Every boater knows all that beautiful Teak comes with a heavy price. Constant work varnishing, scraping, sanding and maintenance. This was an absolute necessity on wood trimmed boats up until a few years ago. Now, with the products and technologies available these days, we can all truly have low maintenance woodwork on our boats so we can enjoy more time on the water and less at the bottom of a varnish can.
This will be the easiest topic to cover as there are no specialized skills involved. We need to talk about products. Let’s start with Varnish, for instance. A hundred years ago it was an amazing way to protect wood. In those days sailing vessels had in their employ carpenters whose job it was to care for the wood on the ship. Nowadays we neither have the time nor money for such a person. Varnish is hardened oil, basically. It fails because UV rays thin it and make it brittle as It starts as very hard and not flexible to begin with. The wood substrate is in constant motion from temperature, humidity, hull flex, etc. Over time micro cracks form and condensation gets under the varnish. When it becomes heated the water turns to steam and causes the varnish to lift and peel. I hate varnish. It traps you in a 6 month ritual of pain for eternity.
What to use instead? There are only 2 products that I would even consider for longevity and only one I recommend. The first is Cetol. It’s fairly cheap and durable but is absolutely friggin hideous. It’s looks awful and makes teak look like fake wood stained with poo. I’d rather varnish my teak with coca cola and melted plastic.
The absolute best, in my opinion, is AWLWOOD MA by Awlgrip. It is a 2 part system consisting of a primer and topcoat. The primer has molecules with tiny “fingers” that actually grab the lignin in the wood making a mechanical bond that remains unaffected by the oils in the teak. The primer also never truly gets hard. It is comparable to a hard rubber, sandable but flexible. The primer contains the color tint and therefore the UV protection. The top coat is crystal clear and hard as glass. It creates a chemical bond with the primer making it impervious to peeling. The wood is now able to move and slide underneath the topcoat without stressing it.
It is also the easiest to put on of all the top coats I’ve tried. Awlgrip actually recommends applying it with a cheap foam brush!! You can literally slop it on because it is self leveling. It goes on thick too so only 5 total coats instead of the 12-15 necessary for varnish. There are boats I coated 3 years ago that have sat unprotected from the sun and still look amazing!! It is the only product I suggest and, until a superior product becomes available, is the only one I use in the shop.
Because Awlwood MA is similar to a stain with a clear topcoat you see “into” the finish like a guitar! Simply the most beautiful and longest lasting product available. You can apply it in damp, cool poor weather days too. Use that and only that. A couple things, though. You MUST remove all the old varnish or topcoat and apply it to bare wood or forget it. Also never put it in contact with denatured alcohol. That’s it! So durable you can do cabin soles too.
Now that we’ve covered bright work lets move on to the deck. People let it silver off, oil it, scrub it, dump seawater on it, etc. All of the above suck. If you let the teak silver you are letting it decay. Period. No matter what. When cleaning your decks, NEVER EVER EVER SCRUB TEAK!!!!!!! NEVER EVER POWERWASH TEAK!!! EVER!!!!!!! All these two practices will accomplish is washing away the soft grain in the wood and weather your wood, heavily grooving it prematurely. Oiling it is ok but doesn’t last long, turns black with the wrong oil and is a permanent maintenance nightmare.
I use SEMCO teak sealer. It is thinner than water, leaves no brush strokes, and you can slop it on with a rag, brush or roller. It soaks in and seals the wood. For a whole damn year. No stains, no oiling, no scrubbing. Just spray it off with a regular hose and maybe a sponge. I can roll the deck of my 41′ Formosa in about 15 minutes. 15 minutes a year ain’t bad. It has a semi translucent pigment in it to protect from UV Rays. Your deck will look like freshly sanded teak forever. If you are in the tropics or have heavy foot traffic you may need to do it twice a year. Big deal.
Modern products are the key to maintenance free teak. That and forgetting absolutely every cockamamie thing you have ever heard about caring for it. I do not get paid to recommend these products (hell, I don’t even get a discount!) I have simply found them through trial and error. I hope it helps!