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How do I refinish teak and holly laminate?

2010 October 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

I have a 1989 34-foot Pacific Seacraft. Part of the teak-and-holly sole needs refinishing. What is the best way to do go about this?

Richard Berg, MD
Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan

Dear Richard,

Most modern boats use a veneered teak-and-holly plywood. The veneer is only a few sixteenths of an inch thick, and because of this you need to be very careful when working with it.

If the finish is really degraded you'll need to strip it off. Since you can't heavily sand without hurting the veneer, your two choices are chemical stripping or a heat gun. The technique for either of these methods is beyond the scope of this column, but you can find a lot of good references in books or on the Internet. If your finish is just dinged up, you may be able to get by with just a light sanding.

If any sections of the wood are water stained, you'll need to bleach the wood. I like to use a mild oxalic acid solution consisting of a quarter pound of oxalic acid in a quart of hot water. Paint the solution on and let it sit overnight. If things look good the next day you can move on-if not, apply another coat. Before you can continue you will need to neutralize the acid. A mixture of powdered borax and hot water will do it. Just wash the area with a mixture of three ounces of borax powder to a gallon of hot water and rinse thoroughly.

Next it is time to repair any major dings or cracks with some clear epoxy. Just fill the problem areas and sand smooth after the epoxy dries. At this point you should be ready to choose a finish. You have a few choices: gloss marine varnish, satin varnish or a sole-specific finish. Be sure to use a marine-specific varnish; your sole is inside the boat, but it is still a pretty wet and demanding environment. The classic choice is a high-gloss varnish. Some people think a satin finish is less slippery, but I think it just looks that way. A satin finish will tend to hide flaws better, while a high-gloss finish is pretty unforgiving. Another choice is a finish designed for a sole, like Ultimate Sole (www.ultimatesole.com, 877-883-1990). This finish is very high gloss but also non-slippery. Ultimate Sole is a bit more expensive than standard varnish.

The actual application of varnish is pretty straightforward and, again, too large to cover here. Essentially, continue to apply coats, per standard procedure, until the sole looks good to you. Starting from bare wood, this is probably at least six coats.