Stripped for action

Dave Storch, of Long Beach, California, asks:

“The former owner of my Ericson 39 installed a teak cabin sole with grooves for holly strips. The strips were never installed, and the sole was never sealed or finished. It remains unfinished, but now has a number of stains in the teak, including engine oil that escaped when the engine was removed to replace the transmission. Can I remove those stains and then install the holly strips? And what do you recommend for a finish on the restored sole?”

Don Casey replies:

Unfortunately, oily liquids that penetrate wood are hard to remove. Start with a strong liquid laundry detergent and boost its effectiveness by adding some TSP (trisodium phosphate), which you can get at any hardware store. TSP helps release and emulsify the oil. You might also try a petroleum solvent, such as kerosene or even acetone. While a soft brush helps clean the grain, a cloth or sponge will be easier on the wood.

When you’ve done the best you can, you can bleach the wood with oxalic-acid crystals that have been dissolved in warm water. The oxalic acid won’t remove the oil, but should eliminate the remaining stains. Once the teak surface is clean and has a uniform color, you can proceed with the holly installation.

Bond the holly into the grooves with a waterproof adhesive; epoxy is a popular choice. Any adhesive that squeezes out of the grooves onto the teak, especially epoxy, will seal the teak and ruin the sole’s uniform finish. To keep this from happening, you want to first seal all the teak surfaces outside the grooves. If you plan to varnish the sole, give the teak two or three coats before installing the holly strips. You can also pre-varnish the tops of the strips. After the varnish dries, any epoxy that comes out of the grooves can be wiped away with an acetone-dampened rag without affecting the appearance of the finished sole.

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