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Refinishing Wood Rudder


I have a 8 yr old fish with a wood rudder. The rudder is in decent shape but the varnish on the leading edge is wearing off. I was thinking about refinishing the entire rudder but have no clue how to do this project. Does anyone have step by step instructions for a novice repair person? This would be the first time I did a marine refinish project. Also, should you use varnish or some type of epoxy if you were going to refinish a wooden rudder? Thanks..

Fred P

I ordered an unfinished blade and these were the finishing instructions. Works for rudders and daggers. Not simple but works.

Finishing instructions for unfinished mahogany blades

Blades are supplied sanded to 100 grit. This
may seem a little rough, but fear not. To avoid
blotchiness, do not sand any finer before the
following steps.
Use good marine varnish. I have had
excellent results with Interlux products, which are
available from most marine supply stores. Epifanes is
also excellent, maybe even better if you use it right,
but it‚s more expensive, harder to find, and harder to
work with. Do not use the goop sold at hardware
stores, even if it says Œmarine‚ something on the can.
The real cost of the job is the time you put into it.
My time is worth quality materials; yours should be
Use either a good quality badger hair brush
made specifically for varnishing, if you are willing
to take the time to take care of it, or disposable
foam brushes if you aren‚t. The only kind of foam
brush worth using is called the ŒPoly-Brush‚ ˆ it has
a wood handle and a very small-cell gray foam head.
Most Sears hardware stores, marine supply places, and
good paint stores stock these. The same manufacturer
makes another item called a ŒFoam-Brush‚ which has
coarser foam and doesn‚t work very well. The foam
brushes with plastic handles sold in packages at
discount places are WORTHLESS. I can buy a whole case
of foam brushes for the price of one good hair brush,
so that‚s what I use.
Hang the parts from a ceiling, closet pole,
etc., at a comfortable level for you to work at. Try
to do this indoors if at all possible. Dust can be a
pain, but even worse is stuff like wind-blown dirt,
cottonwood fuzzies, and bugs. Wet varnish seems to
have a magnetic attraction for the deerflies and
mosquitoes where I live.
Thin the first coat by at least 50%, using
the manufacturer‚s recommended thinner. Put it on
with the grain, brush it across the grain to work it
into the wood, and then go over it very lightly with
the grain to get rid of brush marks and bubbles.
After first coat is dry, hand sand using 150
grit paper until surface is smooth and all raised
fibers have been removed.
Thin the second and third coats 25%, fourth
coat 10%, subsequent coats only if necessary to brush.
On unfinished wood, eight coats will give you a
pretty decent base, which if not abused will last an
entire season. Use progressively finer sandpaper
after each couple of coats, ending with 320 grit.
Before each season, or if the finish is
damaged, lightly sand and recoat with full-strength
varnish. If cared for, this finish should last for
several years before it will need to be stripped and
Fred P's response is very detailed. In case you like a simple answer, this is how I did my rudder and daggerboard last month.

Day One: Using power sander (the electric type that uses 5" round sanding discs) and 80 grit paper I removed all the old varnish until I had exposed clean, fresh wood. Switched to finer grit paper (150 I think) and smoothed things up a bit. Switched to hand sanding with 320 grit until it all felt smooth. Applied (with brush) one coat of marine spar varnish. Let dry 24 hours.
Day Two: Lightly sand with 320 and more marine spar varnish. Dry 24 hours.
Day Three: One more light sanding with 320 and more varnish. Dry 24 hours.
Day Four: Using steel wool lightly rub down the entire piece with the wool. Clean piece with soft cloth and some thinner. I switched to a foam brush and applied another coat of varnish. Dry 24 hours.
Day Five: One more round of steel wool, clean piece with thinner and apply final coat of varnish with foam brush. Dry 24 hours.



New Member
I just remade both my rudder and daggerboard using Pettit Z-Spar Captains finish. I sanded to 220, applied the varnish with foam brushes and used 320 grit between coats. About 10 coats. Beautiful finish, and was really easy to apply. One word of warning, don't open the can of varnish until you are ready to start. It doesn't have a very long shelf life. Use it or lose it. I found half a dozen other projects that needed to be varnished just to use it up.



Thanks for all the suggestions..I will attempt to varnish..just curious to know if the vanished finish is as smooth as the new fiberglass blade?


Why thin the first coats? I just bought the Epifanes small container at West for 23$, the thinner was another $15, so I opted not to buy it....But tell me a good reason and I may reconsider.



well I am coat 3 with the Epiphanes and I am already impressed in how different and better this stuff is that the West Marine brand(says it is made by epiphanes) stuff. Rudder, tiller, and some other stuff are looking real good. Not sure I am going for more than 5 or 6 coats, but we will see.
Pix in a few days


7 coats in and this stuff is amazing. I have even quit sanding between coats as the finish is so smooth even 500 grit paper was not making any scratches(after coat 5).
Epiphanes has been the easiest, best varnish I have ever used, with really good results. I will bever buy another $7 can of cheap stuff.
Now we will have to see how long the finish lasts, but I do plan on babying the rudder and not leaving it exposed to the sun.