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Old 18-06-2018, 05:24   #1
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Varnish or oil?

My fiance and I recently bought a 71 Alberg 30 and are restoring it. One of the projects I'm working on right now is refinishing the brightwork. When we got the boat all of the exterior teak was covered in poop-brown varnish with globs and drips everywhere. I have stripped the varnish off most of it and trying to decide how to refinish it. I'm leaning towards just keeping it oiled as I think this tends to look better and it's what I'm used to doing with spearguns and teak trim on powerboats. Is there something I don't know that makes varnish the better choice because everyone seems to use it?
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Old 18-06-2018, 06:16   #2
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Re: Varnish or oil?

I am not the expert, but I like varnish on the exterior except on my teak toerail,where I use Semco.

I used (and recommend) Rebecca Wittman's books as a guide. Her second book is more helpful as a "recipe" for finishing:
The Brightwork Companion : Tried-and-True Methods and Strongly Held Opinions in Thirteen and One-Half Chapters

My understanding of her approach is not to use oil on the exterior because it requires *more* work than varnish considering the frequency of application and the application care that it really requires if you do it well. Oil is better suited for the interior.

Another option a lot of folks like on the exterior is Cetol.
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Old 18-06-2018, 06:45   #3
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Re: Varnish or oil?

It's mostly a matter of what look you like and how much work you are willing to do. The four basic choices (in terms of work) are: let it grey naturally, teak oil, Cetol, varnish. You've done the hard work of stripping the old varnish, so that's good.

FWIW I went the Cetol route on my current boat after years of using teak oil on the previous boats. the current boat had varnish which was starting to fail. I am happy with the look of the Natural Teak Cetol and it seems to be much more resistant to peeling when exposed to water (think toe rails). Each spring I give the teak a light sanding and apply a fresh coat. Maybe an afternoon's work.
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Old 18-06-2018, 07:16   #4
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Re: Varnish or oil?

Thanks for the quick input. I have to agree that stripping the varnish is the hard part. It's taken me parts of three days to do the cockpit combing and interior/exterior handrails. I'm not opposed to a little more work in the long run if it keeps the wood looking good- I just refuse to have it be such an ugly dark brown anymore. Click image for larger version

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Old 18-06-2018, 07:53   #5
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Re: Varnish or oil?

As the owner of a wooden boat with lots of bright work I have some strong feelings in this department. Doing side by side comparisons I found that (in my climate) Cetol will outlast varnish by half a season. Both have similar failure modes. In both cases the prep work is vital to the result. The surface must be really clean before application. To that end I wet sand with a constant stream from a hose...your gonna get soaked but the results are markedly improved. Ultimately wood loss becomes an issue over time and you will need to consider strategies that fill the wood and keep water out as the top layer fails so that removal of failed finish does not affect millage. Oil is a disaster for exterior finish, just say no.
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Old 18-06-2018, 08:28   #6
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Re: Varnish or oil?

i use oil finish after a good sea water wash of my hundreds of millions of miles of teak rails. looks great, keeps out hurricane water, and cat can get toes into the wood, same as no finish, but with beads of water not ingress. hahahahaha. win all around. wood looks like wood and no slickery cat loss shine to attract rats with 2 legs. perfect for my lifestyle, as i can sail instead of spending time on varnishing. and cat doesnot needlessly fall into water due to fail traction.
mine takes 10 hours total yearly.
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oil, varnish

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