Alligators in My Varnish! Oh NO!

If you do your own varnish, you’re probably familiar with “alligators” — wrinkled spots that look more like alligator skin than the smooth, mirrorlike glassy finish you’re striving to achieve.  I’m still not sure what causes alligators, everyone I ask has a different opinion.

Look closely, you can see the largest of the alligators in my new varnish. 🙁

I just added 2 more coats of Pettit Flagship Varnish over our exterior teak caprail, eyebrow & grabrails with 5 steps:

1.  We cleaned all the salt off the teak from our previous two month’s out cruising.

2.  Blue tape insures that any varnish drips have a chance of being caught on the tape, and also helps guard the boat’s finish against an overly aggressive move with the sandpaper.

3.  Using the hose & 400 grit sandpaper, we wetsanded by hand all the teak surfaces.   It’s important to keep the hose nearby – if you let the wetsand paste dry on the teak, you may never get it off!  It’s some of the most tenacious stuff I’ve ever seen!  So we rinse as we go with the hose and then immediately wipe down each section with a wet cloth to remove most of the paste before it dries.

4.  After it’s dry, go over it with tacky-cloth to remove any stray dust particles, just before you’re ready to varnish.  Don’t do this the night before intending to varnish the next morning!

5.  Thin & apply the varnish, stroking with the grain and only one way.   I used two coats for this maintenance project to help it last through the next six months of the intense south Florida sunshine.

Another shot of the alligators contrasting with the glassy mirror finish of the rest of the varnish.

It was in the high 80’s and extremely humid.  But we need to get this done before we leave the boat for the summer, so we had to carry on, even though I would have preferred a day with less humidity.  After the 1st coat, we noticed a fairly large “alligator” on the starboard side – the side away from the sun.  I have no idea what happened, whether I applied the varnish a bit thicker there or if it dried slower because it was in the shade, or a combination or whatever.  There are no other large alligator spots anywhere on the rest of the teak, so it’s an enigma to both of us.

The mirrorlike finish on the rest of the teak caprail.

However, it needed fixed.  We extra wetsanded it before applying the 2nd coat.   But apparently not using a coarser grit than 400, the alligator merely smoothed a bit, and even though it felt smooth to the hand, after the next coat of varnish, there it was starting at us.   Grumble grumble.  So now we’ll have to wait until it’s totally cured – in this humidity, we like to give it a couple of days – and sand that section down more and start over with the two coats of varnish. 🙁   But the blemish is too noticeable not to do something about…

Anyone know what caused this type of alligator and for it to only appear in one place?  Did I mistakenly apply too much varnish in that one spot or is there another reason?  Whatever it is, I’d like to avoid it in the future!  A patch never looks quite as good as the original varnish.

Please leave a comment and share if you can help me avoid this in the future.   I’ve never had a big alligator jump into my varnish before and I’d prefer not to have it happen again!  Cheers!   Jan


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