This topic seems to always come up at this time of year for
Never having varnished anything in my life, I filed everything in
"Does Not Apply To Me" (read "Delete") the first year I was on the
Last year Rummy brought it up again, and after a dozen replies went
to West Marine and bought whatever the pretty sales girl told him to
buy. I thought it was just another example of that song "When The
Little Head Does The Thinking", but Rummy reported he was very happy
with the outcome.
The only exterior wooden brightwork on my boat is the tiller which,
by that time, was so ratty-looking I had ordered another from Stan.
Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to follow the advice on
the list, and attempt to strip down and varnish my tiller. I was
astonished at the results.
If Raz's work rates a 10, and Rummy's is a 9, then mine would be a
7. When the tiller arrived from General Boats its varnish rated a 2.
I loved my tiller every time I looked at it or touched it. It was
simply magnificent in my humble opinion. The project was perhaps
the most satisfying thing I did all year. It still looks and feels
great. I can't wait to put on a fresh coat of varnish as soon as it
gets a little warmer. I'm looking for other things to varnish around
The single most useful posting came from Raz. I followed his
directions, and wound up feeling enormously relaxed. Following is
his post from last year:
"I highly recommend thinning oil based varnish with marine Penetrol,
which is a polymerized boiled linseed oil. The mix that works well
for me is about a tablespoon of Penetrol to 1/4 cup of varnish.
That's about the right amount to do a real good coat on a tiller
and it brushes out like a dream. Unlike solvent thinners this will
not degrade the varnish coat. Pettit recommends thinning their
varnishes no more than 10% with solvent and that only for the first
bonding coat on bare wood. I use straight Penetrol for the first
coat. The instructions on the Penetrol can outline the whole
process. I have never had a varnish finish lift from moisture
penetration using their process. The trick to a good varnish coat
is to use a premium chinese boar bristle brush well loaded with
varnish and thoroughly brush out each coat. Any slight brush marks
will level out and disappear as the varnish cures. It takes at
least 3 coats of undiluted varnish to build a thick enough finish
to last through a couple of years of marine exposure.
If I am starting with bare wood I do at least 6 coats, allowing
each coat to completely dry for at least 24 hours, sometimes
several days if the air is humid.The penetrol does lengthen the
drying time between coats. I lightly wet sand with 220 grit wet or
dry paper between coats using water with a few drops of dish
washing detergent or Murphy's oil soap added. Wet sanding is faster
and keeps the varnish from getting soft from over heating due to the
sanding friction. The object is to just remove the gloss without
taking off any more varnish than you absolutely have to to get rid
of rough spots and imperfections. A few minutes before you are ready
to recoat, wipe the wood down with a rag wet with thinner and allow
that to completely dry off. Before the very last coat, I wet sand
with 400 grit.
It took 3 weeks last year to do 6 coats on my Compac tiller, but
its only a couple of leisurely hours per coat including the sanding
and cleanup. The end results were spectacular. I'll have to start
over this year with a new tiller for the Gloucester, sigh. Actually
I really enjoy this process, its sort of like Zen meditation to me."
Thanks, Raz. I'll follow the maintenance instructions to the letter.
I really did enjoy the process as much as the outcome, and it was a
lot like Zen meditation. I've been looking forward to the maintenance
25 Mar 2001
I finally finished my tiller and am reporting the results as you requested.
My tiller was lamimated of two types of wood as lots of tillers are. When I
sanded it down, after using paint remover, I could hardly see any color -
everything was a uniform pale off-white, at least to my eyes.
Anyhow, I went ahead with Cetol (Marine light) with no stain and after the
first coat both colors came out just as bright as any of the other laminated
tillers I have seen. I put on four coats and am very pleased, no orange
color yet - looks just like marine varnish to me. The can says it is not
necessary to sand between coats but I lightly sanded the first coat.
Now I plan to go on a varnishing spree next spring when it gets warm enough
at the marina. Only I'm going to beg, borrow, or steal an orbital palm
sander because hand sanding is a bear. The Cetol can said to remove any
other varnish before applying the Cetol. If the Cetol lasts as advertised,
a little pre-sanding the first time will be well worth the effort. But
then, I'm the kind of thrifty Yankee who would walk a mile and back to get a
discount on a piece of string. Ask Stan.
Lloyd/v UHURU II
28 Dec 2001
The directions in the link are perfect. Only thing I can add is to hang the
tiller from the flat end by screwing an eye hook into it. The smaller the
better. This way it will hang perfectly for coating and drying. The small
hole can be filled when you are finished will a small amount of varnish and
it will never be seen. I put eight coats on mine and I must say, it looks marvelous.
16 Apr 2002