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How do I replace my teak deck’s plugs?

2013 February 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

I am having problems with the teak deck on my Baba 40. The deck isn't leaking but I am losing the plugs that cover the screws. Some of the plugs are out, others are loose. How can I keep from losing them all?

Charlie Ross
Middletown, Rhode Island

Dear Charlie,
As a teak deck ages, one of the first things to go are the plugs in the screw holes. Over time the deck gets thinner and eventually the plugs will loosen and fall out. A telltale sign of the plugs starting to loosen is a black ring around the plug caused by mildew as water flows around the plug.

To repair the plug, it needs to be removed, the screw set deeper and the plug replaced. The first step is to cut out the plug, which is best done with a very small hole saw. You want the outside diameter of the hole saw to match the diameter of the new plug. For best results it is a good idea to go up to the next larger plug size. The hole saw will cut around the plug and a small screwdriver will pop it right out.

Once the plug is out, you'll need to back out the screw and countersink the hole a bit deeper. You want a quarter inch above the screw head if possible. Next, dip a new screw in some caulk and replace it. To insure a good seal to the screw, it is a good idea to wipe down the threads with some solvent. Teak decks are often very securely glued down with flexible sealant, and the screws are there to hold down the wood until the sealant dries. If you like you can just remove the screw and fill the hole with epoxy. This is an especially useful technique if there is not enough teak left to set the screw deeper.

With the screw in place, you just need to replace the plug. Start by masking the area around the hole with blue masking tape to make cleanup easier. Next, brush some epoxy into the hole and coat the plug. Finally, tap it into the hole. Once the epoxy dries, cut it close to flush with a sharp chisel or flush cut saw and sand it flush.