I am the proud owner of a 1979 35.5 Bristol sloop. We want to bring back the bright shine on the cabin sole. Since it is the original sole (100 percent teak and holly), how do we make the holly strips of wood bright again?
Sue & Larry respond:
There’s nothing more beautiful down below on a boat than a glistening teak and holly sole. Unless the wood is damaged in any way, we believe you will get great results with refinishing your floor, as opposed to replacing it.
Before you begin the work, remove all possible floorboards from the boat. This will reduce the mess created below, and allow you to work in a nicer outside environment. To restore your floorboards, you will first need to remove the finish that is on them now. This may take some experimenting to find out what works best. Do your experiments on part of the sole that won't be seen often (like an area below your salon table. A heat gun and scraper will work well for varnished surfaces. A chemical stripper may be needed if the heat gun does not work. If the old finish is oiled, you may need a bleach such as Te-Ka A&B. Additionally, you may be able to sand away the old finish using 120-grit sandpaper.
You say the flooring is 100 percent teak and holly. We assume by that comment that the wood is solid. If it is not solid, i.e. a veneered surface on top of plywood, you must be much more careful while removing the old finish and sanding. Veneers are by definition very thin, and you can often inadvertently sand or scrape right through them.
After the old finish is removed, you'll need to sand the entire floor to renew the surface. Experiment with various levels of grit on the least visible boards, but you'll probably find that something between 120 to 220 grit will be the roughest you want to use with a power sander. Be sure you also sand the edges of all the removable pieces of floor board.
When the sanding stage is finished, your clean up will be one of the most important steps of the whole process in order to ensure a successful end result. Down below, vacuum not just the floor parts you couldn’t remove, but the entire boat meticulously. After vacuuming, wipe the walls and cabinetry down with a damp rag. The newly sanded floor should be wiped with a rag soaked in mineral spirits.
Mask off the edges of each removable piece of floorboard and the edges they butt up against. This is to prevent varnish built-up and boards sticking in place. Use a tack cloth for your final clean up before you start to varnish.
For large floorboards, a roll and tip method works well. For smaller areas, we like to use the good quality foam brushes that have the round wooden handles. While building up your finish, change the masking tape after every three coats. When your ultimately finished, remove the masking tape and seal the edges with one to two coats of varnish.
You'll need to let the entire job dry for at least a week before stepping on your new floor. The longer you can leave it, the better. For more varnishing tips, see our article titled The Art of Maintaining Brightwork. Best of luck with your project.