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Wood Weathering on Land & Sea

By Robert Creel, Operating Manager, Caribbean Colors; and Sjoerd Bos, Vice President, Sansin

Wood is a beautiful, sustainable material utilised by many in the Virgin Islands for their properties and yachts. As we near hurricane season as well as summer’s intense UV rays, it’s important to prepare and protect wood.

Wood, by its very nature, is a breathable material; however, when used in construction and exposed to wind, rain and sun, it needs a level of protection to remain durable, resilient and beautiful.

The first step is to select a wood species resistant to decay and insects, and one that can withstand UV degradation from the sun. In our marine subtropical environment, western red cedar, mahogany, cypress, exotic hardwoods and pressure-treated woods are the best choice. If possible, wood should remain dry and experience minimal exposure to prolonged wetting cycles to avoid decay.

For most of us, this is inescapable, and that’s why wood protection is crucial to the long-term beauty of your home or deck.

Wood Protection Options

One approach for wood protection is to apply film forming, semi- or non-penetrating solvent and water-based formulas, which provide barrier-style protection. Many believe the thicker the film, the better the protection and longer lasting maintenance cycles. But, this comes at a cost.

The challenge is that when you use a non-penetrating, water-based product or a high solids solvent- based product, you build a film on wood that darkens it, degrades clarity, and then becomes thicker with maintenance.

This, in turn, traps moisture, reducing breathability and can eventually result in peeling and blistering. Often, these types of coatings can even cause wood decay due to increased moisture content, which gets trapped during the wet seasons under the very product meant to protect the wood.

Today, you can opt for low-VOC water-borne, alkyd stains that penetrate wood rather than just sit on the surface. While superficial products will often peel and be difficult to maintain down the road, water-borne penetrating finishes wear more gracefully because they soak into the wood.

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The goal is to keep the wood breathable. As you apply maintenance coats over the years to sustain beauty, clarity and protection, you don’t want to excessively increase the thickness of the finish and trap moisture.

If you are in the midst of planning or building with wood, when possible the design may consider overhangs to protect the wood from moisture. Wood will endure any exposure but the treatment, species and dimension of wood should be carefully selected to provide a stable and sound surface that lasts for generations. 

Marine Decks

Teak is often used for furniture and in marine environments because of its stability in wet conditions and resistance to decay and traffic. Yet, teak decks on boats or yachts must withstand lots of moisture, traffic, dirt and are susceptible to algae and mould.

Some owners resort to bleach in order to keep teak looking clean and mould free; however, this type of treatment erodes the wood and will shorten the life of the deck.

For marine decks, we recommend using Teak Life treatment, which keeps teak cleaner, requires less washing and ultimately extends the deck’s life. Teak Life is an inorganic, water-diffusible treatment that uses boric acid—a natural decay inhibitor—to fight fungi and insect infestations.

With Teak Life, the natural moisture of the wood itself carries the boric acid into the wood fibres to saturate and protect any wet areas. Teak Life loads the wood with decay-fighting ingredients, migrating deep into wood.

For marine decks, you could use this alone, or use a surface coating that seals active borate ingredients into the wood.

Steps to Long-Lasting Wood Protection

When finishing wood, remember that preparation is the key to success. Clean the wood surface by pressure washing, being careful not to damage the surface by getting too close. Sand decks thoroughly with 60-80 grit sandpaper.

It’s always good to test your wood finish on a piece of similar wood before starting your project. And, wait for a day that is dry and overcast, if possible. When looking for your desired finish, we recommend an initial coat of a deep penetrating water-borne stain for protection from within, and then a satiny, glossier top coat to protect against harmful UV rays, scraping and abrasion that can happen on decks and other horizontal surfaces.

Selecting a color is important when considering exterior maintenance as the pigment loading will affect the performance of the coating.

The more pigment, the longer it will last, as good quality pigments provide excellent UV protection. However, wood has a very attractive and distinctive character that most homeowners wish to retain and not hide. You can find clear or nearly clear coatings to maintain clarity and enhance UV protection, even in a clearer coating.

Once you have your finish ordered and ready, don’t forget to stir the product well. If you are working on a large surface, only apply finish a few feet at a time so you can work with a manageable area of wet stain. Finally, apply a good, heavy, wet coat, especially for the first coat.

There are coverage calculators online to help you determine how much stain to buy or refer to the product can, which should recommend the optimal thickness.

The good news is that today, consumers can find greener choices in wood stains, while gaining in the ease of application, durability and beauty. The low-VOC, water-borne alkyd stains are far easier to maintain, as these coatings will tend to wear or erode gradually rather than peel. Wood is an amazing material that we should utilize more often. Wood is strong, ecologically responsible and creates unparalleled atmosphere.

With planning, preparation and reasonable maintenance, your wood deck, home or furniture should remain a sustainable surface for years of enjoyment.

Erin Paviour-Smith

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