... largely a marketing term. The oil in all these mixtures and in all varnishes -- which often is linseed -- surely penetrates somewhat. But how much penetration is going on?
Deks 1 recommends a minimum of 2 coats or more until you are satisfied with the finish. On top of that, Deks 2 -- marketed as a "varnish" -- recommends 6 coats as optimum. Clearly, all this goop in 8-12 layers is not penetrating the wood; it is simply building up in layers on top of itself.
These heavy oil mixtures may not dry as hard as a spar varnish, which actually is fairly flexible itself. Polyurethane dries even harder and should be more waterproof than spar varnish.
I did get a can of Deks Olje when I bought my Dagger Encore. Dagger gave it away with the canoe. It was only one can, so maybe it was Deks 1. I applied it and didn't notice any difference from Watco. It looked gone and the gunwales looked dry within a year. But I don't think I've applied anything in the 20 years since, with the canoe stored outside all that time, so maybe it's still doing something protective.
Speaking just for myself, whether or not I get a nice protective and aesthetic finish on my canoe woodwork and paddles is overwhelmingly a function of how diligent I am in refinishing the wood when it starts to look bad -- no matter what finish I began with. That's why some of my boats rot and others look good.
Mike McCrea has test panels of six or eight different finishes. I wonder how they are faring. Too bad he does't post here.
Canoe / Kayak Anchors
Touring Kayak Paddles
Reflective Hull Decals
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