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Old 03-26-2015, 08:17 PM   #1
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Varnish or Cetol? Best way to fix teak rails?

Hi TW,

Another question for the wisdom of the group here. I have some teak rails that are starting to show serious abuse (see pictures below). I'm not sure if they're sealed with varnish or cetol, and am wondering how best to go about repairing this. My initial thought was to get some 120 or 200 grit sand paper, sand down to raw wood, and re-coat with either cetol or varnish to match the rest of the boat. But after talking to someone wiser than me in the harbor today, he suggested getting a heat gun and stripping the old stuff off. Or, if its cetol, just sanding down the exposed parts and doing a spot fix.

Any recommendations, or suggestions on how to tell if this is cetol or varnish?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 03-26-2015, 08:57 PM   #2
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From the pictures my guess would be varnish
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Old 03-26-2015, 09:03 PM   #3
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Sanding & Heat guns are too much work!
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Old 03-26-2015, 09:49 PM   #4
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That looks like varnish. A heat gun is the way to go. Then finish with sandpaper. If you want the true color of the teak to show through, then use varnish, but it wont last as long as cetol. The Cetol has a brown stain in it so the wood wont look like teak when your done, but it will last longer and be easier to re-apply, and to fix issues later.
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Old 03-26-2015, 09:50 PM   #5
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Greetings,
Mr. c. IF you're willing to re-do the whole rail, scrape, sand and varnish/cetol. IF you want to simply use the vessel and defer a complete job, scrape off the loose stuff and get a coat of anything on to protect and seal the wood. We've spot coated in the past until such time we did the whole rail. Just protect the wood in any case.
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Old 03-26-2015, 09:57 PM   #6
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We bailed on using varnish on our boat some 15 years ago. Since then we have used only Bristol on the exterior teak. For wood we take back to raw, we use two coats of CPES followed by the first coat of Bristol when the CPES is still a bit tacky.

We have found that the best way to remove old finish, be it varnish or Bristol, is to use a heat gun and scrapers. This minimizes (or eliminates) the amount of wood that is removed.

My wife is the heat gun/scraper artist of two of us and when she's through removing the old finish all I need to do is give the raw wood a finish sanding by hand with 220 grit and it's ready for the first coat of CPES.

We have found that in this climate, at least, Bristol outlasts varnish by a factor of years. We have some pieces of exterior teak that were refinished with 8 to 10 coats of Bristol some 10 years ago or more. The finish is still holding up.

However.... Bristol is just as susceptible to lifting if moisture gets underneath it which is why it is critical to bed teak trim, grab rails, etc. properly to the fiberglass. And joints in cap and hand rails need to be sealed correctly or the movement of the joints will let moisure in under the finish.

As for Cetol, we've seen how it holds up and looks on several boats around us in our harbor, and we would never use it. If Bristol wasn't available we'd use varnish before we used Cetol.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:00 PM   #7
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It's varnish. Citrus stripper along with the proper use of a scraper will get it off. As will a heat gun. See other refinishing thread on how to use a scraper properly.

As to what the coat it with after you hav stripped the wood and gotten it smooth with using at least 220 grit paper as your final paper, well, there are a number of ways to go.

Cetol is very easy to use on work with and long lasting. But many people don't like the color of it. And the look of it.

As to varnishes, you have a couple ways to go. Either a "natural" oil based varnish, which are fairly easy to work with and forgiving, while being reasonably long lasting. Or a "synthetic" varnish variation. Like using a epoxy base and Bristol as Marin mentions. They can be very long lasting but a bit less forgiving and more costly product wise in many cases than using natural varnish alone.

What ever product you use, the chances of you having a great outcome and beautiful look wood will be determined by the quality of your prep work and your willingness to put on multiple coats of any of these products.

And in the case of the varnishes I'm talking 10 - 12 coats if you want that deep clear high gloss look. Perhaps 8 - 10 coats with a synthetic product. Or in some cases a natural varnish top coated with a synthetic. Say like Epifanes varnish with Awlbrite on top of it.

Cetol you can get away with 6 or so coats.

The key to long life with any of these products is getting the surface very, very smooth before the last coats go on.

