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KNOW HOW- 10 tips for maintaining brightwork

10 tips for maintaining brightwork

10 tips for maintaining brightwork

Nothing enhances the appearance of a boat quite like the beauty of natural wood — brightwork — but it comes at a price: a commitment to maintenance, protection, and eternal vigilance. Some woods, teak for example, are very resistant to dry and wet rot but not immune; they must be protected.

Rot is like a cancer in wood. It spreads, and the only sure way to stop its migration is to remove and replace the infected wood. If you don’t get it all, it will return. Dry rot is a fungus that, contrary to its name, occurs in damp wood. The fungus grows where there is poor air circulation and dampness caused by fresh water. Salt water inhibits its growth, but the rot is enthusiastically promoted by fresh water. Owners of wooden boats would “pickle” the bilges with salt to prevent rot.

Varnishes (natural and polyurethane), sealers and oils protect brightwork, but UV radiation, oxidation, pollution, dirt and your crew attack these protectors.

How can you protect and maintain your boat’s brightwork?

1. Covering brightwork with a fabric cover is an expensive but effective way to protect against UV radiation. The cover should be of a fabric that won’t hold or trap moisture because any flaw in the joints or in the varnished finish can allow spores to enter and grow in that damp environment. The fabric shouldn’t be abrasive.

2. Using a wax containing UV filters on brightwork affords good protection. Wax early, wax often. Even so, brightwork will suffer damage from dings and abrasion while the boat is being used.

3. Regularly inspect your brightwork. Look for dulling of the gloss, separation of the varnish, and lifting and darkening of the wood due to water penetration at joints, and along contact points with fiberglass and fittings. (If possible, use “spar varnish” for exterior brightwork. It is more flexible and lasts longer, but it takes longer to cure.)

4. For those times you find areas that need addressing, I suggest keeping an emergency varnish repair kit on board. A plastic bucket or a tool bag will do, with a small can of varnish; a collection of 1- and 2-inch brushes (I prefer foam) stored in a plastic bag so they don’t collect dust and grit; tack cloth in its original packaging; sandpaper (80- to 220-grit); soft absorbent cloths (diaper material is good); a container of solvent; a small scraper — the kind you pull, with sharp blades (round the corners of the blades); and a roll of masking tape, not the cheap stuff.

5. Make sure the damage and the area surrounding it are clean, wiping with a solvent. Tape off the work area, and lightly sand to fair the damage into non-damaged varnish. Wipe again with solvent and, when dry, tack cloth the repair. Apply varnish, feathering it into the healthy coating. Don’t apply a thick coat, and try to keep it out of direct sunlight or the outer surface may dry before it cures, and it will wrinkle. You might need to apply several additional coats depending on the depth of the ding, but don’t rush it. The main objective is to protect the underlying wood.

6. Where varnish has lifted, usually at a joint or seam, it can’t be “glued” back into place. The lifted varnish should be removed (hence the scraper and heavier-grit sandpaper) and the darkened area lightened or bleached.

7. Maintenance of seams, joints and bungs often is overlooked. Any compromising of the integrity of a joint or seam should be addressed immediately. Remove the damaged material and apply fresh caulk or seam compound. Be sure to apply masking tape to protect the surrounding brightwork. When you replace bungs, “glue” them in place with varnish, not with epoxy or polyester resins.

8. Oils, while bringing out the grain, provide only temporary protection, even if they contain UV inhibitors. Also, oils attract mildew and pollutants, and turn dark or even black with exposure to the elements.

9. Mahogany is too susceptible to rot to be left unvarnished, and attention must be taken to ensure no moisture can penetrate through seams, joints or fastenings.

10. If kept clean, unvarnished teak will turn silvery gray, which doesn’t harm the teak. Wash it with salt water and rinse with fresh water, but make sure no standing water remains.