Re­fur­bish a cabin sole

Roger Hughes lav­ishes some at­ten­tion on his yacht’s teak and holly-strip cabin sole

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

How to make teak and holly sole­boards look like new

When my fam­ily and I were liv­ing on our British-built ketch in the Mediter­ranean we vis­ited many Amer­i­can boats and I al­ways ad­mired the way they em­ployed teak and holly for their cabin floor­boards – or to use the more nau­ti­cal term, the cabin sole.

A shiny teak and holly sole cer­tainly en­hances the in­te­rior of any ves­sel and it was one of the rea­sons I bought my present boat, Bri­tan­nia, an Amer­i­can-built Down East 45.

Since I have owned her I’ve made some quite dras­tic al­ter­ations. I changed the rig from a ketch to a brig­an­tine schooner, with a square­sail on the fore­mast. I com­pletely re­mod­elled the aft cabin, both bath­rooms and the gal­ley and fit­ted a new ceil­ing through­out. Dur­ing all this time I used the for­ward cabin as a work­shop and traipsed through the sa­loon with all man­ner of equip­ment and tools. I didn’t re­move my shoes ev­ery time ei­ther – it was just too much trou­ble – so the floors suf­fered and be­came scratched and dull. The white strips of holly were hardly vis­i­ble in places, and the whole floor was des­per­ately cry­ing out for at­ten­tion.

As the other ma­jor mod­i­fi­ca­tions came to an end, I be­gan to think how I might re­store the floor­boards.

Whichever way I re­stored them, a very im­por­tant cri­te­ria for me was to en­sure they fin­ished up with a non-slip sur­face.

This was up­per­most in my mind be­cause six months ear­lier I’d slipped in the sa­loon and snapped both bones in my lower left leg, along with a com­plete dis­lo­ca­tion of the an­kle. The in­jury was still giv­ing warn­ings about mov­ing around on boats, so it was im­per­a­tive I achieved a non-slip sur­face!

Prepa­ra­tion

The eas­i­est sec­tions to start work­ing on were the dozen 3⁄4in thick ply­wood lift-up floor­boards. The dirty in­grained var­nish needed strip­ping from the thin ve­neer, and like any wood restora­tion job, prepa­ra­tion is the key. The more ef­fort made at this early stage, the bet­ter the fi­nal re­sult.

Be­fore I could even start clean­ing the boards I had to re­pair some of the dam­aged and miss­ing sec­tions of the holly strips and edg­ing. Luck­ily I had some spare pieces of the orig­i­nal floor, so

I care­fully scored both sides of the Holly strip joint with a sharp knife then, us­ing a newly sharp­ened 1⁄4in chisel I was able to care­fully ease the 3⁄8in strip of holly out of it’s groove. Af­ter clean­ing out the dam­aged groove in the sole board I glued a new strip in place and clamped it tight, press­ing it down with a flat plate.

Many of the edg­ing strips around the boards were also bro­ken or miss­ing, so I cut new 1⁄4in-wide teak strips on my ta­ble saw and glued them along the edges.

I also filled smaller in­den­ta­tions and chips with plas­tic wood filler which can be sanded when cured.

I sus­pect the un­der­side of the ply­wood must have been in­su­lated at one time, but all that was now left was a thick, dirty layer of dry ad­he­sive.

It quickly clogged my belt sander, so I had to use paint strip­per and a wide chisel to scrape it off, then sand the ply­wood smooth af­ter­wards.

As part of the prepa­ra­tion I also re­moved the brass lift­ing han­dles which are re­cessed into each board.

Even­tu­ally all the boards were re­paired and ready for sand­ing and clean­ing.

At this point I give fair warn­ing to any­one read­ing this, and plan­ning to work on their own ve­neered floor­boards. Even when new, the ve­neer is thin, and if it has been worked on pre­vi­ously it might be very thin. Mine looked to be gen­er­ally about 1mm thick, but was even thin­ner in places where it was scratched and dented.

