Sunday, November 23, 2014

Varnish Varnish Varnish

Bacon and Eggs, Shoes and Socks, Sick and Tired, Wooden Boats and Varnish.  Much maligned for maintenance, but always appreciated - on someone else's boat.

Our obsession with varnish is simple: It looks so good.  Never mind it is impractical; never mind that it is fragile; never mind it doesn't protect the wood as well as paint and completely ignore the fact it requires slavish attention to maintenance. The fact is, it is beautiful. Period. Full Stop.

I admit it. I like it. For me, the look is worthy of the time to maintain. Adagio's builder thought so too as he gave her a generous share of it - above and below deck. Teak rail caps, cabin top handles, hatches, blocks, drawers, sampson post, doors and trim and all the spars are finished bright.

Main Hatch with Cetol Nat'l Teak
However, I'm not completely insane - at least not in this regard (I did, after all, buy a wooden boat). I have found that Cetol makes an excellent two-part product, "Cetol Natural Teak" that looks  almost as good as varnish (so close that most people can't tell the difference) and stands up to the elements far better than varnish. After three coats of the product you can top it off with a Cetol Natural Teak Gloss, if you are looking for the gloss of varnish. This top coat will give you additional (and stronger) UV protection than most varnishes and you do not have to sand in
Skylight Hatch
between coats making the overall job quicker.  Last, I have found it to be more forgiving than varnish - keeping you from being "chained to the oars" of your varnish. A maintenance coat of the gloss once a year (or even once every two) keeps it looking good.

Down below, Adagio  will get real varnish as it is away from the elements - or at least it better be.


For the spars, I am trying something new (at least to me). Originally, these spars were finished bright with varnish. That's just not going to happen on my watch. However, I like the idea of a clear finish as it makes it easier to see what's going on with the wood.

A boatwright at the yard suggested LeTonkinois (pronounced La'tonk'in'wah). It is an organic "varnish" made from tung oil and linseed oil and God only knows what else, but it goes on like oil and will build up to a varnish-like finish. Best of all, it is not brittle like varnish, it moves with the wood and touch ups do not require building up the touched up section - it will blend in with the rest of the spar. There is no sanding between coats and it is unaffected by humidity.  Again, once you've laid down six coats, a maintenance coat once a year should be all that's needed.

Old dirty varnish on Boom and Gaff
3 Coats of LeTonkinois
The literature on this product also notes that it is not slippery when wet.


So, I have my own test lab going on here:For reasons I'll not bore you with, the bowsprit and the staysail club are varnished (Epiphanes); the mast, gaff, boom and sampson post are finished with LeTonkinois and the deck teak is done in Cetol Natural Teak.

We will see how each of these perform over time and report back, but for now they are ready for the elements.

Trevethen, Jim, Wooden Boat Renovation, International Marine, Camden ME,1993

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