How to Stain and Varnish

lake oswego boat co.
Guest post by Mike Mayer of Lake Oswego Boat Co.

“Here’s how I do it, thanks for asking”… This was a section in Classic Boating written by Don Danenberg years ago and my dad and I used to always say that before a conversation. We thought it was funny…


Once all of the woodwork is done, or if you are just stripping for a re-stain, you need to make sure the hull is perfectly fair and that there are no cross grain scratches.

If I am fairing a newly planked boat I may start with 36G on a grinder to fair the hull. Once the hull is rough faired I move on to a smaller random orbital sander (RO) starting with 40G and working up to 100G. Once I get to 100G on the RO I go back to 60G with a long board or some other device to sand with the grain, by hand. Be careful not to sand sideways or sand into the coverboards or any other opposing grain. I sand all the way to 100G and then stop. Some guys go higher but I don’t. The stain and varnish need some “tooth” to bite into. Plus, by the time I’ve gone this far I’m tired of sanding!

Once you are done… or THINK you are done, it is a good idea to wipe the boat with Methanol. Methanol will show the grain and any cross grain scratch without raising the grain. Plus it evaporates quickly so you can keep moving along.

Be careful not to “re-sand” one specific area for too long because this will show at the end. If you have scratches in one small 4” area… sand that but then stretch it out to 16”-24” until it is all blended together.

I always re sand the whole boat once all the cross grain scratches are gone with 100G. It is so important to make sure that the last time you sand you have sanded the entire boat, not just a section.

If you should find some minor scratches while you are staining you can actually sand them out while the stain is wet. Keep some good paper handy and just sand it out. Re-stain, move on and pretend it never even happened. No one will know and it will blend. If you were using filler stain you will not enjoy this luxury. Trust me!


Apply the stain right out of the can. No mixing or thinning required. If you have purchased more than one can of the same color for the same project it’s a good idea to mix both cans together so you are assured the same exact color throughout. I mix these by hand so there is potential for slight differences between batches. It may be easier to transfer the stain to a less deep container with a larger opening. I use a Tupperware container.

If your decks are two-tone it is best to do the larger space first, seal it and then tape it off to do the smaller area. For dark cover boards I first stain them red and then go over the red with the dark cover board stain. Make sure the red is dry before going over with the dark color. Once the dark coat is dry it is OK to seal.

  1. Apply stain with a white T-shirt rag. Apply in a circular motion. Remove the same way… I use two rags for removal. A first pass rag and then a final pass rag when I’m done. When applying I “Scrub” the stain into the grain. It’s important to fill all of the grain. (In full disclosure… I actually use a chip brush to apply. It uses more stain but it’s easier on my finger tips)
  2. Removal. Removing the stain is important but not nearly as difficult as it is with filler stain. It is always good to be consistent with the process. The same person should apply consistently the whole time and if you have a helper they should remove stain in the same way. Eventually the “first pass” rag becomes saturated so promote the “second pass” rag to first position and get a clean one for final wipe. When you are done wipe the whole boat with a clean rag, with the grain.
  3. Let the stain dry for at least 24 hours. You do NOT want to seal stain that isn’t fully dried. Longer is better. Especially in cooler or higher humidity
  4. DO NOT PILE THE RAGS!!! When you are done open them up on the shop floor or take them outside and open them up to dry. This stain is not very combustible but we don’t take any chances with this.


There are many different ways to do this… ask five restorers and you will get five answers. Maybe six… you can seal with sealer, CPES or thin the varnish you will be using. There are probably more theories but these are the most common.