I be­gan sand­ing a board us­ing a square or­bital sander with 80-grit abra­sive pa­per, but it hardly re­moved any­thing and would have taken an age to sand the hard var­nish off.

So I switched to my 3in belt sander with 100-grit. This re­moved more of the old var­nish and grime, but it also high­lighted ar­eas of dips and troughs which the sander skimmed over. At­tempt­ing to sand down to these lev­els with a belt sander was a mis­take be­cause I cut through the ve­neer in a few places, ex­pos­ing the ply­wood be­neath.

There has hardly ever been a job I’ve done on any boat which has not cre­ated another job – or two, and this project was no ex­cep­tion. It brought back the maxim ev­ery DIY boater should have tat­tooed up his arm, so he sees it be­fore he starts a job: ‘If it ain’t broke, it prob­a­bly will be when I fix it!’

There was noth­ing I could do to at­tempt to over­come my er­ror un­til I started var­nish­ing, so I car­ried on with the belt sander – but con­sid­er­ably more care­fully.

Even belt sand­ing did not re­move all the var­nish or in­grained dark spots and scratches in the wood, so I pasted the boards with a prod­uct called Goof Off Semi Paste Pro Strip­per, then scraped if off with a 1in-wide chisel. I scraped the dirt and var­nish out of the deeper in­den­ta­tions with a sharp knife then sanded them by hand to blend into the re­main­der. It was a slow but ef­fec­tive process.

Even­tu­ally, over about a week, all the re­mov­able floor­boards were re­paired and sanded. A fi­nal prepa­ra­tion was to wash them with a pro­pri­etary teak cleaner and scrub with a ny­lon brush. This still re­leased an amaz­ing amount of dirt, and I did it twice on a few boards, but even­tu­ally they dried to a clean bronze colour, with beau­ti­fully high­lighted holly strips.

Var­nish­ing

Be­fore start­ing to var­nish I wanted to do some­thing about the un­der­cuts I’d made with my belt sander which ex­posed the ply­wood. I’d pre­vi­ously used a wood stain called Golden Ma­hogany, by Varathane, on ply­wood to make it look roughly the same as teak. I care­fully brushed this over the ex­posed ar­eas and hoped for the best.

I then re­placed the brass lift­ing han­dles and masked the edges. This was eas­ier than try­ing to mask the ac­tual re­cess with­out the han­dles in place. I did this

be­cause if var­nish dried in the cutouts it would need scrap­ing out again to al­low the han­dles to fit back flush with the floor­board – cre­at­ing more work!

Nor­mally, the ob­jec­tive of var­nish­ing on a boat is to achieve a high gloss fin­ish, but this is in­vari­ably slip­pery, es­pe­cially when wet. As men­tioned pre­vi­ously, my con­cern was to fin­ish up with a non-slip sur­face. I there­fore asked ev­ery­one I could how this might best be achieved, and found dif­fer­ent meth­ods.

I also called some of the ma­jor paint man­u­fac­tur­ers and learned that two, Epi­fanes and Rus­toleum, have a fine gran­u­lar sub­stance which when mixed in the fi­nal coat of var­nish leaves a dim­pled non skid sur­face. I’m sure there will be oth­ers as well.

I also found an in­trigu­ing method on the in­ter­net which ad­vo­cated sprin­kling salt on the fi­nal coat of wet var­nish. Then, when the van­ish was dry, hos­ing it off with wa­ter, thus dis­solv­ing the salt and leav­ing a non-slip sur­face.

The eas­i­est method sug­gested was sim­ply not to sand the floor­boards be­tween coats of var­nish. I es­pe­cially liked this idea, be­cause hand sand­ing 12 floor­boards ev­ery time, be­tween five coats of var­nish – not to men­tion the large fixed floor ar­eas in the boat – sounded like very hard work.

Even though two-part ure­thanes would prob­a­bly have given a harder fin­ish, I didn’t want to use them due to the num­ber of times I planned to ap­ply dif­fer­ent var­nish/thin­ner mixes.

