Interior wood refinishing.
Many of the early Chris Craft Commanders have rich mahogany interiors, and this is a carry-over from the days of wood boats and super-detailed wood interiors. These early Commanders beginning in 1964 have the “bullet-proof” fiberglass hulls, but they also have the same fine wood interiors of the older boats.
In many cases the cabinets and bunk framing is solid mahogany (too), and not just the visible trim. My 1966 38-foot Commander has full length interior solid mahogany paneling and trim. It’s been refinished carefully and it’s just stunning. Today, in order to get the same quality of interior, I think you would have to spend upwards of $200,000 to find the same thing, on a smaller (new) boat.
What disturbs me is the fact that some of these beautiful dark wood interiors were painted over with white paint, to “upgrade them” or to get a lighter feel in the interior. God only knows what possessed the person who cracked the can of paint for that event.
I recognized the quality of the interior wood and joiner-work, but didn’t like the horrible finish that someone had overcoated at some point in the boats long past. I thought about taking it down to bare wood, but chose another path instead, which produced stunning results.
The finish had sawdust in the varnish. A previous owner did a horrible job of smearing varnish everywhere. At first it looked presentable, but upon second look, ahhhhhrrrgggg, it was poor. I took off all the hardware, and gently block sanded everything down with the grain. I used a 280 grit sandpaper for this, and did so very gently. Any suggestion of using an electric sander for this would stop this conversation right now. It would be a great way to ruin good woodwork.
I found the layer upon layer of the old varnish to be quite brittle, and pretty easy to sand. I took it down just “almost” to the wood. In some areas where I went through the varnish layer, I touched up with stain gently, and overcoated it with protective varnish. There was no reason to go into the wood at this point. That would have require all new staining, and ten times the work. At this point, there were STILL lots of hills and valleys in the wood. The grain is open and porous, and it was evident it would take some additional build coats to make things look as good as I wanted. Therefore I added a coat or two of varnish, for the specific purposes of filling the voids, and with the intention of block sanding everything back off. The process eventually provides a nice flat surface.
Teak is the same, it’s quite open and it takes some work, sometimes with a specialty filler, to get the really top quality finish we see on some yachts.
Once I had a build coat or two, I began wiping the finish down with “wipe on polyurethane” from Minwax. It may sound terrible, but the quality of the finish I ended up with is very good. I lost track on how many coats I put on, and then gently sanded back. The beauty of this stuff is, you can go on board, wipe down the entire cabin, take your stain rags with you and toss them in the dumpster, and the poly dries without a trace of a brush stroke. You can get it in a satin or a gloss, and you can mix them if you want. I used the satin with a hint of a gloss, and the results are just spectacular (better than ANY Chris Craft that came from the factory).
The wipe on furniture grade Minwax is very thin, it’s intended for furniture, and it only builds a very fine coat. Between each coat you must sand out any imperfections you pick up (bits of sawdust), and using a fine 800-grit sandpaper cuts this down quickly and won’t hurt the bulk of the top coat you just applied. Therefore, you must put on many coats, but it’s so easy to do.
Here are some photos of what my interior wood looks like, I think the results speak well for themselves.
On the exterior I used full strength premium varnish, with a lot of sanding (by HAND) in order to obtain a helm station that is worthy of the Chris Craft name.
The side boards on each side of the mahogany trimmed helm station were white from the factory, and I replaced them with ribbon sliced Phillippine mahogany plywood, carefully sourced out of New England, stained to match. Everything was sanded and refinished at the same time. You can see in the photo of the young gal with the iced tea, it is an improvement.
Here’s a photo of the refinished helm station. The lower side board it actually stained perfectly to match, but in this light, and due to the grain running horizontal, it looks darker. In reality, the entire helm looks original.