  1. I am an Epifanes guy. I seal with Epifanes Wood Finish Gloss and I thin it according to the can for application over bare wood. I put two coats on, quickly, right over each other. I do the deck first…start at starboard bow and work back and around. Then I do it again. I then start at the starboard bow and hit the sides. I go around the boat twice. I use a 4” chip brush because I’m cheap. And yes… I spend some time pulling bristles out. But they come out the next day and after a few coats of varnish you’re fine. You will never know they were there.
  2. Varnish – My first coat of varnish is thinned as instructed on the can. Again, I am using Epifanes WF Gloss for all of my build coats. I apply varnish with a foam roller and a foam brush, employing the “roll and tipl” method. I have found that the Epifanes rollers and tray work best. I use Red Tree foam brushes. I usually go through two or three brushes per coat. One roller is fine for one coat but multiple brushes are usually necessary because they “load” with varnish. As odd as it seems, I used to use Home Depot rollers but something changed and I was getting bubbles and all sorts of stuff I couldn’t control. I spoke with Epifanes tech assist and he told me to try the Epifanes roller and tray. I tried their roller and I had better but not perfect results. I called back and he asked if I was using their tray. I thought he was crazy but I started using their tray and it is definitely an improvement.
  3. More Varnish. I started using Epi WF Gloss because you don’t have to sand between coats if you re-coat within 72 hours. I put on 4-5 coats and then sand with a random orbital sander and 220G. Be careful… 4-5 coats isn’t that much and you can sand through easily.
  4. After sanding I vacuum and wipe the boat down. I use blue shop towels and Windex for this. You can use thinner or whatever you want to get the residual dust off`. This works for me…it’s cheap and does the job and it doesn’t stink. These build coats are important but not critical. A little dust in the 6th coat is not a big deal.
  5. Build coats. All of these build coats are just dress rehearsals for the money coat(s). Practice your technique now so when it’s show time you are comfortable with the process.
  6. Final coats. I stop with Wood Finish at about 10 coats and then start with wiring, installing fuel tank, motor, floorboards, seam compound etc. Once I’m done climbing in and out and ready for final coats I sand again with the RO and 320G
  7. Final coats. I use Epifanes Clear Varnish for my final coats. This is compatible with the Wood Finish but does require sanding between coats. This is when I start wet sanding and try to get the finish perfectly smooth.


At the end of the day….have fun with this.

In the worst case scenario you will have to sand off all of your hard work and start over. But that won’t happen.

If you have questions give me a call.

Thanks again! 

Mike Mayer of Lake Oswego Boat Co.

1948 Century Seamaid Bottom Disaster Update

Oh my lord! Some weeks back I shared our first two-boat intake video – two iconic, super rare 1948 18’ Century Seamaids, Winnie and Songbird.

After receiving ten coats of Pettit Flagship Varnish and then being sanded absolutely flat using 500 grit, Winnie will go to Joanie Alden’s lettering shop, Vital Signs and Silk Painting, in Colchester, VT for her transom and registration lettering. 

All is good with Winnie, so much so that she might even be home for Thanksgiving.

Would that we can be equally excited for Songbird, who we flipped yesterday and began releasing bottom planks today.

Before us is a truly sad, sad antique runabout, one that is incredibly rare and truly iconic. I apologize for my rude language, but, as the clip chronicles, she has been raped in every way a wooden hull can be assaulted.

Folks! Automotive products have their place and can produce magical results …. On cars and trucks, NOT, NOT, NOT on boats of any sort, wooden, fiberglass, steel, aluminum or even Titanium.

And the worst of the worst other than cheap, Chinese engine parts – automotive fuel pumps, solenoids, oil filters and on and on – is BONDO!

Sure, some hack going the cheap route might get away with a little “repairing rot” using automotive Bondo for a little while. 

However, automotive Bondo absorbs and retains moisture. Use it in place of a marine filler or fairing compound like 3M Marine Premium Filler, and all you are “achieving” is sounding the death knell of your wooden boat.

OK, what do I know? I’m not sure, but I have eyes. You have eyes. Pay attention to the destruction that using cantaloupe-sized gobs of Bondo has visited on this poor hull. 

The Bondo plus gallons and gallons of leaking oil has created a perfect storm for destroying virtually every piece of structural wood from the waterline down to and including the keel.

The Bondo’s most aggressive destruction has occurred in the stem, gripe and keel where some complete buffoon thought she/he could glob in huge gobs of Bondo in place of wood.

Pay attention! In an earlier clip, I wondered at the line of about 7/16”-diameter circles along the stem that secured the screws driven through the cutwater. Hello?

After shooting the video, where we again wondered about these plugs again, Joe and I went at one of them with an awl. You got it …. Bondo! In fact, vast areas of the stem and what is left of the forward ends of the topside planks – particularly on starboard – are nothing but Bondo that is surrounded by rotting wood.

Can we save her? Yes. Just think of what we call our skeleton project, the 1950 18’ RIV that arrived in pieces, but now is sporting an almost-finished True 5200 bottom.

Yes, we can save her, but, other than the bilge stringers, virtually all the framing and planking below the waterline must be replaced. It looks to us now that the stem, gripe and keel must be replaced along with the transom framing at and below the waterline. 

However, working on the stem requires that all of the topside planks’ forward extremities, at least back to the third or fourth hullside frame must be released. Releasing them means stripping varnish to bare wood.

But we also face the reality that most of the hullside frames’ lower extremities are rotted and floating, which is in part the result of some fool “sistering” the knees with random chunks of hard and soft wood, all of which is now oil-sodden and no longer attached to anything.

