Boat Maintenance Boat Project

Re-Caulking Teak Decks

Monday, December 12, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

Since we’ll be putting Cambria on the market soon, I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of the work we’ve done over the years in a series of blog posts. The first one covered stripping the anti-foul off the hull, down to the gelcoat, and building it back up and can be read here.

When we bought Cambria in October of 2003, she was only five years old but already showing signs of wear on the the teak decks. Sun and weather had damaged the black caulking, breaking it down to a tar-like substance in some places and a chalky-powder in others. It needed to be replaced and, because David was working at the time, I was in charge of the project (or at least all of the grunt work).

Removing the caulking was the most logical place to start but left us with a very important question: What tool do we use?

Choosing the Right Tool

Finding the right tool for a job can be the difference between success and failure. And while I was successful in the end, we may not have chosen the most efficient tool. Here are some of the options we considered:

  • A razor knife to cut free the sides of the seams from the caulking.
  • A reefing hook to removes the caulk after the sides had been freed with the knife.
  • A router to remove the caulking and and to re-cut the grooves, an option strongly advised against by a friend who was a master wood-craftsman.
  • A ¼-inch chisel to free the sides and bottom of the caulk before removing it.
  • A Fein Multimaster with 3mm blade (or equivalent Dremel Multi-Max).
The Fein Multimaster probably would have been the best choice overall, but we weren’t familiar with the tool at the time and, in the end, chose the chisel. The reefing hook is a more popular alternative but requires a pulling motion to remove the caulk. The chisel, on the other hand, involves pushing which results in better control and less damage to the wood. 

Removing the Caulking

With our tool chosen, it was time to get to work. It was a difficult task that required hours of sitting in awkward positions along the deck to provide just the right amount of leverage as I used the chisel to break the caulking free from the sides and then from the bottom of the groove one inch at a time. It took a lot of hand control to keep from damaging the teak, so it was only possible to work a couple hours at a time. I found the best days to work were sunny, warm ones because it took less effort to remove the caulking. This means I wasn’t able to work all day or even every day and, with more than 1200 inches of caulk to remove, the process took a year and a half . . . and 400+ man hours.

Prepping the Surface

All jobs start with research and, from the best of our knowledge, Cambria’s decks were caulked with Sikaflex 290DC Deck Caulk Sealant, the product predominately used in Europe at the time. So, David corresponded with the Sika representative and worked with him to make sure the job was done right.

For the best result, the surface had to be clean and free from moisture, oil and dust. Each groove had to be sanded, by hand, to remove any residual caulk and/or debris. We used 100-grit paper and a ¼-inch thick piece steel for a sanding block. Once the sanding was completed, we vacuumed up the dust. David then cleaned the grooves with with acetone and treated them with Sikaflex 290 DC Primer. When the primer had dried, he applied bond breaking tape to the bottom of the groove.

Installing the Caulking

With the surface prepped according to Sika’s instructions, it was time to tape off the deck. We split the boat in six sections – starboard inside, starboard outside, port inside, port outside, bow and stern – so we would still have access around the boat. For application, the weather had to be just right as too much heat or direct sunlight can bring bubbles to the surface. Sika recommends the wood temperature to be between 60°F and 77°F, so we chose our days carefully opting for overcast skies with a low probability of rain. 

The installation spanned six days. David and I worked together as he applied the caulk and I trowelled off the excess, pulling the tape off before the Sika had time to skin over. After allowing the caulk to cure several days (at least 48 hours), David lightly sanded the decks to remove the excess. 

It was a messy, time-consuming job that required a lot of hard work (especially the caulk removal), but we think the results speak for themselves. 

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  1. Teak decks are lovely to look at, but I'm really glad we don't have them. Way too much work :-)

    1. I know what you mean. They were on our list of things we didn't want on a boat and yet we ended up with them . . . twice!

  2. The results ARE really lovely. I always figured what it would take for me to recaulk a teak deak was an unlimited checking account to pay someone else to do it. That's a LOT of work. But sure is pretty!

    1. It was one of those "it won't be so bad" kind of jobs. But after the first day of removing the caulk, I knew I was in for the long-haul. I think normal people probably could have done it faster with a similar result, but we're both perfectionists and everything takes us four times longer -- it can be exhausting.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Lucy. It also feels really nice on bare feet!

  4. Now that is a big boat project! I'm with Ellen on the subject of teak decks, though. That being said, if we would be in the market of a well-taken care of monohull, we would make an offer for yours, no doubt. You are the perfect boat owners for potential buyers!

    1. That's a huge complement. Thank you, Liesbet.

  5. Great Article and photos. The finished product looks great. I was looking for a similar article about a year ago but couldn't find anything recent with nice photos.