Alternative to varnish

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DJK

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Oct 16, 2021
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Looking for recommendations for an alternative to varnish for teak handrails on a Nordic Tug. They are difficult to fully sand and refinish with multiple coats of varnish so I'm exploring a strip and sand with an oil finish. I can live without a high gloss finish on these parts.
What are your suggestions for an oil finish?
 
I had my caprails encapsulated in two layers of fiberglass and sprayed with Alexseal. Was part of an overall paint job so was not too expensive, especially compared to having brightwork done every couple years (or more). I just snapped the attached picture. Caprail was done over a year ago and the sun down here in Acapulco is intense.

Peter

Caprail on Weebles.jpg
 
My many years ago sailboat exterior teak was oiled and looked great, which was my preference. The only problem is you will need to perform rather constant maintenance on exterior teak. On my current trawler I installed new teak veneer walls on the interior, the oiling is only required every 6 months or so because its inside and protected. Oil finish looks great but does come with a maintenance commitment on your part.
 
Cetol is a lower maintenance varnish-like coating which is worth a try.
I used it for many years on the caprail. It can be wiped on with a rag.
Not as beautiful as properly done varnish but looks good enough for non-purists.
 
Long time Cetol user here, I like it for it's ease of use. They also have a gloss finish you can top coat with but I don't have experience with it yet.
 
We went over to paint.
 

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Greetings,
Mr. DJK. As mentioned any oil finish has to be regularly maintained. We've used Cetol down here in the Florida sun and it seems to hold up much better than varnish AND re-coating is simply a matter of a very light sand (for bite), a wipe with acetone and brush on another coat. (about every 1.5 years).

We stripped our cap rails, doors and window trim down to bare wood and applied 2 coats of regular Cetol Marine.

I did try additional coats of Cetol clear gloss on a small section of the aft door sanding between the 4 coats. Came out very smooth and shiny but too much work for me.


Edit: If I had to do it all over again I'd be highly tempted to paint BUT I would seal well with Cetol first IF, in future, I ever wanted to go back to natural finish (Cetol/varnish). That sealed layer would keep paint from absorbing into the teak and make paint removal very much easier.
 
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On our last boat we used Semco sealer. It goes on really fast. Sand to bare wood then brush it on and wait a few minutes and wipe off the excess. When it is time to recoat just brush it on and wipe off any excess. In Michigan we did one coat a year. In Florida probably 3 or 4 coats per year. But it is so easy and quick to do that it wasn’t a big deal.
 
IMO Cetol is effectively a varnish. If you want to oil, use Deks Olje(#1). First application is a saturation process of application and reapplication over several hours. After saturation, it just needs reapplication as needed, a wipe over every 3 months or so. You can get a gloss finish(#2) to go over the matt oiled finish to "resemble" varnish, but it`s not necessary.
 
If we're talking Union Bay, BC, I wouldn't use oil. The biggest problem with oil up here is the rain and the subsequent mold, mildew and rot, or whatever the black stuff is. I have tried Deks Olje, and gave up on it.

Cetol needs to be stripped and redone once it is compromised.

What worked for us was a good quality varnish (I use Epifanes) and cover the rails with sunbrella covers. My brightwork is three years old and looks great still. I'm not anal about covering it if I'm using the boat on a regular basis. The UV just isn't as intense as where other TF members reside. It'll go for a few weeks without putting the covers on in the summer,

Varnish can be touched up. I put one touch up coat on last year. Will do a scuff an coat this spring. Just a couple of hours (if that) worth of work. And I have a fair amount of teak.
 
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Greetings,
Mr. NS. "Cetol needs to be stripped and redone once it is compromised." We did not find this was the case. Spots can be readily sanded and filled with little problem.
 
If we're talking Union Bay, BC, I wouldn't use oil. The biggest problem with oil up here is the rain and the subsequent mold, mildew and rot, or whatever the black stuff is. I have tried Deks Olje, and gave up on it.

Cetol needs to be stripped and redone once it is compromised.

What worked for us was a good quality varnish (I use Epifanes) and cover the rails with sunbrella covers. My brightwork is three years old and looks great still. I'm not anal about covering it if I'm using the boat on a regular basis. The UV just isn't as intense as where other TF members reside. It'll go for a few weeks without putting the covers on in the summer,

Varnish can be touched up. I put one touch up coat on last year. Will do a scuff an coat this spring. Just a couple of hours (if that) worth of work. And I have a fair amount of teak.

The boat is in Comox BC not far from you and also a 26. I have redone the pilot house doors with Epifanes and it has held up well. I’ll be doing the cabine doors soon. My main concern are the grab rails. I would like a low maintenance costing and am not interested in gloss for those. What do you think of oil for that application?
 
Cetol is enormously easier than varnish. I put a coat or two of gloss on top and it looks almost as good as varnish.
 
If you want to do it once and be done then paint it.

Oil is a twice a year project. Easier than varnish but still a lot of work. Cetol lasts longer than varnish but not by much.

If you want gloss then I recommend Awlwood. It is repairable and lasts 5 to 7 years. It does require 7 to 8 coats but you can coat it every 2 hours making it only a two day project once you start coating.
 
Look up a product called Le Tonkinois. I have a teak flagpole. I put on about 6-7 coats every 3-4 years. The product goes on easy, it looks great for years. Non toxic. It’s been made the same way for over 100 years.
 