My final lament. Folks!!!!!! DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER use anything but silicon bronze, Forstner, flathead screws in a wooden hull! This bottom was “fastened” with a random mixture of sheet rock, stainless, common steel, and, yes, a few original brass screws here and there.Thank God Don Danenberg just published what I consider to be the seminal article on repairing below-waterline framing in the November/December issue of Classic Boating, which I have scanned and printed, and insisted that I, Joe and Rick digest completely. Several copies are in the shop, and I’ll like be reaching out to Don as we try to save Songbird.

1948 Century Seamaid Bleaching

1948 century seamaid bleaching

Winnie has been stripped and sanded fair, following Joe’s execution of a few Dutchman repairs and replacing a few loose bungs.

The hull is in excellent condition with nary any loose or broken screws.

Winnie is now enduring some aggressive bleaching using Daley’s A&B Bleach mixed at a ratio of 3B:1A. Joe began applying bleach early this morning and will continue reapplying it throughout the day, with a goal of keeping the wood soaking wet. After sitting overnight, her blonde inner self hull will begin emerging. She will be near snow white by the time her moisture content reaches about twelve percent.

Since now rinsing is required after applying Daly’s, we will next lightly scuff sand the hull using medium Scotch Brite pads. (Do not reach for sandpaper as sanding risks going through what is a very thin layer of bleached wood.)

Once she is scuffed and vacuumed, we will begin what will be a challenging staining process using Lake Oswego Boat Co. J’eld stain.

We will stain and seal (CPES) the blonde sections of the “torpedo” first to protect them from the dark stain we will use on the balance of the decks. The topsides and transom will be stained to match the decks.

1956 Chris Craft Capri Bleach & Stain Milestone

1956 chris craft capri bleach stain

Our 1956 Chris-Craft Capri Runabout blew past a major milestone today. Her decks and gunwales been sanded fair, Joe has replaced rotted perimeter wood along the margins of her cockpit, bleached with Daly’s A & B Wood Bleach, and stained using Lake Oswego Boat Co. J’eld stain – Post-War Chris-Craft

Next she will be sealed with multiple coats of Smith’s CPES, followed by scuff sanding using medium Scotch Brite pads, clean the entire surface with Acetone-dampened shop towels and begin applying Pettit Flagship High-Build varnish.

The blonde king plank will not be stained as we continue following the original Chris-Craft practice of simple varnishing it with an amber varnish, which will impart a honey-blonde hue.

After applying about 15 coats, and because they will be painted white, we will fill the deck seams using mahogany Sikaflex, paint them white using Interlux Boottop and Striping Enamel and then apply the final five or so coats using Pettit Z-Spar Captain’s Ultra Clear varnish, thereby adding UV protection to the paint.

Rather than type out all the materials’ names and source links correctly each time, you can find a comprehensive roster by clicking here.

1947 Chris Craft U22 Satin Seal Milestone

1947 chris craft U22 satin seal varnish

Our 1947 Chris-Craft cedar-planked U22 blew past a major milestone today. Her deck, gunwales and transom have been sanded fair, stained with Lake Oswego Boat Co. J’eld stain – Post-War Chris-Craft, and sealed with multiple coats of Smith’s CPES.

Next we will scuff sand these surfaces using medium Scotch Brite pads, clean them with Acetone-dampened shop towels and begin applying Pettit Flagship High-Build varnish.

After applying about 15 coats, and because they will be painted white, we will fill the deck seams using mahogany Sikaflex, paint them white Interlux Boottop and Striping Enamel and then apply the final five or so coats using Pettit Z-Spar Captain’s Ultra Clear varnish, thereby adding UV protection to the paint.

Rather than type out all the materials’ names and source links correctly each time, you can find a comprehensive roster in one place.

1956 Chris Craft Capri Deck Preservation Progress

1956 chris craft capri deck preservation

Our 1956 19’ Chris-Craft Capri Runabout is upright again! Joe has focused on repairing damaged deck and engine hatch framing, after which he fabricated the new deck planking made necessary by the previous “restorer’s” butchery.

Happily, Joe resawed a 5/4 FAS grade Philippine mahogany plank that was long and wide enough to saw out and replace all the offending deck and hatch planks. The result is book-matched planking from bow to transom.

Several of the retained foredeck planks’ edges had been severely beaten up by the previous folks, so he fashioned 1/8” thick strips, which he wrapped in wax paper and inserted into the seams temporarily. Using TotalBoat ThixoWood from Jamestown, he was able to fill the gouges and leave a dead straight knife edge behind.

