I am very pleased to present this
article by Brian N. Blazer (aka
A classic Boston Whaler boat has many fine wooden components that deserve special care and finishing. In this excellent addition to the Reference collection, Brian describes a number of wood finishes and how to apply them.
For the most part, Boston Whaler boats require very little maintenance. They can just be hosed off and put away until their next use. This ease of care has helped Boston Whaler boats gain a very loyal following. However, for the owner of a classic model, wood care and preservation is a task that must be undertaken on a regular basis. We have all seen boats that have been neglected—it is not a pretty sight.
Fortunately, unless you have a old, neglected boat in your driveway, caring for the wood components of a classic Whaler is not a tremendous problem. In most cases, the limited amount of fine wood trim on the boat allows the owner the opportunity to make great strides in the boat's appearance without a large amount of labor. How serious you get with this is up to you. It is not necessary to devote long hours sanding and applying coat after coat of the most expensive finishes to get a good look and prevent future problems from happening. Yet, as with most things, you will get out what you put into it.
Before I go any further, I have to add this disclaimer. I most certainly do not consider myself in any way to be the authority on this subject. That status goes to my father. Most of this information comes from putting in many hours as his "hold this" assistant. In my family this is a less than gratifying position that has been handed down from generation to generation. Besides Brian Sr. there is someone else that deserves some credit here—Peter Spectre. His book in The Wooden Boat Series, Painting and Varnishing, is very informative, and is one of the most complete works on this subject currently in print. I strongly suggest adding a copy of this book to your shelf.
Teak and mahogany are primarily the two woods found on a Whaler. Depending of the model, mahogany will be found on seats, center consoles, and chocks for a cooler. Again, depending on the model, teak will be used for gunwales, seat backs, mounting points and even the occasional center console.
Both of these woods have excellent rot resistant properties. They come with built-in oils that help preserve the wood from the environment. Also, they are tough and have classic aesthetics in the boating world. When well cared for they can last a lifetime.
One interesting point about wood rot—believe it or not, seawater is a preservative! When have you seen a boat rot below the waterline that could not be traced to a leak from somewhere in the topsides where fresh water got in and could not ventilate out?
Teak Oil finishing products contain nourishing oils and preservatives. Teak oil is used to replace wood oils that have been lost to the elements, and to protect the teak from those elements. Generally a clear golden color. It is easy to apply. It may need to be reapplied during the season.
These pigmented finishes are designed to be a longer lasting alternative to regular teak oil. They do not produce the classic appearance of oil. They are somewhat grain masking and a semi-opaque golden color. They are easy to apply.
A varnish finish can be used on both mahogany and teak with the proper pre-finish preparation. Varnish can range from clear to very deep golden. It is a very tough finish when fully cured. It requires multiple coats.It is the classic treatment for mahogany.
Two Part Clear Polyurethane is the toughest of all finishes. It also requires the most prep work. Multiple coats must be used, but they can be applied before previous coats have cured. This finish must be mechanically removed. All major manufacturers claim that their two-part finishes will out last their one-part ones by two to four times.
This can be one of the nastiest jobs in wood refinishing. There are two approaches to this task: chemical and mechanical. Before you begin, make sure that you remove as much hardware as you can, and if possible remove the wood from the boat.
There are many chemical strippers to choose from. For the most part, they are all used in a similar manner. Simply apply the stripping agent, let sit a few minutes, and start scraping. Depending on the build-up of the prior finish, several applications may be needed. This is one area where I am very biased.Chemical stripping is a very messy job, and in many cases it use requires highly caustic chemicals that are noxious, and can create clean-up problems. However, there are times where their use is necessary. Using chemical strippers does not relieve you of the need to sand.
Whenever possible I would recommend mechanical stripping in preference to chemical stripping. Sanding, scraping and even in some cases planning can be used. Although mechanical stripping will produce large amounts of dust, I feel that the final outcome is better than that of chemicals, has less mess and does not require the use of hazardous materials.
Whatever method you choose, the goal is to get to bare wood. When the wood looks new, you have completed this step. Make sure that you have sanded away all stains and discolorations that are not inherent in the workpiece.
Start with 80 grit sandpaper and move up to 120. At this point do not go finer than 120. You want the wood to have some surface abrasions to have good adhesion with the finishing product.
One special note: mahogany dust has proven to cause many nasty lung conditions including cancer. I recommend the use of a dust mask or respirator if you are going to be around much dust.