The boat is in Comox BC not far from you and also a 26. I have redone the pilot house doors with Epifanes and it has held up well. I’ll be doing the cabine doors soon. My main concern are the grab rails. I would like a low maintenance costing and am not interested in gloss for those. What do you think of oil for that application?

I've tried oil (both interlux and deks ojle), Cetol, and epoxy with varnish on top. Best I've found is varnish and sunbrella covers.

Oil is too much work, looks shoddy, gets sticky, and it stains fiberglass (and other things). I stopped using oil on the thwarts of my Minto dinghy as well. Always had to scrub it every season.

Varnish drips will harden on fiberglass and just scrape it off later with a razor.

I have had ok experience with Epifanes rapid clear and rapid coat, but I ended up putting varnish on top of it later. Rapid coat was good for blending repairs. I might try wood finish on my varnish this year.
 
Semco teak sealer. Not shiny but does not peel. Ever! Just wears thin, wash and add a coat. Comes in several shades. Simple to revert to varnish or ? down the road. On my boat (32 GB) I can re-coat the handrail/caprail/transom in about 2-1/2 hours. One each spring and fall. Varnish never went more than a year without water getting underneath somewhere. I have scraped and sanded for the last time! Good luck.
Regards,
Scott
 

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Varnish Alternative

Semco teak sealer. Not shiny but does not peel. Ever! Just wears thin, wash and add a coat.
Scott

X2 on the Semco sealer (natural)—has the appearance of fresh cut teak. The product is highly viscous—applies like water. Exterior varnish maintenance is a prison sentence with no parole unless hired out annually—but it did look great for a brief period after completion. I tried oil and did not care for the ‘look’. After I took everything back to wood I cleaned the teak with the 2 part Semco system then hit everything with two initial coats of sealer. Clean and reapply once or twice a year takes less than 6 hours of labor total.
 
Lot's of opinions! Teak is an oily wood. Teak oil will not keep out moisture, you get black mold spots. Varnish is more easily stripped than Cetol. Smiths Penetrating epoxy (CPES) penetrates into each cell of the wood, helps seal and give a great base to start whatever you choose to use.
 
I stripped down mine and put on 4 coats of West System with 207 special hardner. You can do all the coats in one day. Then I put on perfection plus - a two part 'varnish' and it has lasted for 4 years with NO work at all! It is fading and needs to be sanded and another couple of coats put on but I've been amazed at how well it has held up.
This is in the SF Bay area so not like FL...
But if you want to paint this is also a great base so you can go back to bright later if you want.
 
I noticed that Leo from Sampson Boat works chose Awlwood over varnish for his mast and spars. He said he chose it for its longevity.

He used a roll and tip process. I was very impressed with his mirror like finish.

I am going on six years with my Awlwood on teak. This year while I am doing repairs I plan to do a scuff and one coat of gloss just to get that new look. I see no reason to do anything more than that.
 
Another vote for Semco. Been using it for 15 years...
 
This thread is almost as interesting as the "anchor threads".
I have used Varnish, then Cetol (marine light with Gloss over it) and gave up on the maintenance of it all. I painted the cap rails a few years ago and they look awesome. I brought a piece to the Sherwin Williams store and they matched the color perfectly with their "Weathershield" paint. It is an outdoor oil base. It is all a matter of available time, money and what you prefer. I prefer boating instead of varnishing.
 
Cetol is enormously easier than varnish. I put a coat or two of gloss on top and it looks almost as good as varnish.

Another vote for Cetol. If I recall, I did 3 coats of the natural finish and 3 coats of the gloss coat. Very happy with the results and WAY easier to do than varnish.
 
If you want to do it once and be done then paint it.

Oil is a twice a year project. Easier than varnish but still a lot of work. Cetol lasts longer than varnish but not by much.

If you want gloss then I recommend Awlwood. It is repairable and lasts 5 to 7 years. It does require 7 to 8 coats but you can coat it every 2 hours making it only a two day project once you start coating.

I just went through this same decision making process and landed on Alwood. Check out this thread;

https://www.trawlerforum.com/forums/s32/alwood-application-process-70225.html
 
I’m a fan of LeTonquines after trying Awlwood, Cetol, and various oils. The first coat made me wonder about the product, but then I followed the instructions and gave it a quick rub. Lo and behold the second coat was a real improvement! Rub and repeat five more times and it really looks good. Not just at first, but for a year. Yes, it got scratched, but it’s very forgiving. I just cleaned up the loose stuff and drizzled LeTonquines into the gap and let it fill the dip. Done.
Maintenance is easy, a light scuffing, wipe clean and apply a new coat every six months or so.
 
I strongly advise you buy a heat gun and strip with heat. Otherwise your rails will get thin over the years. Faster too. I don't recommend Ctol. It has an unattractive orange color. The orange pigment gives it better UV protection. The clear CTol has no better UV protection than varnish and is harder to strip. I used Semco on my desks with good results.
 
paint envy

We went over to paint.
I am using Cetol at the moment after trying everything else and am very happy with it but have thought very strongly about painting some of the harder to sand/maintain areas and think that colour you have chosen is fantastic, I was unable to find anything that close to the right colour on any of the International paint colour charts and wondered if you could share what that colour is and the manufacturer please?
 

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