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In with the New

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Expert Varnishing Tips—In with the New

gleaming brightwork

By Capt. Bill Pike

Hicks’s application of a new finish begins with an “extremely light and fast” once-over with 220-grit paper, followed first by a wipe-down with a rag (he always uses white cotton to obviate soluble dyes from discoloring the wood) dampened with mineral spirits and then by a second wipe-down with an Awlgrip ( tack cloth. “The best tacks come from Awlgrip,” he says. “They are very absorbent but not overly sticky.”

Next come from five to seven coats of Awlspar M3131 classic spar varnish, the first thinned with Awlspar Brush Reducer to a 50-percent-varnish/50-percent-reducer ratio and the second to an 80-percent-varnish/20-percent-reducer ratio. The reason Hicks goes with Awlspar M3131 is that it penetrates wood—and especially teak—so deeply and thoroughly. He goes with a 220-grit once-over between coats and, for thoroughness sake, lets each dry overnight, despite the five-hour drying time noted on the can. Then he begins building coats using a comparatively expensive, classic product from Pettit: Flagship High-Gloss Varnish. In most cases he lets the stuff also dry overnight and, to develop “a little toothiness,” sands between coats “very, very lightly” with either 320- or 400-grit paper. “For a genuinely durable, long-lasting finish,” he concludes, “you need at least nine coats of varnish on a given surface and I’d say 15 coats is optimum.”

He’s got a rule for thinning the Flagship. “I tell people to take a wooden stirring stick, immerse it in the varnish by about two inches, then lift it out,” he says, “and see how long it takes for the liquid to go from a steady stream to drip, drip, drip—three to five seconds is fine but anything more requires thinner. You get the right amount by adding a little and then repeating the test.”