One thing I’ve grown to love with owning a sailboat are all the skills I’ve had to pick up in maintaining it. If you own an older boat like mine, you’re bound to have teak on your boat. It can be an incredible pain to maintain it and make it look good, but if you do it right it looks awesome. I’ve gone through several different types of products and have a preferred varnishing method I’ll share with you. If you need to redo yours or want to make it look better, read on:
What You’ll Need
1 can of Epifanes Marine Varnish
1 can of Epifanes thinner or equivalent
1 can of acetone
8-10 bristle (not foam) brushes – I go with cheap ones and use a new one for each coat
8-10 small plastic painting buckets & mixing sticks
400 grit sandpaper
1 can of Kerosene
Small shop vacuum or equivalent
If you’re working with old or existing teak you also need:
250 grit & 350 grit sandpaper or equivalent
Ok, there are a lot of marine varnishes out there. I have chosen to go with Epifanes because it tends to last longer than traditional varnishes. Another long-lasting varnish substitute out there is the Bristol 2 part finish. I’m not a huge Bristol fan but some people have had a lot of success with it. I don’t like mixing both parts and I have a tough time working the wet-on-wet application method. So for this lesson we go with Epifanes:
Prepping the surface:
If it’s and old piece of teak: Bust out the orbital sander and put some 250 grit sandpaper on it. Sand the teak down until it’s smooth again and you see the natural brown teak color again. Pay attention to grooves and cracks in your teak, you want to sand it down as much as possible to get rid of those. Once again, your goal is a flat, smooth surface to apply the varnish. When you’re done sanding, make sure you vacuum the surface and get rid of any excess dust. Wipe down with acetone. Allow to dry.
If it’s a new piece of teak: Ensure the teak is dry and clean. Wipe down thoroughly with acetone and allow to dry.
Applying the Varnish:
Take your Epifanes, pour however much you think you’ll need to cover the surface once into one of your plastic buckets. It’s thick, syrupy stuff. Definitely not easy to work with. So go ahead and use some thinner (I recommend sticking with the Epifanes thinner), and thin it by about 40% and mix thoroughly. I use thinner on every single layer. This is different than what the Epifanes directions advise. On the directions they only recommend you thin for the first 3 coats, and then put it on fully. I have found that it’s very difficult to work with Epifanes un-thinned. So to compensate, instead of the recommended 6-7 coats of varnish, I will do 10-12 coats. Excessive? Not at all, it lasts a long time and looks like glass.
Once you have it thinned properly, use your bristle brush and apply to the wood surface. Paint in the direction of the grain, and pain from “dry to wet”, starting your brushstrokes in a dry area and moving back into a wet area. This blends the varnish together and helps make a seamless surface. Make sure you police up any drips or areas where the varnish appears to pool, look at it at different angles in the light.
Once you’ve applied the varnish, wait the full 24 hours. Protect the surface as much as you can from the sun and dust. I try to take off any bright work I can and do it in the garage out of the sun. I have had a bad experience with doing it exposed to the Savannah sun. If you’re doing it right on your boat, use some kind of tarp to cover it while it dries. Rain is bad too.
Sanding and Re-applying:
You have to sand between every coat. Make sure you wet sand, the tacky surface of the varnish tears up sandpaper. Bust out your 400 grit paper and wet with kerosene. Do not wet with water, water is bad for wood. Hand sand the surface with your kerosene-soaked sandpaper. Your goal is to just rough up the surface a bit, don’t go crazy. You should see a sort of dull sheen when you sand the surface. That’s what you want. If you have any bubbles, dirt, or brush bristles from the previous layer, make sure you sand them out at this point. The goal is dull but smooth.
From here, you reapply another coat of varnish just like you did before with a clean brush and thinned varnish. You’re going to repeat this process another 9 times. You can get away with around 6 if you’re in a hurry but it will not last as long. Better to get it right the first time. When you’re all done, you should have a nice, glassy surface on your bright work:
I hope this lesson helped some of you out there, varnishing is time consuming work, but the look is worth it in the end. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below!