Laying Teak Decking
Written by Mark Corke
15 January 2009

Opinion seems to be divided on whether teak decks on a boat are good or bad. Personally I love them providing they are properly laid and maintained. I’ll be discussing looking after teak in a later posting but for today I wanted to go through the steps for a correctly laid teak deck, what’s involved and how to go about it. The step-by-step photos below refer to a teak overlay on a fiberglass or wooden deck. On a more traditional craft where the teak deck forms a integral and structural part of the craft the final result will look similar to the eye but the installation methods are very different to those described here and will form part of a later article.

There is no doubt about it that this project is pretty advanced so before going ahead and trying to undertake a huge project like the complete boat deck start with a small panel that you can use as a hatch cover, cockpit sole or whatever. Starting small means that you will build skills and confidence, you won’t be overwhelmed with the scale and complexity and you can expect to be finished in a reasonable time frame.

The first step is to fully prepare the substrate to accept the teak strip. For the purposes of this article I am using an engine box cover, which is marine plywood, coated with non-skid paint.

1. Grind off any existing non-skid using a sander with a coarse grit paper. I used 36 grit, which is fast but makes plenty of dust so wear a mask and goggles. Keep the sander moving so as not to make ridges in the surface. Use a light touch stopping often to sweep away the dust and check on progress. Run your fingers over the surface to check for hollows and lumps. If your boat has a diamond tread moulded into the fiberglass you need to completely sand that off until the surface is smooth.

2. Move onto a belt or random orbit sander with a 120 grit to flatten down and blend in the inevitable humps and hollows left from the more aggressive grinder. If you took off a little too much with the grinder fill these with a mixture of epoxy and fairing compound and when set sand some more.

3. A detail sander will reach easily into any internal corners. Keep the work area clean and vacuum up any dust on the surface.

4. Cut the strips for the decking. If you do not have access to machinery then ask a friend or see if the lumber yard can do this for you. Click on the image to enlarge it if that helps you to see it more clearly. You will see that I am cutting my strips from a large plank with the gain of the wood running from side to side. With the thin strips sliced off the side the grain will be vertical when they are laid. The orientation of the grain is important, vertical grain gives a more consistent color and the wear characteristics are better.

I have found through experience that strips about a quarter thick by one and three quarters wide are ideal for most applications. You do not need to make them any thicker but you could alter the width a bit to suit your preference. Cutting them on a band saw with a wide blade produces less sawdust that a circular saw and less material is wasted.

5. With the strips cut lay them out for trial run on the deck. Adjust the spacing between the planks so that they are consistent. If they tend to move around use some pricks wrapped in plastic to weigh them down and prevent them from moving. I aim to try for a gap between each plank of about 3/16th to ¼ inch. Make some spacers from scraps of wood so you don’t have to measure each time.

6. Cut strips to length as necessary using a fine toothed saw. I find the Japanese shark style saw ideal. I like to have a border around any hatch covers so miter the corners, then when all the parts have been cut have another trial run. Make any adjustments now, when everything is coated with epoxy is not the time to do it. When you are happy with the layout mark each strip so that you can replace them in the correct position after you have applied the adhesive.

7. Mix up some epoxy and coat the hatch cover using a plastic spreader. I should be wearing gloves in this photo but I was trying to take the picture at the same time so that is my excuse. Keep epoxy off your hands.

8. Mix up so more epoxy and add a little colloidal silica to stiffen it until it resembles a mayonnaise consistency then using a brush spread on a liberal coat to the back of each strip using a brush.

9. Lay the strips back into their correct positions and hold them in place either using bricks wrapped in plastic or you can do what I do and use an air powered stapler. Staple through some scraps of wood or bits of gallon milk containers so that you will be able to pull the staples later, this also prevents the staples from crushing the surface of the decking strips. As you staple constantly check the spacing of the strips with your spacers that you made from scraps.

I have found that plastic tile spacers from the home store work great as temporary spacers. They come in a variety of widths and because they are made of polythene will not stick to epoxy so can be used over and over. Leave them in place until the epoxy sets then simply ping them out.

10. After leaving the epoxy to set overnight remove all the staples, spacers and weights. Be methodical, a staple puller will pull out all the staples easily but if any should break pull them out with a pair of pliers.

11. Give the surface a very light sanding with 120 grit, all you are doing at this stage is to knock off any bits of epoxy that might prevent you from squirting in the seam compound neatly. You will be sanding up the completed deck more fully later, we don’t want to remove any more teak than we have to. Brush in some of the special primer for the seam compound. This may or may not be necessary depending on which deck caulking you use. I prefer the Sikaflex products but the 290DC can be hard to come by in the USA but is readily available in Europe. The Boatlife products are equally good you can find out more about them by clicking here.

12. Sika suggests using what is known as bond breaker tape to the bottom of the groove. The idea is that this prevents the polysulphide compound from adhering to the bottom, makes it easier to remove later is needs be and allows for better expansion and contraction characteristics. Frankly I have done decks without this tape and they are all still fine so the choice is yours but if in doubt talk to the manufacturer.

13. Next up tape the edges of the seams with masking tape, which helps with clean up later. You need to remove this before the caulk sets up. The optimum time to do this will depend on the ambient temperature but the caulk should be just touch dry but not completely set. A bit of trial and error may be in order here, you’ll soon get the hang of it and find the right time to pull the tape.

14. Put a cartridge into a cartridge gun and after cutting off the tip at a slight angle work slowly and steadily forcing the black goop into the seams. Don’t mess with it but aim for a neat bead, which is slightly proud of the deck surface.

After allowing the seam compound to set up overnight use a window scraper with a sharp razor blade to trim off the excess. Keep the tool at a shallow angle and at a slight angle to the direction of the seam so that it cuts with a shearing action.

15. Use a random orbit sander with 120 grit paper to sand down the deck. Keep the sander moving to avoid ridges. The sander contrary to what you might expect makes a perfect job of sanding both the teak and the compound perfectly flat. This is very dusty work so either do it outside or connect a vacuum to the sander if you can.

16. With the sanding complete and the deck smooth no further treatment is required and your deck should now be ready to go back into service, congratulations.