He is now having way too much fun sanding the decks, covering boards and engine hatch fair, after which we will bleach with Daly’s A & B Wood Bleach and stain using Loboat J’eld stain – Chris-Craft Post War.

Four full coats of CPES will be followed by launching varnishing, which will continue until we’ve built 20+ coats.

Can’t wait…

Oh, rather than type out all the materials’ names and source links correctly each time, you can find a comprehensive roster in by clicking here.

1959 Lyman Hull Stripping Project Update

1959 lyman hull stripping

Having emptied her innards and flipped her, we are hard at removing decades of paint, some sort of Bondo-like material, West epoxy and more from our 1959 16.5’ Lyman runabout hull’s exterior. The image is anything but pretty, as you should have noticed by the thumbnail at the front end of this clip.

Much of what is on the hull is over 3/16” thick with some sort of West Epoxy layers between layers of paint. As of shooting this clip, we have consumed six gallons of industrial paint stripper. She is severely hogged. Her failed keel, keelson and multiple ribs must be replaced. Multiple strakes’ aft tails are rotted through and through. Her keel is gone and must be replaced. The spray rails are gone, having been poorly repaired and partially replaced at some time. Her strakes are fastened with an array of screws and clench nails.

We will aim at de-hogging her, if that is a word, and repairing/replacing much more. In my world, this little runabout is among Lyman’s most iconic family models. We must save her, but the hill we must climb doing so will be steep and long.

1956 Chris Craft Capri Bleach Stain Milestone

1956 chris craft capri bleaching staining

What a great milestone to have disappearing in our wake.

Once the wood dried down to 5%-10% moisture content, which required applying Dalys A & B Wood Bleach, mixed 3B:2A, twice, the uniformity we sought was achieved.

Now that we have scuff-sanded the entire surface with medium grit Scotch Brite pads, it is time for bleaching her with Mike Mayer’s Lake Oswego Boat Co. Post-War Chris-Craft J’eld stain.

We are now standardized on J’eld stain, whether it is sourced directly from Wood Kote, or most often from Mike. The advantage of using Mike’s products is that he offers a wide array of stains formulated to match original company stains exactly.

Why J’eld stain? Here is the link to the video shot at the Snake Mountain Boatworks’ J’eld stain workshop.

We just might have applied some varnish by week’s end!

1956 Chris Craft Capri Bleaching

1956 chris craft capri bleaching

It’s bleaching, well, bleaching-over-two-days, for our 1956 19’ Chris Craft Capri Runabout. Joe has been applying Dalys A & B Bleach, mixed 3:1, B:A for about 2+ hours when the first half of the clip was shot on May 28, 2020. That clip promises a follow-up view of snow white topsides and transom today, May 29, 2020.

While much of the wood, which is still 35% moisture content on the gauge this morning, is quite white, and will get even whiter as it dries, the fact that there are so many replaced planks, each of which is a different species of mahogany, we failed to achieve our desired uniformity. Anthony has attacked the topsides again, and he will keep apply the 3B:1A bleach mix for the next several hours. Then we will allow it to dry down to 10% or so before we scuff it with medium Scotch Brite pads, vacuum it thoroughly and begin staining it.

Our stain of choice, and it will be yours as well once you try it, is J’eld stain from the Lake Oswego Boat Co. Mike Mayer offers this incredibly easy-to-apply, easy-to-get-to-uniformity stain in quarts. We will use Chris-Craft Post War.

More on its way to you shortly…..

1956 Chris Craft Capri Dutchman Rot Repair Milestone

1956 chris craft capri dutchman rot repair

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Credit for this excellent Dutchman repair of the 1956 19’ Chris-Craft Capri’s bullnose goes happily and totally to Joe.

The fix is in and the glue is curing. Tomorrow he can execute the final sanding in after he’s addressed the tiniest of voids with his no not-so-secret sauce: TotalBoat Thixo Wood 2:1 Epoxy can be stained!

Joe will mix up a batch using the same Jel’d stain we will use on the hull and pay it. Once it’s cured and sanded, the seam will disappear.

Next comes replacing the failed battens, one of which must be steamed. There we will use a method for steaming in a plastic bag we learned by watching shipwright Louis Sauzedde do it. Such a simple solution! You should not miss watching him.

With the battens and planks repaired, one of which will receive another Dutchman from the hands and mind of Joe, they will be installed and sanded fair, and it will be time to bleach. Her topsides will be stained, sealed and varnish will begin soon!

Nice milestone, Joe!