Troubleshooting Teak Deck Problems
Knowing what problem signs to look for with a teak deck — and how to correct them — can make the difference between the deck lasting for more than a decade or needing replacement after just a few seasons.
When you consider how much it costs to replace a teak deck, it's pretty obvious how important it is to identify potential issues and fix them before they become serious ... and costly!
Teak Deck Troubles: What to Look For
There are three main things to look for when checking on a teak deck:
- Loose or missing caulk
- Loose or missing screw plugs
- Cracked or split teak boards
Loose or missing caulk is the most common problem with teak decks. Teak expands and contracts with changing weather conditions. This gradually loosens the caulk, and can lead to the caulk coming off altogether. Loose or missing caulk allows water to penetrate between the boards and seep through the deck. Not only does this increase the chances of water damage, but if the deck is bonded as opposed to screwed to the structure of the boat, the water can cause the glue to fail and the deck to detach completely.
Loose or missing screw plugs also allow water to penetrate beneath the teak deck's surface, and cause much of the same problems as loose or missing caulk. In order to preserve the flawless appearance of a teak deck, the screws used to fasten the boards to the boat are covered by small wooden plugs. Age and weathering cause these plugs to loosen over time, enabling water to work its way into the screw holes, which results in the screws corroding and water damaging the teak.
Cracked or split teak boards are less common, and are more likely to occur if the deck has been neglected, or because of water damage brought on by loose or missing caulk and/or screw plugs. Cracks and splits in teak boards provide another way for water to penetrate the deck's surface, and damage the glue or screws that fasten the deck to the boat and to the deck itself.
Troubleshooting Known Teak Deck Problems
When loose or missing caulking is discovered, any old caulk that remains should be completely removed from the seams between the teak boards in the affected area.
1. Remove the old caulk with a teak decking tool. Avoid using a router, which is more likely to damage the deck boards.
2. Thoroughly clean any dirt and debris off the seams and ensure they're completely dry. Never caulk damp seams.
3. Mask off either side of the seams that are ready to be re-caulked in order to protect the surface of the teak.
4. Apply marine caulk into the seams.
5. Run a putty knife over the caulked seam to compact the caulk deep into the seam while removing any air bubbles.
6. Remove the masking tape and allow the caulk to fully cure.
Replacing Screw Plugs
When replacing screw plugs, it's necessary to drill out the existing plug holes and replace the old plugs with new, larger screw plugs.
1. Take out the old plugs with the tip of a knife or screwdriver.
2. Remove the screw and drill out the hole to the correct size for the new plugs.
3. Countersink the screw hole if needed, so that the screw head sits slightly lower to accommodate the larger plug.
4. Reinstall the screw, or replace it with a new screw if necessary.
5. Apply an epoxy to the new screw plug and tap it into the hole.
6. Allow the epoxy to cure, then chisel off the excess plug extending above the deck and carefully sand the plug flush.
Replacing Teak Boards
Smaller cracks in teak deck boards can be filled with a marine epoxy.
1. Clean out the crack using a knife or razor blade.
2. Make sure the wood is completely dry, and fill the crack with a suitable marine epoxy. Never use epoxy on damp wood.
3. Allow the epoxy to fully cure.
Larger splits will require the affected section of the board to be replaced.
1. Use a chisel or router to remove the damaged area of wood.
2. Clean out any debris and old caulk from the affected area and the surrounding seams.
3. Set the replacement piece of teak in place with a weight on top of it using a bonding agent to secure it until the bonding agent has cured.
4. Caulk the seams (as described above) around the replacement wood and allow the caulk to cure.
Teak Deck Care: Things To Avoid
Although teak is renowned for being a very hard and durable wood, it's actually easy to damage or wear it down. Therefore, there are certain things you should NOT do when caring for a teak deck.
- Do not scrub a teak deck
- Do not use harsh chemicals on a teak deck
- Do not oil or varnish a teak deck
Teak has very soft wood fibers that even light scrubbing will wear away, which will affect the deck as a whole. Never scrub a teak deck when washing it. Use a sponge instead.
Teak is naturally protected against weathering, rot and fungus by the high concentration of oil it contains.
Oil or Varnish
Teak wood contains a natural abundance of teak oil. Oiling teak with another oil saturates the wood; makes it sticky and resinous; and causes it to build up dirt. Never oil a teak deck with anything other than genuine teak oil. Also, the natural oil within teak can prevent varnish from properly bonding with the wood, leading to an imperfect finish. Varnish also gets incredibly hot, which makes walking on it very uncomfortable on sunny days, and is therefore not recommended.
Regular Washing for Fewer Problems
The best way to care for a teak deck is to wash it regularly, preferably with salt water. A weekly wash with nothing more than water and a sponge will keep the wood clean, and the teak's natural defenses against the elements take care of the rest. If the deck is subject to particularly high usage or extreme conditions, occasional use of a teak cleaner and teak brightener will restore the wood's natural beauty.
If you keep your teak deck clean and repair any problems as soon as they arise, your deck should last for years, maybe even decades!