The teak sole on my boat has quite a few indentations, far deeper than I would like to sand. How should I fill them in to make the sole look natural?
Tom Wood responds:
Saving old soles, or any damaged woodwork, is a matter of taste and skill. Some older boats have real, solid teak-planked floors. Many others, unfortunately, were built with teak-faced plywood in which the veneer is so thin a coarse sanding penetrates to the unattractive fir ply underneath.
These are your choices:
1. Determine that you like the sole the way it looks and varnish right over the dings. Some sailors say that particularl look lends character to the boat.
2. Cover the entire sole, thus hiding the damaged surface. Some people may think of carpet, vinyl tile or other easy solutions. However, teak planking is available in several forms. Newer laminates look surprisingly like real wood at a fraction of the cost and matching trim pieces make this covering an easy one. We have seen several recent jobs using parquet that were quite handsome. These laminates are available at any home-building store.
3. The traditional alternative requires a fair amount of skill in the art of inlaying wood. Damaged areas are removed, a piece of new wood is fitted and glued into the void, and the patch is then planed and sanded flush. Very small spots can be simply drilled out and an inlay, fitted in the form of a bung, glued in the hole. Larger areas can be cut away with a sharp chisel and a steady hand, and a duplicate piece of wood, sometimes called a Dutchman, shaped to fill the resulting hole. For really fancy inlays, a good router can be guided by matched templates to cut away old damage and make an identical insert. The old masters used to make these inlays in the shape of stars, butterflies, or other figures to show their mastery of the art. This option is, frankly, not for the faint of heart or those short on time, though the results can be beautiful.
Whatever solution you choose, here's wishing you the best of luck and a speedy finish so that you can return to enjoying the time you spend sailing your boat.