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NALANI13 07-31-2008 11:21 AM

varnish alternatives
has anyone ever used a product called 'Bristal Finish'? it is billed as an alternative to varnish and that it has better UV protection than varnish. We are refinishing our teak cap rail and i am looking at the various options. A friend of ours had theirs refinished using Epiphanes using 7 coats here in Florida. After a 3 month trip to the Bahamas he came back with the finish deteriorated in a number of places. I know that typically varnish has to be reapplied every 6 months or so here in the tropics - but three months seems ridiculous.

Whampoa 07-31-2008 12:12 PM


I decided to use Bristol Finish - Amber on my spruce mast two years ago. Here in NC the sun is pretty intense (high UV) for much of the year. I also have all external halyards and wanted something more resistant to abrasion than regular spar varnish.

I looked at a number of products and decided to try Bristol Finish. I spoke to a number of folks and most reported great results but a few indicated it was the worst thing they had ever done to their boats.

I'm not sure why they had bad experiences. I can say from first hand experience it has been exceptional on my mast. At 2 years it looks like the day I applied it and I see few signs of any problems. I plan to apply a few maintenance coats this fall as a matter of principle and to ensure I don't get behind it.

I'm in the process of redoing my toe rails and plan to use the Bristol Finish there as well.

The application instructions are pretty clear about the need to apply the proper number of coats. In the case of my mast we applied 10 coats but that is easy to do as you can apply multiple coats in fairly rapid succession and it builds fast. I did 4 quick coats then allowed a few days to harden and a light sanding then 2 coats, sanded, 2 coats, sanded 1 coat, final light sanding and final coat.

I applied it during a terribly hot July in 2006 and used a bit of their Tropical Reducer to aid in application.

I plan to wood and refinish my staysail boom and main boom this fall as well and will apply Bristol Finish there also.

Be sure to read the materials and unless they have changed things you need to use the Amber product as that is the one with the UV protection.

Be sure to wear the proper mask as the vapors are pretty potent.

Good luck, I hope this helps. I can't say how well or how bad the stuff is for anyone else but it sure has impressed me on the mast. I expected maybe a year but I have been pleasantly surprised.

Regards, John

camaraderie 07-31-2008 01:07 PM

Opinions vary greatly on this product. I have a very good friend who is a boatyard paint and fiberglass artist that used Bristol finish on his own Beneteau toe rail. He is a perfectionist and spent a lot of time in prep and proper application. One year later after a winter in the tropics the edges had lifted and water had gotten under the finish. He sanded the whole thing off which was a REAL pain and vowed never again.
Don't know how to explain the difference between his and John's experience...but he is not the only one I know who has been unhappy with the long term results. BTW...initial application results are stunningly good...just looks like a fine varnish job.

NALANI13 07-31-2008 01:13 PM


how did you prepare the surface before starting? by that i mean did you sand it down to bare wood with a smooth finish? did you do any further preparation?

when we did it previously using the epiphanes we started with the smooth bare wood, added a sealer coat and then applied a few thin coats first with sanding in between. we were never able to get the grain completely filled in and after 4 coats we are sanding back to bare wood again.

thanks much,


Whampoa 07-31-2008 01:31 PM


Thanks for adding that info. I heard similar concerns and the problems described much like the ones you shared.

I can't explain the problems either but I do wonder if they have something to do with the sharpness of the edges where the failures seem to originate. On my mast the radius of the corners is large whereas the radius on the edge of toe rails is much smaller. The respective locations would seem to make the toe rails more prone to damage from being walked on or worst yet run under a dock or two (don't ask me how I know!).

Small radius corners are a problem with normal varnish as well and require occasional/frequent touching up to avoid water intrusion. I wonder if that type of problem might be one of the factors that leads to the Bristol problems being reported. The finish forms a pretty solid sheet and folks that have reported problems all seem to say it has lifted of in large patches once water intrusion occured. While I have not seen this on my mast, I can see how it might occur.

I did some test strips two years ago to see how much effort it is to strip the stuff and your friend is correct, it is a bear. I found a heat gun and sharp scraper to be about the only way to remove it and that was a chore even on simple test strips.

I can only report my positive experience on the mast as I have yet to have used t elsewhere on Whampoa. For all other areas to date I have used the Interlux Schooner product and find it does well here in NC. To be sure, I use it because I have used it alot, I know how to work with it and it seems to work for me. The pros here all seem to favor the Epiphanes products but I have only used it a few times, didn't care for how it worked in our heat and thus never learned to use it and love it like they do.

When I brought Whampoa to NC she had been finished in Port Townsend, WA using Epiphanes over clear epoxy. I found that finish combo didn't hold up here in NC and in the end, wooded t all off and went with the Schooner. That was also a bear to remove as the epoxy was a pain.

Good luck with your project.

Sorry I don't know the right answer for your application.

Regards, John

sailingdog 07-31-2008 01:35 PM

The other point is that a mast is generally varnished around its entirety, where a toe rail is generally only varnished on the exterior, not the underside. So there are edges that water can easily get under on a toe rail, which may not be the case on a mast or boom. Also, water tends to sit along the base of a toe rail, right along the most vulnerable area, where the varnish's coverage ends... this is not the case with a mast.

Whampoa 07-31-2008 01:37 PM


When I refinished to mast in July 2006, I pulled off all the hardware and wooded the mast using a heat gun and scraper (that was fun in the 100 degree heat we had here in Oriental).

I then sanded the mast down to 120 grit and then applied the first two coats thinned according to the Bristol manf. instructions. On the spruce mast the penetration was good as we could see it on the lower end of the spar.

The remaining coats were applied at full strength using a bit of the tropical reducer to aid in application as it was 95 - 100 degrees every day and very humid. Those are the facts of life here in NC so you just have to work with them if you have to do finish work in the summer time around here.

Sorry I missed your question before I posted my last.

Regards, John

Whampoa 07-31-2008 01:39 PM

Valid points SD. I run a small bead of sealant along the inside edge of the toe rail and deck to manage that but your points are right on.


NALANI13 08-02-2008 09:59 AM

we have the same issues here in Florida. We have tried the Epiphanes and since it deteriorated so quickly i think i am going to try the bristol finish. boy has it been hot lately hasn't it?

that is a great idea! we can get part way under our toe rail to varnish but that would be a great way to finish it.



NauticalFishwife 08-03-2008 11:12 PM

If water can get under a finish, it will over time pop that finish, be it Epiphanes, Schooner or Bristol finish. After several tries and keeping our toe rail varnished, I finally stripped it and let it gray out. Our cockpit cap rail I finally took completely off, stripped it, applied three coats of penetrating epoxy, rebedded it, replaced all bungs, cauked it and used Epiphanes. That was three years ago. It held up really well with three to four coats every year and I had it looking like glass... UNTIL this year!!! And now I have a problem I can't seem to figure out. I was doing my maintenence coats and could not get them to "hold" It was like oil and water... I've NEVER in my years of varnishing had this happen. Then it dawned on me that I had hired someone to wax the boat. They used a product that has a teflon like finish in it on the non skid. The ONLY thing I can figure out is that they got some of that on the teak cap rail. Then I came along and lightly sanded my teak for my coats of varnish and spread that teflon finish evenly over my teak. When I applied my varnish it flat refused to lay on. I sanded it down, wiped down, sanded again, wiped down and tried again. It's still not giving me the gloss finish I once had. So I'm taking a bit of a break from it and will try again in a few weeks by cleaning it, sanding it and trying again to apply the varnish.
Prepping is key to any finish but sometimes, like in this case ,you can do everything right and something goes wrong. Good luck with which ever finish you choose.

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