Before you pick up the first brush, know that 80-percent of your job will be prep work. When you begin to apply finishes, all the visibility of any surface imperfections will increase exponentially. This is where you need to make sure that you have sanded enough. It won't hurt to sand a bit more.
For good finish adhesion and penetration, your wood must be dry and dust free. Wipe down your work surface with a tack cloth or cheesecloth soaked in a mild solvent like Interlux Brushing Liquid 333, and let dry.
Temperature and humidity can be a real problem. If at all possible try to do your finish work between 65 and 75 degrees and less than 70-percent humidity. Some products require different environmental conditions so be sure to read the label.
Use foam brushes and throw them away!Foam brushes are very inexpensive. It is my opinion that they produce a better result than bristle. They seem to load and flow better, and leave fewer brush marks in varnish. There are some foam brushes, however, that have a light density. Avoid these. High density foam brushes are only pennies more, and are available at any hardware store. The difference here is dramatic. Do not try to re-use these brushes for more than one coat. They are not meant to be cleaned.
These are probably the easiest finishes to apply. Prior to sanding, wash the teak with any commercial teak detergent. Simply wet the surface, apply the cleaning solution, scrub lightly, and completely rinse off and let dry. (Sometimes this alone may do the job you are looking for, and after sanding you may opt for a natural no oil finish. Just make sure that you keep the teak clean.) After cleaning, sand as stated above, stopping with 120 grit. Apply the oil in an even manner with the grain. Let completely dry. Now sand with 240 grit, and remove all dust.Apply another coat and let dry. A third coat at this time is not necessary, but it will add another layer of protection and add to the appearance.
Varnish is a finish where extra work will pay off in spades. Make sure that your wood is well sanded, clean, and dust free as stated above. The first thing that must be done is to prime or seal the wood. In a separate container, thin your varnish 1-to-1 with paint thinner or turpentine. Since you will be using this mixture for two coats, it makes sense to make a batch that will be enough for both coats. Using your foam brush, apply an even coat with the grain and let dry completely. Next, lightly sand with 120 grit paper until any gloss is gone. Apply the second coat in the same manner, and after dry sand again. Now, mix another batch of thinned varnish, but this time 3-to-1 varnish/thinner, and apply another coat, let dry and sand with 120 grit again. From this point on, use your varnish at full strength. This is where you begin to build surface protection and a finish that will be the envy of the marina. You must work fast, especially in hot weather, as it is very important to keep a wet edge. With a light hand, apply the varnish with the grain. Too much working, and too heavy of a hand will produce air bubbles in the coat. Although these can be sanded out, it will just add to the coats you need. After this coat, and the subsequent four coats, use 240 grit sandpaper to rough up the surface. When these coats are complete, do at least two more coats, sanding in between with bronze wool. Do not use steel wool, as it will leave particles behind that will rust. At this point it is up to you how many more coats you will apply. More varnish equals more gloss and environmental protection, and a deep wet look. Generally speaking, 10-12 coats will produce the best results. Make sure that after sanding all dust has been removed with a tack cloth. There are some that like to use a stain for the first coat. This is purely an aesthetic choice. If you choose to use a stain, you will only need to use one coat of the 50-percent thinned varnish.
To varnish teak, use the technique above with the extra step of removing the natural oil on the surface of the teak.Not doing so will not allow complete adhesion of the varnish. This is simply done by sanding and lightly scrubbing the surface with a solvent. Sand with 120 grit, scrub with the solvent, let dry and repeat. Then use the steps outlined above for varnishing.
This is a clear product that should be used over a stain for aesthetic reasons. It is the most labor intensive, but will last the longest. One area where its durability may be desired is the mounting chocks for the cooler seat. Because of the different directions from different manufacturers, anything but a basic application description would be out of place here. Simply put, after applying a stain, and sanding with 120 grit sandpaper, mix the product according to directions, and apply. In most cases, up to three coats can be applied without sanding in between if they are applied before the previous coats have been allowed to cure. Generally speaking only 3-6 coats are required.
As with anything, you will get what you put into the finishing of the wood on your Boston Whaler. With a little effort up front, you will save yourself many headaches later.
What I have tried to outline are some simple steps that I hope will make your project go a little easier and produce good results. As I said earlier, I am not stating that my way is the only way. There are as many ideas and techniques on this subject as there are boaters; all with merit. You may even find tricks and methods that work better for you.
If you have a comment or question about this article, please post it to this message thread in the Whaler Forum.
Here are other forum threads on Wood Care, which can supplement the information presented above:
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This article first appeared March 20, 2004.