of varnish thinned 50%, followed by one coat thinned 25%, one coat thinned 10%, and two coats unthinned. This technique makes the varnish soak into the wood and fills the grain for a smoother finish. Thick varnishes can be tricky to work with unthinned when they are the consistency of molasses. It helps to warm it double boiler-style over a hot plate.
Lightly sand with a maroon Scotch-Brite pad in between each coat except before the last coat. For that one, wait two weeks for the varnish to completely cure before sanding with 220 grit sandpaper and then apply the last coat. Wipe everything with a tack cloth before each coat. For a Catalina 22, it can take all of two pints of varnish for the hand rails, hatch rails, weather board, crib boards, the companionway trim inside and out, and the winch cover panel.
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 has cured, mask off each edge about 1/4″ on the front and back of each board and brush 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. Just be careful to not build up the thickness so much that the boards don’t fit together anymore.
The fun part
Reattaching the parts is a downhill run. Just reverse the steps you used to remove them. Use Butyl tape at every joint between wood and fiberglass for a watertight seal.
Then stand back and admire a job well done!
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