A tropical hardwood indigenous to southeast Asia, but now sustainably grown and harvested in many parts of the world, teak is a popular timber used for many applications in the boat building process due to its durability, non-slip attributes and resistance to rot and fungus. Additionally, teak can be finished in a number of ways depending on the application, desired level of required routine maintenance and preferred finish.
Whether it’s a cockpit deck, fighting chair, covering board or toe rail, teak wood commonly graces the finest fishing platforms from boat builders across the country. There’s not much that looks better than a well-maintained sportfish with glowing teak appointments, but whether you prefer the glossy look of varnished brightwork, the wet look of oiled teak, or natural teak left bare, it’s important you follow the proper maintenance program for your chosen finish to keep this fine wood looking good for years to come. Properly maintained teak can last decades, but like most aspects associated with the harsh saltwater environment lack of care greatly reduces lifespan.
Properly maintained teak can last decades, but like most aspects associated with the harsh saltwater environment lack of care greatly reduces lifespan.
Many can’t help but admire the look of varnished teak, yet as elegant and timeless as varnished brightwork is, it requires the most maintenance. Varnish is a transparent finish that hardens clear and provides incredible protection to the wood. However, under the hot Florida sun varnished teak needs constant TLC. This dazzling wood finish is applied with a paintbrush, but the mixture itself varies from one manufacturer to the next and can include varying levels and properties of UV absorption, color and hardness.
In the early history of custom boat building, classic game boats were covered in varnished teak. Many Merritt, Rybovich, Garlington and other custom sportfish yachts continue to shine thanks to routine scheduled maintenance. Still, the process of stripping and refinishing varnished teak with numerous coats is taxing and a job best left for the professionals.
Another finishing option that requires significantly less care and maintenance than varnish is teak oil. While teak wood is naturally oily, the hot Florida sun sucks it dry and teak oil helps hydrate and intensify the grain and color of the natural wood. While there are many brands of teak oil, they are mainly comprised of linseed and tung oils, and can include subtle variations in additives and solvents ranging from color pigments to mildew inhibitors and UV filters. Teak oil can be applied with a rag or paintbrush, and you’ll notice that the bare teak will be very receptive to absorbing the oil. After each coat wait a few minutes, then wipe away the excess with a rag. After three coats your teak should have a finish that takes on the appearance of a wet deck, but it’s important to note that once you start oiling teak it is something you must keep up with on a regular basis.
Since I know firsthand the difficulties and constant care required with maintaining teak, I recommend leaving your teak bare. On a boat that spends a lot of time in the salt with big fish hitting the deck, there’s noting better than unfinished teak. Not only does natural teak require much less maintenance than oiled or varnished finishes, but it also preserves the wood’s non-slip attributes and also ages to a natural color that most anglers find appealing and easy to maintain.
Nevertheless, while clean, unfinished teak looks great, it cannot be ignored. There are numerous chemicals and solvents on the market designed to clean and restore teak, however these expensive products can be damaging to the wood and it may be best to use a more natural solution. The way we used to do it was to mix some soap with white vinegar and water. A quick hit with a soft deck brush after a little soak time leaves the unfinished teak looking great. Conversely, trying to over-care for your teak by routinely scrubbing the wood with a stiff deck brush or using a damaging two-part acid wash cleaning agent actually increases the required maintenance over time.
No matter what finish you choose, it’s highly recommended you use a vinyl or fabric cover or canvas to protect the teak and minimize the sun’s damaging UV rays when your boat isn’t in use. Although teak is very durable and can almost always be brought back to life no matter the amount of neglect, routine scheduled maintenance will keep the appearance of your teak looking great.