Non-degrading Finish

I have an exterior handrail made of Ipe (I couldn’t afford to make the rest of the balcony in Ipe). I finished it with several coats of Watco Teak Oil over several days & wet sanding between each coat. The wood had several days to stabilize inside before finishing. My problem is that the Watco is degrading quickly – only about 3 months of exterior exposure. I am probably going to have to sand the whole rail down and re-finish. The color of the Teak Oil is terrific and added much to the appearance of the wood. (It reminded me of tiger-eye.) Do you have any recommendations for re-finishing especially with something that will last a season or two?

Michael Dresdner: Are you aware that Ipe needs no finish at all? That said, probably the most durable finish for an exterior handrail is spar varnish. Apply at least three thin coats, allowing ample drying time in between, but do not sand between coats unless you have to remove dust nibs or irregularities. In other words, there is no need to sand between coats for adhesion, provided each coat goes on within two weeks of the previous one.

Because Teak Oil is so easy to apply, and you like the look, there is no reason to abandon it entirely. Simply add a coat or two now and again, and you will soon build up enough that it will do its job well. But don’t sand between coats — all that does is remove what you applied. If you wait more than two weeks between coats, simply rough the surface with very fine steel wool or Scotchbrite. From your description, you have sanded off all but the last coat you put on, and are unfairly judging that material on one thin coat. No wonder it didn’t hold up.

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