E32-3: Brightwork, Remove the Handrails?


E32-3 / San Francisco
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Thankfully the E32-3 only has a few pieces of exterior wood to maintain. I'm working on the stern rail successfully in place and now as my attention is turning towards the handrails, I'm wondering if I should remove them to better finish the entire pieces of wood (underside and all). I searched for a couple threads and found:

I'm leaning towards not removing them.

  • It's difficult. There's a lot of bonding agent under the attachment points, even after removing the screws.
  • I don't see any signs of moisture on the interior headliner near the attachment points of the handrails
  • I think I can finagle enough sanding and varnishing to keep them in good shape. For sure on top, and enough underneath to at least seal the wood from water and other non-UV damage
The proposed process:
  1. Remove the screws. Some of the heads are protruding above the wood's surface enough to interrupt sanding.
  2. Tape tape tape. Tape all around the fiberglass and in the pockets underneath to avoid damage and dripping varnish.
  3. Sand the top and sides very well, removing all the gray.
  4. Sand the undersides with curled pieces of sandpaper enough so they will accept varnish.
  5. Clean with teak cleaner.
  6. Varnish the tops using standard techniques.
  7. Varnish the undersides as best I can with a short handled small brush or even <gasp> a sponge. Whatever I can get the varnish on with. I expect this will be difficult.
  8. Sand, varnish, repeat multiple times until I have a nice smooth surface.
  9. Coat the self-taping screws in silicon before re-inserting
Does this sound reasonable? Suggestions, thoughts?

Kenneth K

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
I'm in the same boat (hah)....facing refinishing my stern and grab rails for the first time since owning the boat--mine are finished in Cetol.

From what I've read, and similar to this reply from Maine Sail in the post you listed above,

"Moisture gets in from open unsealed area of the wood and can "lift" the finish sooner if not sealed well.."

Apparently, Cetol breathes and lets moisture escape.. Maybe one of the reasons it outlasts varnish. I'm going to redo with Cetol, though like almost everyone else, I think new varnish is a better look.

I'm going to attempt sanding all while in place.
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1990 Ericson 28
I refinished the handrails on Danu last year during the early days of pandemic. I left the rails in place, cleaned with teak cleaner and plastic brushes/bronze wool, lightly sanded, cleaned with a tack cloth, and then applied four coats of Cetol using a brush and foam applicators. Copious amounts of painters tape and plastic were used throughout the process.


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Kenneth K

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
I left the rails in place, cleaned with teak cleaner and plastic brushes/bronze wool, lightly sanded, cleaned with a tack cloth, and then applied four coats of Cetol....
That looks great. What grades of bronze wool and sandpaper did you use?


1990 Ericson 28
That looks great. What grades of bronze wool and sandpaper did you use?
I used fine grade bronze wool and relatively soft plastic brushes to do the teak cleaning. When using any teak cleaner follow the manufacturers’ directions, prepare to use lots of water ideally from a hose, and be ready for a mess.

Once the teak was completely dry (24-48 hours) I used 220 grit sand paper (buy the good stuff, sandpaper is one of the products I never buy on the cheap).

After everything is masked off you will find a Cetol application goes relatively quick… but then needs lots of time to dry before the next coat. Do not try to hurry this step - take your time so you have a long lasting, beautiful finish.


Member II
The admiral has one rail off (it came off easily) and one rail on (it might never come off), and both are prepped for finish, but she's still debating which way to go with products. Cetol worked well on the stern rail, and has held up three seasons, but she prefers the smooth, glossy finish to seeing the grain texture. Has anyone tried Awlgrip Awlwood M?
We have new sunbrella covers to protect from UV going forward.


Member II
I'd leave in place. Sand down and use teak cleaner. Teak brightener (Starbrite) is also nice. Sand. Seal (interlux makes a good product). Varnish (4 times minimum; 7 is a good number). Regarding the underside, nothing wrong with a sponge nor foam. Careful with the tape or you'll have adhesive residue.

This months Practical Sailor has a nice write up about varnish.



Advanced Beginner
Blogs Author
Another vote for leave-in-place

I sanded to bare/smooth wood a couple of seasons back, and then oiled them,. since then it's been relatively easy to touch them up at the beginning and end of each season.

