Monday, June 8, 2015

Brightwork Project

Most sailboat owners will tell you that having varnished brightwork is quite a lovely thing to admire, worth the time invested and hands down, necessary to protect the integrity of your boat's wood from harmful UV rays. And most boat owners may tell you horror stories, use intimidation tactics and warn you not to even start this type of project. It takes lots and lots and lots of time and coats, coats and more coats for your brightwork to look its best. It would be better if you found a genie lamp on the beach, rubbed it and wished for someone else to do the work for you, for free! So I'm told a project of this magnitude take lots of time. I mean really, how much time could it take?

As they say "Ignorance is Bliss!"

When I decided to take on Aletheia's Brightwork Project, something I've had on my to-do list for longer than I care to admit, I received the same reaction from everyone..."are you sure you want to go down that road" look. People trying to talk me out of such an undertaking. I understood it was going to be time-consuming since it likely hadn't been done since 1978. The wood was stripped, rough and gray. All teak surfaces were in need of a complete makeover. For some reason I wanted to experience the art of varnishing and I was craving a project all my own. Besides, I didn't really have anything else to do.

I started sanding the toerails with a pad sander back in March. Although I had music buzzing in my ears, a cold beer to sip on while working on my tan, I lost motivation after just one afternoon. Fast-forward to April with the materials laughing at me, the time had come to get this project going and finished.

I purchased and borrowed the necessary supplies and got to work! I didn't stop. It was my mission to get this project completed before Nate's mom came for a visit. Nothing like having a visitor to motivate you!

Within a week, my project was near completion. I sanded the companionway, interior teak, toerails and handrails meticulously. Before each varnish layer, a light sanding (used #220 paper) and tacking was done. The tackcloth is used immediately after each sanding to "tack" or remove residual dirt particles prior to each layer. And of course I had to check the weather forecast because I couldn't varnish the exterior with a rainstorm in my imminent future and the varnish manufacturer frowns upon sanding in direct sunlight so it was early morning and late evening dates with my varnish and paintbrush. Every 12 hours. The more layers of varnish, the merrier. 

Two weeks later I finalized my Brightwork Project. Here are some before & after photos. And just in case you haven't come across the magical genie lamp, I've listed the materials we used in case there is a varnishing project in your future. Go on. You got this!

Companionway (5 coats): the wood that started it all! The orbital sander saved so much time and got down to a new layer of teak.
Neglected varnish and wood (before)
Amazing what a little sanding can do!
Top of companionway (before)
Top of companionway ready to varnish!
Yuck - gray and rough bottom left of companionway (before)
Bottom of companionway (before)
Freshly sanded wood
After multiple sheets of sandpaper, the companionway is ready to varnish!
Varnish on the left (first coat)
Multiple coats of varnish - what a difference!
Toerails (6 coats): This was most time-consuming because I used both the orbital sander to sand the top and sandpaper for the sides of 36' of teak. Trying to sand the sides was not fun, but necessary.
Gray toerail (before)
Toerail mid-sand. No gray!
Taped up, ready to varnish!
Varnishing first layer on port!
Varnishing first layer on starboard!
Nice dark teak, almost there!
Removing tape
Brightwork Project complete!

Handrails (6 coats): I was able to orbital sand both 6' handrails before hand sanding which saved time.
Neglected handrails (before)
Ready to varnish
Handrails complete!

Brightwork Project materials:
Captains varnish, tackcloth and painter's tape
Orbital sander, sandpaper, etc.
Sanding materials:

  1. orbital sander 
  2. #80 & #120 (Lower grit for neglected/damaged wood)
  3. #220 for final sanding, including a light sand prior to each layer of varnish
  4. Extension cord

Varnishing materials:

  1. #1015 Captain's Varnish2 quarts did the trick for 36' toerails, 6' handrails and companionway
  2. Wooster paint brushes (sizes: 1/2" & 1" brushes) - don't use cheap brushes!
  3. Paint thinner to clean the brush after each coat 
  4. Tackcloth (purchased at Home Depot)
  5. Latex gloves (helps keep hands clean while varnishing)
All in all, I'd say this was a gratifying experiment. I'd do it again. I charge $100/hour!



  1. OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!! good thing you are so "bendy"!!!! having only done doors that were flat and no weather conditions, that was enough to say never again! do what you did...I am in awe, you should get a bright-shiny-no-need-to-polish medal!!!!!
    Love Aunt Bev ;-)

  2. OMG Jenn! When I was with you on the boat, all the your varnish work was already all done and I, being a land-lubber, had no idea what had been involved and what an amazing transformation you had performed! I'm so very glad to see the before and after pictures - the difference is incredible and it is now so very beautiful. What a lot of work you did! Well done!
    xoxo, Sunny