There’s teak under all that Cetol

When we bought Sonrisa, one of the things toward the top of the project list from day one is what to do with the exterior teak. It appears that the exterior teak was finished with Cetol before heading to Mexico, but by the time she returned to California most of the Cetol had baked off. This was a bit of a blessing actually as the cap rail was probably 90% bare greyed teak, so mother nature had done most of the stripping for me.

IMG_1961On previous boats, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, I had sworn by Cetol as a durable finish that is much more forgiving (and repairable) than hard varnish, but much longer lasting than teak oils. However, both on my previous boat and evidenced on Sonrisa I’m seeing that Cetol doesn’t appear to hold up as well in hotter climates as it did for me in the Northwest.

I read a ton of online articles and commentary and perused several boats in the marina that had various finishes. My goal is to find a finish that suits how I want to maintain the teak and how I want it to look. For some that might be a glass-smooth 17-coat varnished finish and the end of the discussion. For me I just want something that is going to keep the teak looking like wood and protect it with an absolute minimum of sanding and scraping to reduce the wear on the wood.

IMG_1962I’ve tried oils before and they may work fine on new teak, but on older teak it seems like you’d have to buy it by the barrel and soak it in the stuff to get more than a month out of a good coating.

This time around I’m trying Semco. Many folks lump it in with the oils because it produces a natural matte oiled-teak like finish, but it’s quite different. It’s described as a teak sealer and I think that’s an accurate description. It goes on very thin almost like a thin water-based paint and dries within minutes, but the end result is a water-repellant slightly-tinted finish that looks like natural freshly sanded teak. You can tell it’s sealed because when the teak gets wet, the treated areas remain the same blonde color while the untreated areas turn dark as the teak soaks up the water. The finish is nice if you like the natural look (it’s about as matte as it gets).

So far this is by far the easiest finish to apply. The hardest part has been getting all of the remaining Cetol out of the nooks and crannies and cleaning the teak to remove the stains. Applying the Semco is best done with a rag, just wiping on coat after coat (I did 3) until it appears that the teak isn’t taking any more of it up. You can do all of the coats within a few hours and you can go back a few months later and just wipe more on, and if you’re tired of the natural look and want to go back to varnish, you can just wait for it to fade away (it doesn’t peel) or wash it off with a teak cleaner.


So far I’m liking how Semco is working and looking. It’s been on the rebuilt bowsprit platform for 6 months now and it still looks great. I’ve recently completed the hand rails and I’m in the process of getting the last of the Cetol off the cockpit coamings and I’ll start in on the cap rail and cockpit.