I'm sure others will come along and refute most of not all I've said. And there are many ways to skin a cat for sure but this is what worked for me over the years. And I got paid to apply varnish to other people's boats for a lot of years.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:00 PM   #8
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windmill29130,
I'll bet that is a very harsh chemical mix that may be bad for the wood.
Scrapers, sand paper or even torches if used skillfully is probably much less stressful for the wood.

I view the chemical stripping as work evasion. But torches and scrapers aren't that much work .. if you use tungsten carbide scrapers. I prefer the ones w very slightly curved blades. They don't dig in on the corners nearly as much .. and that's not much at all.

Sandpaper is a drag I'll admit but you've got to sand anyway.

So buck up and go to the varnishing party .. I'll be there.

But I really don't know how bad those strippers are. Does anybody?
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:05 PM   #9
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If Bristol wasn't available we'd use varnish before we used Cetol.
Ditto. Bristol is the way to go.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:07 PM   #10
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I'm sure other will come along and refute most of not all I've said..
Nope, particularly the part about using lots of coats. That and preventing moisture from getting under the finish are the two most important factors in a long-lasting, gook looking finish, regardless of the product used in my opinion.

We try to get a minimum of 8 coats of Bristol on top of CPES-treated raw wood and 10 or 12 would be even better. And as Capt. Bill advised, the secret to a glass-smooth top coat is a glass-smooth coat underneath it.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:20 PM   #11
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Based on those pictures, if you want a first class job and the longest lasting one. I'd remove every other stanchion and scape, sand and apply at least a few coats of finish to the areas underneath them, before bedding properly and reinstalling them. And then pulling the others and doing the same thing.

This is a step many fail to do to older rails. And it's why many refinishing jobs fail prematurely.

In fact removing as much of the hardware that may be on the surfaces of the wood you are going to refinish is one of the main ways you can insure a long lasting job.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:29 PM   #12
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windmill29130,


But I really don't know how bad those strippers are. Does anybody?
The strippers that are safe to get on gelcoat are very mild. And the citrus ones tend to be some of the mildest.

I use them to strip wood sometimes. But in many cases I use them to get varnish off of gelcoat with zero I'll effects to the gelcoat itself.
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Old 03-26-2015, 10:36 PM   #13
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windmill29130,

But I really don't know how bad those strippers are. Does anybody?

Eric-- The modern consumer strippers I've tried (not for varnish but for paint on things like window frames) are next to worthless. Environmental and safety concerns have reduced chemical strippers to being so weak as to not be worth bothering with, in my opinion. And we've tried just about every one on the market. You have to use so much of it to make any kind of dent in the existing finish that all you end up with is a horrible mess that gets all over everything.

This was not true back in the 60s and 70s when strippers were available that actually stripped. But these products were so strong (I used to use them to refinish gunstocks, a pocket-change business I had for awhile in college) that they would severely burn you if you got even a tiny bit of it on your skin. In comparison, the strippers available to consumers today you could probably put on your breakfast cereal with no ill effects.

The super strong stuff may still be avaialble to commercial stripping companies, I don't know.

We use the heat gun/scraper method for removing everything now: varnish, Bristol, paint, you name it. No gooey, sticky mess getting all over everything, and the finish, whatever it is, comes off first time, every time.

The only caveat with using heat is that you have to know how much to use in each situation and develop the proper "constant motion" technique. And you have to protect the surrounding surfaces form the heat. My wife has fabricated a number of heat shields of different sizes and shapes that she positions to protect surrounding fiberglass, other finished wood, painted interior paneling, and so on.
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Old 03-27-2015, 12:26 AM   #14
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Cetol comes in clear without the tinge. In our local of over 150 inches of rain, varnish is just too hard to deal with. Cetol is quick and dirty in terms of roughing up the existing varnish, stain the open wood and then several coats of Cetol. Cetol drys to the next coat in 15-20 minutes in 50 degree sun weather so several coats can be applied. Having said this after 13 years of doing the above I sold the boat with all the wood requiring the treatment and purchased a boat with a bit of wood trim which was immediately painted dark brown.
Nothing against the beauty and pride of well varnished wood my hat off to those who provide the maritime beauty for viewing. Just saying

