So your teak is old, ugly, peeling and miserable? Ours was. We had big black blotches under the finish, peeling, some bare spots, in general a real MESS when we bought the boat. Since NO TEAK was on our list of specs for buying a boat, we had less than no idea what to do with it. Luckily we sailed into a marina where there was no shortage of experienced teak “experts” and we learned… and we keep on learning!
There is no easy way to strip teak correctly. The choices are either a chemically induced gooey mess or hard labor. Hard labor can consist of a couple different types of sanders, hand sanding, a heat gun and stripping tool, or just the stripping tool on it’s own. Different applications beg for different stripping techniques — for example, the teak cockpit table laying on a dropcloth on a flat surface is perfect for chemical stripper, but using that chemical liquid stripper on the round grab rails on the cabin top would create a gooey mess dripping down the cabin sides – more trouble to clean up than strip! And keep in mind, after you get most of the gunk stripped off, you’re not done — now it’s time to sand and then brighten the teak – see individual Teak Week Posts in the related posts below this article for specifics.
3 Ways to Strip Teak
1. Heat Stripper Gun and Stripper Tool.
A heat stripper gun looks like a hairdryer, but it gets MUCH hotter and more dangerous. Burns from this device can be serious – it didn’t have any trouble melting a fist sized hole in my Adidas black workout pants – so be very careful. Do not set the hot gun on anything that could burn or leave a black mark. Trust me, my teak decks taught me this the hard way! But after using the heat gun for a few strippings, I’ve concluded it is the easiest way for me to achieve the result I want — the more cetol/varnish/whatever finish I can remove with the heat gun and stripper tool, the less I have to sand later!
My heat stripper gun is a Wagner 2 heat level inexpensive version from Home Depot. You can get the same thing at Amazon, click here. I don’t do teak for a living, just on my boat, a 1985 Passport 37 which happens to have lots of teak.
Here’s the stripper tool I use in conjunction with the heat gun. Mine is a small one, but our varnish expert has these in every size imaginable. They usually come with extra blades for when the blade dulls. Stripping small lengths at a time seems to work best for me, so I’ll work a few inches and then move on.
2. Teak Stripper Tool.
It is possible to use the teak stripper tool alone without heating the finish depending on your finish. For our round cabintop grab rails, we found it was easier to use extra manual scraping power (making my arm muscles ache) than to use any of the other choices.
I had really high hopes for the chemical stripper similar to this at Amazon– we got ours at Home Depot. I can’t really recommend it. It works by softening up whatever finish is on the wood – cetol, varnish or other. Then you still have to scrape it with the scraper tool. And it makes a GOOEY mess! Yuck! I had high hopes for using a chemical to help, but it turns out still my favorite way to strip teak is the heat gun/stripper tool combination. There are some applications – tight places usually – where the chemical stripper is the best option, but I try everything else first.
Oh wait — there are only supposed to be three ways recommended to strip teak. And so there are. But I see so many people trying to strip their teak or other wood aboard with a sander, I thought it worth mentioning. My varnish artist friend (i.e. teak expert) uses a Porter Cable Sander but not for stripping. The problem is that in the initial stripping, the finish is usually way too thick and just ends up clogging the sandpaper in no time. I tried it based on another cruiser’s recommendation – and even borrowed my varnish artist friend’s professional Porter Cable Sander – but it just didn’t work for me. If you have a very thin layer of varnish/cetol/whatever, you might have better luck.
For me, I’ll stick with my heat gun and stripper tool and hope since I have 10 coats (the first two prep coats do not count!) on my exterior varnish that all I’ll need to do in the foreseeable future is patch “use” spots and add a couple more coats once or twice a year.
How do you strip your teak? Any other suggestions (preferably the magic bullet that makes this project easier?!) … please leave a comment and share. Cheers! Jan