Monday, November 5, 2007


Teak Maintenance, 11/3/2007

"Bright it should be, and work it is." -- unknown

I'm not sure of the origin of that expression, but it aptly describes the dreaded task of maintaining teak on a boat. Often, other boaters look at the brightwork on a boat with mixture of admiration and pity. Teak is beautiful, but it also brings visions of endless sanding and varnishing. The finished product, of course, is quite rewarding. Or so I've heard.

Nowadays, pigmented coatings like Sikkens Cetol are a common compromise. The application and maintenance process is much easier, and the pigment protects the wood from UV. But, it lends a somewhat less appealing color than the mile-deep shine of traditional varnish. In our case, the decision to do it the easy way was made for us: The prior owner had already started with Cetol in 2004. Unfortunately, even with Cetol, we have our work cut out for us because we put off the project for too long, allowing the the finish to deteriorate quite badly in some areas. In those areas, bare teak has been exposed all year, and it has weathered gray. We really should have addressed the situation sooner, but we were otherwise occupied.

We started Saturday morning with the worst of it: the toe rail, hand rails, and cockpit steps. The hand rails were in mostly decent shape except for the forward-starboard rail, which was chipping and peeling pretty badly. The toe rail was moderately deteriorated all the way around. The deterioration increases the prep work substantially, since it requires sanding in addition to general cleaning. We followed these steps on all the deteriorated wood:
  • Scrub thoroughly with a scouring pad, mild boat soap, and water
  • Towel-dry
  • Sand with 150-180 grit sanding pads to remove any flaking, and to take weathered areas down to clean wood
  • Vacuum the dust
  • Wipe with acetone to clean any remaining dust or oils
  • Allow to air dry
  • Brush on first coat of Cetol Light with a natural bristle brush
We freehanded the Cetol application, rather than taping off all of the surrounding area. That seemed to be the unanimous recommendation from others, given the time and difficulty involved with taping. A shop towel dampened with acetone works great for cleaning up any mistakes.

The process took the two of us about four hours. Teak is pretty soft, so sanding was easier than I expected. We only sanded to the point where all the flaking areas of Cetol were removed, which left the wood partly coated, and partly bare (click the pictures for closeups). My hope is that this will be adequate, but I'm concerned that the bare areas will show lighter than the other areas when we're finished. I expect that we'll need three coats minimum on the bare areas.

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