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Old 03-27-2015, 12:59 AM   #15
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Cetol will hide blemishes

Cetol will last for five or six years. At least six times longer than varnish. For rails and steps it is a good choice. Two part Bristol has a different look and fussier to work than varnish or Cetol. As Captain Bill stated if water can get under any of them they will fail. If you want rails to last have covers made to protect them from the elements. Removing hardware is a bitch but the right way to make the job last. I just completed a Gulf star that we used cps and Epifanes, 8 coats. It is being to fail after 6 months.
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Old 03-27-2015, 02:52 AM   #16
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If you want rails to last have covers made to protect them from the elements.
Very true. Covers make a huge difference in the longevity of a bright finish.
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Old 03-27-2015, 07:22 AM   #17
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We have used that Citristrip on many occasions on the boat. It does not harm gelcoat or anything else.
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Old 03-27-2015, 08:01 AM   #18
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The PO had applied Cetol to all of my teak decks and thought it was wonderful. I thought it made the decks dangerously slippery when wet, so it had to go. I used Citristrip, 2 coats, to get most of the Cetol off without harming stuff nearby. Or myself, glad it was mild.

But for my rails, which had uneven varnish that was in places 2mm thick I used a heat gun and scraper to remove. After sanding I decided to use Cetol on the rails as I simply was not going the 10-12 coat route for the Queensland climate, which I believe is fairly similar to Florida: hot, humid and very high UV in summer. Re-coats would need to occur far too frequently for enjoyment. I decided to use Cetol for the rails, with extra coats every 2 years.

But the Cetol has not lasted. I'm not getting 2 years out of it. It seems to have poor abrasion resistance and I suspect it is heat sensitive too. For the most part of last summer I left the dark blue Sunbrella covers on the rails. Then I noticed flaking Cetol on the radius corners of the rails. I am geussing, but I believe what happened was that our summer heat made the dark Sunbrella very hot, which in turn 'cooked' the Cetol where it was in firmest contact.

The initial solution was to leave the covers off the rails, to stop the situation getting worse. The next step is removing the Cetol back to bare wood, then use CPES. For top coats I am going to try external polyurethane clear finish. But I'll just do the rail on the Portuguese Bridge initially to assess the outcome. I'll likely need to either put the covers back onto the Cetol rails where wood is showing, or patch with Cetol in a temporary manner whilst I get a feel for the durability of the Bridge rails
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Old 03-27-2015, 10:16 AM   #19
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Heat gun and scraper is the way to go..

A heat gun and scraper is the fastest, least messy way to get that old varnish off. Once you have removed the varnish sand to 220. If the teak has uneven color, use a two part teak cleaner, rinse well then sand again and apply the finish of your choice. Cetol will hold up reasonably well and is available in clear. I prefer varnish myself and generally use a two part urethane product from Epifanes.
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Old 03-27-2015, 11:05 AM   #20
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Marin wrote;
"Quote:
Originally Posted by Capt.Bill11 View Post
I'm sure other will come along and refute most of not all I've said..
Nope, particularly the part about using lots of coats. That and preventing moisture from getting under the finish are the two most important factors in a long-lasting, gook looking finish, regardless of the product used in my opinion.

We try to get a minimum of 8 coats of Bristol on top of CPES-treated raw wood and 10 or 12 would be even better. And as Capt. Bill advised, the secret to a glass-smooth top coat is a glass-smooth coat underneath it."


Well Marin how thick/thin should the coating be? And how thick is one coat of Bristol or other tech coatings like vinyl. Vinyl is very thin and your Bristol may be as well. One coat of varnish could be equivalant to 5 or so coats of Bristol. As to varnish there's a wide range of hardness usually as a result of being long oil or short oil varnish. I tried "System Three" water base high tech varnish (or whatever it was) ... it was very thin .. low build. It did resist scuff marks better but didn't last long and more or less flaked off. Was recomended buy a guy at Fisheries Supply to be much harder as we were complaining about foot scuff marks on our cap rail where we come aboard. And just a little weathering and the coating would crack at the seams and let in water.

I've gone back to McKloskies high oil soft thick high build varnish. We typically only need 4 or 5 coats. And I added covered moorage too.
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