It’s a sign of spring: Boaters have been walking out of the marine supply shop where I fill in part-time with fistfuls of brushes, thinners, and wood finishes of all sorts. In our last blog entry about exterior marine wood finishes, we covered the basics regarding traditional varnishes. In this installment, we’ll discuss some other choices—oils, sealers, and a sort of hybrid coating that mimics some characteristics of varnish, but without all the application work.
Back in the early ’90s, boaters had only a few choices when it came to protecting their exterior wood—traditional varnish, oils, or pigmented sealers. Then, around 1992, a product came on the market that changed everything. It was a product originally designed for the home market, called Cetol. Perhaps the biggest advantage with Cetol is that it doesn’t require the tedious sanding between coats like varnish does. With Cetol, you prep the wood, and then apply a minimum of three coats, making sure you wait at least 24 hours between coats—that’s it.
But not everyone likes the look of that original Cetol Marine finish. In response, Cetol now comes in three “flavors,” depending on the type of appearance you’re going for. There’s the original, now called “Cetol Marine,” “Light,” which is a lighter amber color, and “Natural Teak,” which has a richer, more golden color. Looking for a glossy shine? Cetol “Marine Gloss” can be applied as a topcoat on any of the aforementioned varieties to provide a shiny finish.
The final class of exterior marine wood finishes we’ll discuss is oils and sealers. Oils are just what the name implies. They’re generally a concoction of linseed and tung oils mixed with UV stabilizers that protect the wood by keeping moisture out and minimizing sun damage. Oils look great when first applied, but they unfortunately fade away relatively quickly. That means frequent reapplication to keep those good looks up. That said, oils are great if you have only a few pieces of trim that you want to keep up, or for wood surfaces such as teak decks, where varnish or Cetol aren’t a good idea because of traction concerns.
Lastly, there are sealers, such as Semco. These sealers are basically protective solids and pigments suspended in a base of mineral spirits or other solvents. The way sealers work is by leaving behind a protective coating of solids on the wood after the carrier solvents evaporate away. While some folks really like these sealers I have a hard time recommending them.
They don’t tend to protect for long, and the color varieties they come in are anything but natural or wood-like in their appearances. That said, I have seen them used to nice effect on toe rails and other large pieces of exterior trim such as sportfish cockpit cap rails, which receive a lot of abrasive wear that varnish or Cetol might not stand up to. Some folks also use it on teak decks.
With spring in the air, the idea of relaxing in the cockpit of your boat with a refreshing drink while admiring an expanse of nicely maintained teak sounds inviting. Well, at least to me it does. Proper prep, and then selecting the correct finish will have you well on your way to brightwork bliss.