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Illustrated guide to fitting out

2018 March 1

Brighten up the brightwork

A shiny caprail is the sign of a good varnish job.
Onne van der Wal photo


There are few projects that can make a boat look better faster than a new varnish job, and spring is an excellent time to tackle your brightwork, especially if a boat is stored out of the elements. 

Every good varnish job starts with great preparation. Although it might not be the fun part, because wood tends to look worse before it starts looking better, it is the main factor in determining what the final product will look like. Undoubtedly it is easier to work on things like handrails when they are removed from the boat, but this is not easily done and requires very careful rebedding so it’s often the right call to work on teak in place, with the area carefully taped off. 

Depending the state of the old finish, you may need to use a heat gun or chemical stripper to remove it. If there is little finish left, sandpaper will work, starting with a low grit such as 80-grit and working slowly up to 220-grit. Take pains to remove sanding dust as you go and be thorough about it; no finish will look good with dust particles in it. 

Disposable foam brushes work best for applying varnish (use a new one for every coat and have spares in case one gets dirty in the middle of a coat). The first coat of varnish should be thinned about 20%, but subsequent coats can be full strength. Wet sand with 220-grit sandpaper between each coat, and plan on doing several coats—probably between seven and nine-. Wet sand with 320-grit sandpaper before the final coat, and do an extra thorough job of dust removal before applying the last coat of varnish. 

Depending on how exposed the brightwork is, a good varnish job should last for several years, so it’s worth putting the time in to do it right.

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