Do-It-Yourself: Salted Surfaces

Condiment makes easy DIY nonskid option.

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Salted varnish

Photos by Drew Frye and Patrick Childress

While new finishes-paint, epoxy, or varnish-may be beautiful to look at, they are also as slick as can be when a little seawater hits the surface. You can cover your handiwork with nonskid tape; slather on a coat of bland nonskid paint; try one of the nonskid paint additives like crushed walnut shells (favored by PS Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo); or you can try an easy, age-old method that PS tester Drew Frye favors: salted varnish (or paint).

The first step to creating a salted finish is to coat the project as usual, with as many wood-finish, paint, or epoxy coats as required for lasting service, allowing it to cure completely. Next, mask off the area surrounding the section that requires nonskid and apply an unthinned coat of the same finish; we have used this method with polyurethane varnish, marine enamels, linear polyurethane (LPU) paints, and two-part epoxies. It works best and lasts longest with harder finishes like LPUs and epoxies.

While the coating is still wet, sprinkle it with coarse salt. A salt grinder works well; just hold it two to three feet above the work surface. Start with a light coat, moving back and forth until a uniform coating is obtained. Eventually, you want a heavy coat. There is no harm done by applying a little too much. For a more subtle nonskid, Mortons table salt works sufficiently. Wait until the coating dries, and then rinse it well with water. The water dissolves the salt, leaving a dimpled, textured profile behind.

Frye cites the methods many advantages over other nonskid options: The invisible nonskid is nearly identical in color to surrounding areas; it isn’t overly aggressive (some nonskids will wear holes in your pants); and it is as durable as the base finish. He has used salted varnish for many years in high-traffic areas. While it might not be durable enough for a companionway ladder, he has found it to be a good option everywhere else.

Best of all, it is easy to resurface. Since there is no aggregate, simply sand lightly and re-coat. It couldn't be simpler.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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