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Mackay Boats

A first-time varnishing experience for a Contender sailor

by Daniel Hollands 2 Apr 02:30 PDT
Varnishing from bare wood - scraping back © Daniel Hollands

Daniel Hollands has sent in this account of his first attempt at varnishing from bare wood, with a useful level of detail for anyone else wishing to undertake such a project.

After sailing my Contender for a year at Hythe and Saltwood Sailing Club, and then Bough Beech Sailing Club for their Icicle Series over the winter, my Contender's deck varnish was looking somewhat worse for wear. It was cracked in places and peeling around the shroud mountings.

I anxiously made the decision to re-varnish it myself. I have previously worked with gelcoat and marine paints but never with clear varnish and was unsure of the finish that I would be able to achieve. I opted for International Compass varnish for this project due to being able to apply multiple coats per day and its good reviews online.

After buying some paint stripper to remove the existing varnish on the deck, I quickly discovered that it wasn't going to touch whatever was previously applied to this boat. Out came the heat gun and scraper and, several evening's scraping later, the deck was free of varnish.

I then sanded with 120 grit up to 400 grit to remove any remnants of varnish and scratches, before applying my first coat of varnish diluted by 30% (as per the datasheet) and it looked fantastic until it dried... I was surprised to find that this first coat had dried almost completely matt with a few semi gloss areas. At this point I was questioning whether I had made the right choice doing this job myself.

As I had already started I thought I couldn't make it any worse so I then sanded the deck with 320 grit and cleaned it off before applying more varnish thinned to 10% for the next three coats. The final coats were applied after another sanding, this time to 400 grit and diluted by 5%. The finish had come out looking quite reasonable albeit with some significant orange peel.

I decided to purchase a polishing machine from Amazon as I've wanted one for ages but hadn't the project to justify it, and next day it arrived. I then took to my now reasonable looking deck with 600 grit and then 1200 grit wet and dry to flat it back completely.

I was quite excited at the prospect of using my new polishing machine; out to the garage I went. I used some Farécla G10 compound squirted on the deck with some water and a foam pad, and on turning the machine on, it promptly applied the polish to everything in the garage around waist height! After changing technique I was able to keep the polish on the deck and got several polishing sessions in, and the finish of the deck was beautiful.

I then applied several coats of Carnauba wax which improved the finish further and it came out far better than I could have dreamed I was capable of.

All that hard work has paid off, and she looks great, Dan! Remember we want to hear YOUR stories of boat repairs, renovations and invention too.

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