Wood finishes

Exterior and interior wood, to me, makes a sailboat ‘salty’ and appropriately like, well,  a boat.  From my early days, when my folks started sailing, a proper boat required some wood showing.  When my folks went looking for a family boat a few 100% wood boats were considered (though only for a short time).

To give full disclosure my father is a forester, and so wood was really mandatory.

The boat that ‘made the cut’ was a Cheoy Lee 32.  She was one of those boats that the builder put as much teak on board as possible for a fiberglass boat.  All that wood required maintenance.  In learning to care for all that wood the family made some mistakes … but over time we had a system that worked very well.

As a result of caring for all that teak I have two strong opinions:

  1. all boats need some wood.
  2. caring for the wood is fairly simple if you develop and stay with a maintenance plan.

For this discussion I am going to focus on teak, meaning if you read ‘wood’ I am referring to teak.

There are many options in treating teak.  The ‘best solution’ is up to each person’s preference.  My preference is teak oil.  Teak oil is the fastest and easiest system for maintaining teak in ‘ship shape and Bristol condition’.


  • easy to apply
  • easy to ‘repair’ any dings are scratches to the wood
  • cleaning the teak is easy even with teak oil applied
  • less expensive than varnishes or varnish-like products


  • maintenance coats need to happen every three-to-four weeks if the boat is not covered

On AIR BORN, the demo Sage 17, all the teak is oiled.  This results in a matte finish that brings out the teaks ‘warm’ colors.  It take me all of 20 minutes to apply a coat of oil all of a Sage 17’s external wood.  The teak oil used is Star Brite Premium Gold.

Process used:

teak that has not been finished.

A brand new Sage 17 with teak that has not been finished.

  1. Start with clean & dry teak that is sanded using 220 grit paper. If the teak has already been coated with oil just clean the teak with water and a rag and allow to dry.  WARNING: for the purpose of this discussion don’t use a brush, especially a stiff bristle brush, to clean teak. In another post I will discuss how to clean teak that is ‘old and dirty’.
  2. Find an old t-shirt to use as an applicator.  Cut out out square of fabric about 3″x3″.  Fold the fabric into a square about 1.5″x1.5″.  Cut some larger sections of t-shirt to have on-hand to mop up any spills.
  3. Put the 1.5″x1.5″ pad over the top of the teak oil bottle and invert so you dampen the pad.
  4. Rub the pad on the teak leaving a damping coating of oil.  For new teak that has not been treated you will only cover about 3″ before you need to re-dampen the pad.  Make sure you leave the teak damp, not soaking wet, with oil.  When rubbing on the oil try not to get oil on anything but the teak (see step #5).
  5. Using one of those clean large sections of t-shirt go around an wipe off any oil that is on the gel-coat or other boat fittings.  Don’t allow the oil to dry onto the non-teak parts as it will leave a stain.
  6. For new teak apply multiple coats.  Allow the oil to soak into the wood.  You can apply a coat every couple of hours.

To maintain the teak finish apply a new coat or two every three or four weeks the boat.  You can go much longer if the boat is covered.

Teak with oil applied.   BEAUTIFUL!

Teak with oil applied. BEAUTIFUL!

That’s it!  Really, that is all that is needed.  Honestly this is 1/10th the work required to apply varnish (or similar product).

– Dave

3 thoughts on “Wood finishes

  1. John Farnham says:

    I look forward to your next installment of tips for cleaning ‘old and dirty teak’. I fully agree that a) proper boats need some wood trim and b) it must be coated or oiled. Your cons re oil may be a little underestimated: it is a dirt magnet and three weeks later the next coat just covers the old dirt and attracts the new. After three or four re-coatings the wood looks like creosol. Scrubbing the mess off, cleaning and bleaching the teak leaves the grain open and requires the whole sanding/re-oiling bit. Cetol has been a reasonable compromise for me, usually only requiring one annual re-coating, though I still have to use the blasted oil process for the swim platform on my powerboat.
    John Farnham
    Nature’s Girl, Sage 17-23


  2. John: i will cover in my detail on how i re-coat the oil and also will do a cleaning post when i re-do the much neglected teak on my personal boat (though that will likely come when i have better weather as it is 20 degrees and snowing as i type this).

    yes, finishing is a topic where there are many ways to successfully care for teak. a great topic for debate!

    – Dave


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s