Cheap Boat Tricks: Interior Teak

We are here in Bahia Chamela on the Pacific Coast of Mexico and we are not feeling the love here. One of the dark little secrets of the cruising life is that not all anchorages are worthy of your time and attention. Many times it depends on when you are there and what the weather is like, what the surf is like.  Now Bahia Chamela has a very pretty beach, but the water is too murky for snorkeling and the swell and waves are pretty intense right now due to the wind out there. We took the paddle boards out but it was just too rough to be fun. There’s a restaurant on shore, but frankly this is so common in Mexico that it’s just not tempting enough to take the trouble going to shore. Lots of folks love this anchorage; we just aren’t feeling it. We don’t need to keep eating in restaurants.  We’ll be moving on pretty quickly, always in search of a good snorkel adventure.

Anyhow I was in a mood.  I needed a small, easy to complete project and this one filled the bill and is high on the ‘wow’ satisfaction factor. Galapagos has a lot of interior teak, including the ladder down into the salon that gets used about 50 times a day. I noticed that the finish was looking pretty ratty and the handholds were filthy because they were getting hard to clean, again, because the finish on the wood was worn away.

The guy who remodeled our galley way back before we left the dock is a wooden boat builder from way back and he shared this trick with me for making interior teak on these old 1970’s boats look good again without having to do an entire refinish.

The trick is using real shellac. Not polyurethane, not varnish. Shellac. Shellac is easy to work with, dries quickly (unless it’s old, in which case it needs replacing), and can be cleaned up and thinned with alcohol. We keep a can on board the boat. This brand comes in clear or amber. Our woodwork has the traditional honey colored wood. The amber matches it perfectly. 

The process is dead simple. Lightly sand the areas where the finish has worn away. I used first an 80 grit, then followed behind with a 220 grit. You are just looking to remove the old finish in the worn area so definitely use a light touch. Remember, as Mike says, “We aren’t building the Parthenon here.”. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of ‘good enough’. You are not refinishing fine furniture at this point. Just repairing a worn finish so you can put off refinishing the whole thing, which is more work.

Once you’ve sanded, go over the area with a tack cloth. Get a load of this tack cloth that probably came from our garage. It’s an old one. But unopened, it’s still good.

This store has been gone for decades.

Now just use a cheap tip brush or a sponge brush and brush the shellac on the exposed wood, taking care to tip the new finish into the old. You’re supposed to let shellac dry before sanding with 220 grit and then recoating, but I’m too impatient for that. I let it get tacky and then go over it again. Works just fine. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking about this project, which took all of 30 minutes to complete. My work for today is done. Time to read a book. Maybe see if there are any animals around that need looking at.

Each step was worn on the edge where our feet hit it many, many times per day.

It was this area that grabbed my attention. These handles had pretty much no finish left. We also need to replace the non-skid, but we don’t have the material on hand. I’ve put it on the list of stuff for our expedition back to the states.

The sun makes this look orange. But it’s not.

Standing back, the steps are looking much better.

Maybe some day Galapagos will have all this interior wood refinished. Probably right before we sell her to the next cruiser. Don’t hold your breath. We’ve got some cruising yet to do.

S/V Galapagos, standing by on channel 22a.

14 thoughts on “Cheap Boat Tricks: Interior Teak

  1. That’s a pretty nifty trick! Our nonskid on the steps needs replacing also, Bill wants to use glow-in-the-dark nonskid on the leading edges. I’m leaving it up to him to try and find something appropriate.

    • The glow in the dark is a cool idea. Does he know you can buy glow in the dark paint? I’ve not seen that color in a nonskid. Still, very nice idea. Those nights are really dark!

  2. Instead of that non-skid, give “salt varnish” a try. Might even work with shellac – don’t know, haven’t tried it. But it works wonderfully with varnish.

    Here’s how: while the finish is still wet, heavily cover it with an even coating of table salt. Once it cures, vacuum or brush off the loose salt, then remove the remainder with a damp sponge.

    • Hmm, that’s an interesting idea and it probably would work with Shellac. It reminds me of how people do nonskid with sand. I wonder how it wears on bare feet? I could give that a test and see how it goes. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Nice!

    FYI, you can use the exact same process with Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane. You’ll get the same finish quality for the same minimal amount of work but with a much more durable polyurethane finish. I wouldn’t use it on exterior wood but it’s great for interior wood.

  4. Love your quick fixes. I’ve saved the painting of the Formica type product and look forward to trying it. We have to do our companionway ladder and it may not be a quick job. Plus the “non-skid” is that horrible rubber stuff in a diamond pattern. I cannot keep it clean. Here’s what we may do — stolen from a friend. She purchased indoor/outdoor carpet, cut it to fit the treads and bound it. She attached snaps to the carpet and to the ladder. Easy to clean, cheap enough to toss when grubby. I may make two sets at once.

    • You’ll love the results of the painting when you do it. Ours is still holding up fine. That’s an interesting fix for the nonskid. I would be concerned they would get loose over time and wonder how hers have held up? Our stairs get used so many times per day it’s amazing.

  5. Give Chamela another try in an RV sometime. We did and absolutely loved it. However, some boat friends visited us there and had a less-than-glamorous dinghy landing. And heading back out to the boat was no picnic either. But the view from the RV is excellent.

    • You know, we’ve both been seriously wishing to do some land traveling. I think a lot of the places we’ve visited on the Pacific Coast would actually be better by RV. Yeah, I’m not a fan of surf landings with our current setup. That will be changing.

  6. Wow! What a difference!!! A job well done Melissa! Hoping your next port will provide new adventures! Travel on! Mary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.