R 22

Rhodes 22


Varnishing Tiller

This topic seems to always come up at this time of year for understandable reasons.

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 list.

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 my house.

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 all year.

Bill Effros
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

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