about saving my Ash...

Reference: 1980 Mad River Explorer, original Ash trim that was meticulously cared for, only one little spot (under a deck plate) with a very little bit of dry rot, and it’s repairable…

Which is better for weatherproofing Ash trim for a Florida-wet environment (wood is being sanded clean and will be dry, prepped and treated prior to reinstallation). Would appreciate any advice about treating options:
Watco oil only. (Watco has kept this wood well protected all these years).
Captain’s varnish mixed with mineral spirits (50/50 or 25/75). Wiped on, not brushed.
Start with varnish/spirit dilution as a base-coat and follow with Watco for periodic maintenance applications.

This Explorer 16 (well, 15’11"), perfect in every way for this Estuary,

is near or on the Florida water all year long, paddling three to four days a week. So these 37 year old Ash pieces, impressive as they are, deserve extra special care.
Thank you,
Mark L.

Watco penetrates so doubt effectiveness of adding over varnish…also easier to reapply vs varnish. If it’s worked for all this time why change? Used it for decades with solid results.

I’ve heard tales of misery from Watco users in FL on ash gunwales… There is no mildewicide in it apparently unless its been reformulated. In humiditiy mold thrives.
Most everyone with them down there uses varnish if they have ash gunwales… Five coats not one… I got a used Curtis Nomad from Florida. It had always had varnished gunwales and it arrived to me just pristine at 22 years of age.

Thank you both for responding. stevet is correct about Watco being effective for the years it has been applied to the gunwales. It has preserved the wood beautifully.
I noticed, after sanding yesterday, that I had my usual Florida ‘woozey’ reaction after inhaling mold infused dust - oops. Reading Rust-O-Leum’s website, only Watco Teak Oil has mildewcide added. I should have remembered that, but didn’t. I might test some of it on a piece of Ash scrap.
After reading kayamedic’s response, I emailed Pettit’s tech support asking if Captain’s Varnish (my favorite) had any mildewcides in its formulation. Their quick response was that none of their Varnishes have any “mildicides”.
Further reading about Varnish protected wood, when exposed to tropical climates (outdoor furniture, for example) mentions that Varnish is better than oil because it can be washed, with a little bleach added, and mildew easily removed. It’s ok, also, to apply Varnish over oil. Lastly, adding mildicides to Varnish will add a milky color to it (never knew that).
Lots to think about. Thank you both, again, for your comments.
Mark L.

My Nomad must never have had any mildewicides added to its varnish. I do have canoes with cherry gunwales and I love the look of Watco teak oil on them. But I am in Maine , not Florida and the pesky mold we got on the shores of Long Island Sound does not permeate inland Maine… I might use oil again had I had ash here in drier conditions.

When I use Watco oil, I generally use the Teak Oil. But I agree with Kim that varnish provides better protection, so long as it is not getting scratched up and off. Actually, in my opinion, applying a few coats of a penetrating epoxy and then a few coats of varnish over that is even tougher. I do not thin out varnish with mineral spirits when applying. I also like Pettit’s Captain’s Varnish and have had good results with it.

Oil is no doubt easier to apply, and works well if you keep up with it on a regular basis. I also use oil on the gunwales of whitewater canoes which tend to see a fair bit of abrasion.

Thanks again to all who responded. I have decided to go with Captain’t Varnish (wiped on - Florida is too humid this time of year to brush). And I should have clarified it better, the idea to thin Varnish with mineral spirits, as I was taught to do, is that only the first coat applied to fully prepared wood, out of five or so gets thinned.

Another recent post on this Forum, about woodwork, ‘machine’ sanding was referenced. I used to do that years ago. But there is a unique sense and pleasant experience about working a fine piece of wood, and Ash certainly qualifies, when it is sanded by hand. Or usually, in my case, thumb or finger. Eyeing the job up close, following every grain pattern, every flaw noted and considered, every detail finished while using good quality sandpaper to follow the wood’s natural grain and contours - what a relaxing way to ‘mess’ with a boat.

The only advice I can add for doing brightwork in Florida: sanding Ash while wearing sunblock simply doesn’t mix well.
Thanks again,
Mark L.

There is something disturbing about a Sweaty Floridian bathed in sanding dust… But yes a nice contoured sanding block and various grades of sandpaper

Yes, a lot of people do thin varnish, or at least the base coat(s), and a lot of different thinners can be and are used, but mineral spirits is the most popular. Jamestown Distributors just conducted a survey of varnish users regarding products used, how applied, how many coats, how often maintenance coats are applied, etc. Here are the results:


Well, drat!! Just when I had decided on Varnish, water based acrylic is recommended in another thread to another forum participant. I happen to have 2 1/2 qts of that stuff left over from another project (Helmsman). I’ll post my question here so as not to hijack the other gentleman’s thread…
I thought, and maybe I am wrong - just lacking enough experience using acrylics - but I thought that acrylic finishes after exposure, over time, to the elements will revert to a milky haze? If that’s true, is it just a surface issue (clean it off and apply a fresh coat) or a deeper breakdown?
It would be nice to use up my over-supply of this Helmsman stuff… (I forgot that I had it). Any reports, shared experience with water based acrylics appreciated. (Still sanding between Florida’s wet-season storm downpours…)
Mark L.

You’re probably good with whatever you choose as you seem to be someone who will do the required maintenance…all options discussed will work well with the necessary attention paid to maintaining whatever you do.

@stevet said:
You’re probably good with whatever you choose as you seem to be someone who will do the required maintenance…all options discussed will work well with the necessary attention paid to maintaining whatever you do.

Absolutely correct and that is why I have found Varathane Spar water based urethqne to be the go to finish for all of my projects where either natural, or stained wood is the desired finish. I have been using the outdoor version even for indoor furniture. This is the only finish I have found that does not amber and it is so easy to apply and maintain. One of the key aspects is that it dries to the touch in minutes, so you don’t have to have a special dust free environment as in the case of solvent based products. I prefer the “gloss” finish. Varathane water based urethane works just fine, over oil based stains.

@stevet said:
You’re probably good with whatever you choose as you seem to be someone who will do the required maintenance…all options discussed will work well with the necessary attention paid to maintaining whatever you do.

Funny you say that - I’m terrible at maintenance, so I try to avoid wood gunnels. The most abused of my boats with wooden gunnels is my whitewater boat. The deck plate broke, so I replaced half, but I still haven’t stained or finished it to match. (It’s under the painter line so who will notice.) The gunnels are also badly in need of finish.

Heading out

I’ll get around to it someday. I just don’t enjoy working on boats as much as I enjoy paddling them. The good news it that I store my boats inside, or a probably couldn’t get away with it.