Exterior Wood Finish test

I began a test several months ago between two different finishes, Z-Spar Captains 1015 and Minwax Helmsman. I posted it on the Lyman Facebook page and it seemed well received. It was then that I was informed that Practical Sailor magazine in the September, 2011 issue printed the results of a 2 year test that they had completed. Their test involved 54 different products, including 1 part varnishes, 2 part systems, synthetics/varnish alternatives and Teak Oils and sealers. Initial ratings at 6 months, 1 year, and the final 2 year rating. The test samples were exposed on a rooftop in Florida.

The test was designed as an endurance test, so no maintenance coats or touch ups were applied. The products can be expected to have a much longer lifespan if regularly maintained. They rated each panel on three performance criteria. Coating integrity, gloss retention and color retention. If a product had a fair- or poor rating at the 1 year inspection they were pulled from the test.

With the exception of a few two part products, the test coatings had lost their sparkle at the 2- year mark. Ratings slipped across the board. The UV abuse had taken its toll. Those clinging to life were still protecting the wood but had lost their looks and all were due for a maintenance coat. The one part varnishes offering the most protection after 2 years were Detco Crystal, Le Tonkinois Vernis and Pettit’s Z’Spar Captain 2067. One hardware store varnish surprisingly held its own, Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane. None of the varnish alternatives survived the 2 year test. The 2 part products that held up the best were Interlux Perfection and Cetol Marine Light, both finishing with ratings slightly above the one part varnishes.

A good conclusion is that there is no “Holy Grail” of finishes. Product cost, ease of application, expected exposure over the years, and other considerations all factor in. A boater with months of exposure during the year has much more concern than does the boater whose craft is garage kept. I tried to minimize listing any products as the most favorable, as a product that some of you readers have been using may not have been tested. If you Google “Practical Sailor Magazine” you will be able read the entire article and test results, as the above is just a brief summary of the September 2011 article. It is well worth reading and “Hats Off” to Practical Sailor for the time and effort spent.

The real surprise to me was the Hardware Store products. The Ace Hardware Spar Varnish was the least expensive product tested and survived the 2 year test with respectable results. Right with it was the Minwax Helmsman at a couple of dollars more in cost but still surviving, with even slightly better results.

Sherman (Skip) Langell