Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Cure for The Varnish Blues

I've been thinking about changing the layout and design of the blog for a bit. I'm still thinking big blog design thoughts but I think I do really need to change the tag line. 'A little crew, a small boat and a great big world to see' will work perfectly when we cast off the lines (looking like late spring at this point) but until then, we are still- despite our heartfelt desires for it to be otherwise, a refit blog. In keeping with the way things have been going as of late, I have come up with a new tag line:

Our Life With Ceol Mor- we do the stupid so you don't have to.

The finish we achieved thus far on the varnish left much to be desired. Dragging, brush marks, runs, etc, etc. We could just call it good and live with the uneven, kind of gloopy (gloopy IS a technical term, At least now it is.) overly thick finish. A previous owner had made this choice at some point in the past which is why we were dealing with some fairly manky looking flaky, peeling varnish in the first place. Our thoughts were if we get the bright work to a really fine, immaculate finish then it would be easier to keep it up to a level we are happy with. Since neither one of us wants to ever have to take it down to bare wood again, we've spent the time to get it right.

Varnishing is one of those jobs that sounds fairly straight forward. If you follow the instructions in the refit Bible This Old Boat, Second Edition: Completely Revised and Expanded you thin the initial coat of varnish by 50%, then 20%, then 10% and continue on with sanding with specific varying sandpaper grits and you should have a beautiful finish after about 9 coats. Mr, Casey gives excellent advice but with one caveat. He should state that this works "Sometimes, Usually, Mostly. Unless you have crap brush skills".  We do in fact, have crap brush skills. Also,  Ceol Mor apparently likes being unique and quirky which means that despite our most careful adherence to the manufacturer's and Mr. Casey's instructions, our finished product looked well, crap.

Mark had a think about it and I am thrilled that after much sanding (MUCH sanding) and trial and error we have come up with a much more straight forward way of getting the level of finish we wanted. After applying an initial coat 2 coats of  Interlux Perfection Plus Varnish Clear Quart Kit thinned 75% with Interlux Reducing Solvent 2333N to really get it into the wood, we thinned EVERY coat 50% and applied it with a soft cloth, much like a French polish application.

YES! Success! Okay, so it's not a time saver as we applied 20 coats this far., (Yes. I really did say 20 coats. There are 10 more to go so a total of 30. Jinkies.) but the level of finish is one we are happy with and the results are very consistent. We are hoping that with regular maintenance every 6 months or so we can keep it looking tidy and pristine. A little sanding, a couple of new coats and fingers crossed it continues to look like shiny, happy bright work.. We could have saved SO much time and effort if Mark had just had the good sense to come up with this fix in the first place.

See? We do manage to muck it all up but come up with a fix that works. So if you are suffering the varnish blues, you might give this method a try. We just saved you a couple of weeks of frustration. We do the stupid so you don't have to,
Mark opted to mount the handrails on pvc pipe and then add counter balances to each end. 2 sawhorses, 'stops' mounted on each side to prevent the rails from rolling off and now we are able to rotate the rails to ensure a very even application. Best to do this now while the headliner is off.


  1. 30 coats of varnish?! You guys are mad. The question I must know the answer to... Will these rails be covered in canvas or left in the open?

    1. It might seem mad until you realize that the work load for 30 coats is actually less than the standard technique. See, we spent so much time sanding down our crappy previous attempts that it was a hell of a lot more work than this. This works, Takes a few more days but its so straight forward and easy. Plan is to lightly sand and apply a couple of coats every 6 months to keep it up. These will of course be left in the open. Covered teak gets mold and mildew and requires a whole bunch more effort. We are working this hard NOW to save time later. Notice I have not yet tackled the cockpit coamings. That is because they are tucked up under canvas covers so you can not see the icky mold everywhere.

  2. I don't know. That sounds like an amazing amount of work and I'm feeling particularly lazy this rainy wet morning as I sip my hot tea. One half of Galapagos has gone grey and I cleaned the teak a few weeks ago and it looks beautiful. The other half has curling, peeling Cetol, my nemesis in teak coverings. Hate is not too strong a word. Talk about ugly. We used Seafin on our last boat, but it, too needs to be addressed every 6 months, but you wipe it on. I guess, unfortunately, it's unlikely that that Ceol Mor and Galapagos will be sitting side by side anchored at any point. Probably a good thing as your teak will certainly glow. Mine, not so much. Beautiful work. 30 coats? Shudder. You are a braver woman than me, and probably have stronger wrists.

    1. Melissa, this technique is so darned easy. Time consuming? Yes but easy to get a good result. WE do not have a ton of teak so it's doable. If I had a boat with as much teak as Tate and Dani's Sundowner I might very well learn to embrace the grey...

  3. I had the same thoughts when I took the handrails off my boat to rebed/refinish. I tried to get a good prep work on them so I can get a good base to only have to do maintenance coats.

    Didn't work too well. One is just as bad as before I started, and the other is not looking so hot, but still not too far gone (yet).

    I may have to do a lot of the hard work again and try staying up with it a little better. I've been told by many that varnishing exterior wood is too much work and it's better to have to go grey but I like the look of varnished wood and figured the extra work would be worth it. Even though I've done the hard work before, I think the results are still worth it in the end. I have a lot more grey wood on my boat that I'd like to bring back to a nice varnished state.

    I refinished my tiller and used maybe 8 coats and turned out well. I'm about to do some sanding and apply a couple/few more coats. I'm quite surprised you used 30. It's mad, but then, aren't we all. lol

    I'm working on rudder cheeks (thick mahogany) that have 5 coats now but still needing more.

    Good luck with your brightwork. I really do hope it lasts.

    1. Did you use a 2 part varnish? I think that is the key to making it last bit longer. We have a friend who used Bristol Finish and his looks AMAZING 5 years on, just with a twice a year sanding and a couple of coats added.
      Fingers crossed the Interlux works as well for us!

    2. Used Epifanes. I think the prep work is the big thing. I don't remember if I did both, but at least one hand rail, I cleaned it up with Star Brite's Teak Cleaner and Brightener. I think that's the handrail that still looks mostly good.

      Hope the Interlux works for you. I've heard some good things about their products.

  4. Loving my bleach bottle plastic boat right about now...