I de­cided to use Epi­fanes clear gloss wood var­nish, be­cause their spec­i­fi­ca­tion specif­i­cally men­tions the var­nish can be over-coated within 72 hours, ‘with­out the need for re-sand­ing’.

The first coat was a 50/50 mix of var­nish and min­eral spir­its, to make sure it soaked well into the wood. I laid it on with a new medium hard brush, al­ways with the grain. I was pleased to see that even af­ter the first coat the over­sanded ar­eas I’d stained blended quite well with the teak, and the holly strip re­pairs were al­most in­vis­i­ble.

I al­lowed the boards 24 hours to dry and had to re­mind my­self not to sand the sur­face – old habits die hard.

The sec­ond coat was roughly a 75/25 var­nish/thin­ners mix, which brought out the colour and beauty of the wood even more, al­ready with a hint of a shine.

By this time my garage was lit­tered with floor­boards rest­ing on benches, boxes, tres­tles and any­thing else I could find to keep them flat and off the floor. Af­ter two more ap­pli­ca­tions of 75/25 mix the boards were gleam­ing.

A fi­nal coat was neat var­nish, and I also gave the edges of the boards two coats.

Since I’d not sanded be­tween coats, the sur­face re­mained quite coarse to the touch, but not enough to be felt with deck shoes or even bare feet. Upon test­ing a wet board, it proved to be re­mark­ably non-slip, yet it was also glossy.

But there was still one fi­nal op­er­a­tion on the re­mov­able boards. The un­der­neaths were still bare ply­wood, so I masked the edges and painted them white.

It was a great re­lief to fi­nally see all the shiny boards in place on the boat, but they also high­lighted the fixed sec­tions of floor which I’d not yet touched.

I then set about the back-aching job of sand­ing and clean­ing the non re­mov­able sec­tions. Some of these were also dam­aged and re­quired new holly strips splic­ing in.

I stripped the old var­nish off us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of belt sander and vi­brat­ing sander to get into the cor­ners, but I still had to use paint strip­per to re­move the more stub­born spots – more dif­fi­cult than the re­mov­able boards.

Then there were mul­ti­ple coats of var­nish to be ap­plied, but no rub­bing down in be­tween, thank good­ness!

It was harder work clean­ing the fixed floor­boards, but even­tu­ally they all had a gleam­ing match­ing non-slip sur­face.

Even though I say it my­self, the ap­pear­ance is now spec­tac­u­lar! The cabin sole looks new, with a clean pro­fes­sional, (and safe), fin­ish. My predica­ment now is that I hardly dare walk on them!

Def­i­nitely look­ing the worse for wear: a sec­tion of cabin sole be­fore restora­tion

Re­plac­ing dam­aged holly strips was a del­i­cate op­er­a­tion, but easy enough with sharp tools, and the new in­serts blended in well with the oth­ers RIGHT This shows what was left of the in­su­la­tion which was at one time stuck to the un­der­neath of the sole boards. It was now a dirty sticky mess and had to be re­moved with paint strip­per and a chisel

Some edg­ing strips were bro­ken or miss­ing so new strips of teak were cut, glued and pinned in place be­fore be­ing planed and sanded smooth

The clean­ing process re­leased an amaz­ing amount of dirt out of the grain, but needed sand­ing again af­ter­wards

LEFT There’s a lot of en­gine and an­cil­lary equip­ment be­neath the sole boards of Roger Hughes’s Down East 45

The fi­nal re­sult was well worth the ef­fort and Roger no longer needs to make the ex­cuse ev­ery time guests come aboard: ‘I’ll be get­ting round to restor­ing the floor­boards even­tu­ally’.

Sand­ing didn’t re­move all the old dirt and var­nish so strip­per was em­ployed

Here are the re­stored boards in place (lower half of pic­ture) next to the as yet un­touched fixed sole

The first, thinned, coat of var­nish soaked right into the bare wood, but im­me­di­ately brought out the nice grain of the teak

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