Friday, October 2, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Varnishing Brightwork On Yachts

If you're a yacht owner who wants to varnish your own brightwork, let a real pro tell you how.

Some do-it-yourselfers have figured out a thing or two about varnishing through trial-and-error and consultation of whoever has the best-looking brightwork on the dock (probably done by a hired pro), but it's the person with years of on-the-job experience who can give you the best information.

What he tells you may not agree with what the varnisher on the next dock tells you, but judge and compare their words by the appearance of their work. Whose looks best?

Thus sayeth Vicente:

      1. Perform your due diligence and research the subject. Consult the writings of professionals.

      2. Determine what tools and materials you'll need, and gather them in advance.

      3. If it's a refinish job, use a heat gun and a wooden-handled scraper to remove old varnish.

      4. Very carefully use paint and varnish chemical stripper to remove old varnish caught in the grain of the wood (keep a water hose with spray nozzle handy).

      5. Treat the wood with a dilute solution of teak cleaner and then of brightener to even the color, remove stains, and kill mildew and fungus.

      6. Use hard blocks (you can make your own from a smooth two-by-four) in 16-inch and 8-inch lengths to level the hills and valleys with the coarser grits of sandpaper on toerails and caprails, or broad expanses of wood like a hatch cover. Use a 6-in soft rubber block for curved surfaces and for the final fine-grit sanding.

      7. Vacuum the whole boat, including the stripped and sanded wood, to remove dust. Wipe wood with denatured alcohol or mineral spirits. After the bare wood is sealed, hose down and chamois the whole boat between varnishing sessions.

      8. Tape off the edges of wood and around metal fittings such as stanchion plates with 1-inch wide quality painter's tape with one-week rating for outdoor use.

      9. Apply twelve coats of your choice of spar varnish as per my instructions below.

    10. Remove tape, clean up varnish drips or runs on gel-coat and decks, and wipe off tape residue. It's not a professional-quality job unless you do this.

You can learn a lot too by researching the subject online and by reading Rebecca Wittman's superb book, Brightwork: The Art of Finishing Wood. It's a literate and entertaining coffee table book as much as it is a how-to manual, and it's full of photographs of gorgeous brightwork on some magnificent yachts.

I wish I'd read it before I invested so much blood, sweat, and tears in learning my trade. Fortunately, the hard-won knowledge gained by years of experimenting was very close to Wittman's own advice.

Be forewarned, though, if you haven't already discovered this: there's a lot of conflicting information out there, and a fair amount of it was written by people who've never laid varnish in their lives.