Literally takes longer to mask off the places I don't want oil, than it does to apply the oil

And, yes, covers make a HUGE difference in keeping the rails protected and the finish intact.



Sustaining Member
Sand to the finish texture that you want, but don't necessarily sand to get the grey out. Get the grey out with teak cleaner or Barkeeper's Friend.

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
My handrails are pretty gnarled -- deep channels in the grain. I think it's gonna take a lot of material removal to get them smooth again. Anyone else have this that can attest it's saveable? I'd rather not get new handrails made..

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
My handrails are pretty gnarled -- deep channels in the grain. I think it's gonna take a lot of material removal to get them smooth again. Anyone else have this that can attest it's saveable? I'd rather not get new handrails made..
Back about a decade, there was a regular poster here with a 38, in Florida, He provided some pix of the replacements for his teak rails. He had polished SS, oval tubing. The end cutoffs were tapered back, with ss pieces welded in and buffed and polished out. The securing bolts were, IIRC, oval head SS that set pretty much flush with the surface, with the holes dimpled/chamfered.
It looked really Marvelous!


Member II
I've used the Cetol "clear" finish on my handrails etc and prefer the "clear" over the "natural." My experience is that the clear Cetol finish brings out the wood grain better. Now that I'm thinking about this, I may have started with a couple coats of Cetol natural and then finished off with a couple coats of Cetol clear.

Katie Jennings

Junior Member
I'll preface this by saying, my retired brother in law loves to work with wood. So when he came up to visit/help restore our E29 he immediately helped me remove the handrails. In this case the sealant was pretty crap so it made sense. We washed/scrubbed with Starbrite Teak Cleaner (amazing!) and sanded down to bright wood. Coated with a "cocktail" of Daly's Benite Wood Restorer and Daly's Oil. Three to four coats until it seemed like it wasn't soaking in so quickly. Then another 3 coats of just oil, again until it was beading up instead of soaking in. Put the rails back on with Sikaflex and the screws with epoxy. It looks pretty sharp. But, it took two people 5 full days to do this. Jeepers. Good thing I like my brother in law!


E32-3 / San Francisco
I went ahead with the plain ol' varnish route. Left the hand rails in place and taped them off really well after washing and sanding successfully down to 220 grit. Lots of grooves still in the wood, so I thinned the varnish down about 30% to make they all got filled in. Might do second coat the same way.

For the underside, I cut a sliver off a new sponge and used it like a brush. Difficult to see underneath, but feels smooth and covered after a few days drying.


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Member III
A few years ago I harvested a few cherry trees on my property and had them milled. I knew my teak handrails were worn thin and would need replacing so I purposely had a few lengths of 14" roughed out for the rails. The wood is all clear grade. I cut the rails using the old ones as a template and placed the rails over a few saw horses. I placed the horses near the center of the rails and placed weights on the rail ends. over a weeklong period I would wet down the wood. Eventually the rails curved to match the pre-existing bend in the old rails. I then varnished and installed them. I fastened then in the same fashion as original., that is, countersunk, screwed and then put a bung in to fill the hole. While it all worked great, it was still a PITA to sand and finish in place. Not to mention how does one actually varnish the underside? This year I said to heck with it. I removed the rails, took them home, filled the countersink holes with new bungs and applied 5 coats of varnish. I then drilled through the bungs, took the rails to the boat and re-fastened them from the surface using 3" SS screws and finish washers. Now I can simply detach them in the winter and take them home to refinish during the winter. In the spring I simply screw them back on. The appearance is not compromised at all in my opinion. While I was at it I made a new cherry cockpit table as the original was just too small. I use butyl tape from Compass Marine for the bedding.IMG_1732.JPGIMG_1733.JPGIMG_1734 (1).JPG

Kenneth K

Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
After some success on the grab rails (post #17 above) I'm taking on the teak stern trim too. Precious finish was Cetol, which is taking a good sanding to remove.

There is some heavier staining around some of the fittings. Would this be a good candidate for Te-Ka (or other cleaner) or should I just keep sanding?

Seems like the long-term fix is to rebed the fittings and make sure water can't get under the Cetol in the future.



1990 Ericson 28
In my experience a cleaner will remove the dark/blackened stains. I suggest that route first before further sanding.