Rubbing is a handy trick to learn. It is a venerable and worthy technique. Start with a clean surface by taking a white terry cloth rag or a real diaper. First step, using water
and a mild detergent solution, dust, then scrub with the grain to get off the easy grime. Then do the same with denatured alcohol. Be sure you have EXCELLENT ventilation. Now the surface should be ready for the actual rubbing. It's best to try this technique in an area that is small and inconspicuous so you can discover if there is some hidden little problem with the existing finish. The soapy wash and alcohol wipe shouldn't cause any problems with a boat. Don't use too much liquid, it's primarily there to act as a lubricant, and to slightly dissolve oils, pick up soot, and remove loose substrate.
The principle here is that you will be applying either varnish
or oil to the wood grain. You get to make that choice. I prefer varnish
because it is more durable. The diaper is my preferred tool for this stage, don't use a cotton rag that will leave lint behind. You are going to be rubbing the wood, with the grain, as if sanding
. The friction of the rub, reduced somewhat by the varnish (or oil) lubricant, buffs the surface, and removes loose crud. It also speeds the drying of the varnish and leaves a glowing surface that isn't as shiny as a deep coat would be.
Start in one small area and stay there until it begins to look right. Then move on to another, adjoining area. A day or two later, come back and do it again. This time, you will be removing any small wood fibers that have absorbed the varnish and stood up like a cheap
haircut. By the time you get to the third rubbing, you will begin to see that gorgeous glow reminiscent of the new boat. As long as you are using only small amounts of varnish, the buildup will be slight and the gradual satin finish will emerge. Keep it up until you are sick of it. Don't use a satin varnish. It is going to lead to a clouded finish. Use a high quality varnish like Z-Spar or Epiphanes, CLEAR NOT SATIN FINISH. You will be dipping the cloth in the can (or better, a small bowl), picking up less than a teaspoon full of varnish, and rubbing with the wetted surface an area of a few square inches. Rub hard to get the varnish deep into the grain where it can partially dissolve leftover crud, knock off wood fibers, remove dust and old finish. After your first trial section you will get the picture. If you want, you can repeat the light cleaning
and a single
rubbing the next year, and at periods thereafter.
I also use the rubbing to touch up small scratches and dings in wood finishes. It makes them dramatically reduced in appearance and makes you feel good about taking care of the boat. Remember, you are only applying a shine, not creating a deep finish (such as you have on the cabin
sole). Start simple. If you want a harder, more durable finish, use a brush.