The traditional material for decking is the hard, oil-rich, water-resistant tropical wood teak. Heavy demand has put some teak species on the endangered list and raised the price of all teak. So alternative decking materials have emerged, some that are lighter, more resilient and less expensive than traditional teak.
How do you make a replacement for a wood so well suited to decking as teak? One approach, developed by a Dutch company, Stazo Marine Equipment, uses another type of wood product, cork, and engineers it into strips of decking material. Yet another approach by PlasDeck in Akron, Ohio, turns to a plastic material with a roughened surface similar to teak. And a British company called Tek-Dek in Hampshire, England, also makes synthetic teak decking.
According to their manufacturers, the advantages of both of these products include ease of installation, durability, lower weight than teak, acoustic and thermal insulation properties, a nonskid surface and UV resistance.
MarineDeck 2000 is in some sense a natural replacement for teak as it is manufactured using bark from cork oak trees. And cork is a renewable resource, as after the bark is harvested, a cork tree will regrow a new layer of bark in 10 to 12 years. Since the trees live for 150 years or more, they can be harvested more than a dozen times during the life a cork oak.
To construct MarineDeck 2000, Stazo takes granulated cork and mixes it with a proprietary urethane formula as a binder. Added to the urethane mixture is a UV inhibitor to protect the material when it is baking in the summer sun. Next, the mixture is poured into molds and then compressed with a 20-ton hydraulic press. According to Bill Wasson, general manager of Stazo Marine Equipment NA, when MarineDeck is installed, it is glued to the deck with the same material also used as a caulk between strips — a silyl ether material. “It simplifies application,” Wasson said, “to not have two materials for the adhesive and the caulking.”
The PlasDeck product is actually the second generation of a synthetic teak product called PlasTeak, a substitute for marine teak in handrails, toe rails, companionway boards, hatch slides, etc. PlasTeak is made of high-density polyurethane (HDPE) from such sources as ground up plastic milk bottles. According to Bill Gribble, president of PlasTeak and PlasDeck, the company originally attempted to create a decking material using HDPE. While HDPE had the strength and toughness for the job, it had two major drawbacks. It expanded and contracted too much and nothing stuck to it. This meant the HDPE material could not be chemically bonded to a boat’s hull; it required the use of mechanical fasteners. For Gribble, this was a major flaw. “The last thing you want is to put a lot of holes in the boat,” Gribble said.
The solution, said Gribble, was to make PlasDeck from a flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material. This type of plastic has the necessary chemical bonding properties to allow it to be glued rather than fastened. PlasDeck is bonded to a hull using a Bostic product similar to 3M’s 5200. The PlasDeck material is extruded with shiplap edges that allow it to be laid down in an interlocking fashion. One of the lapped edges is colored black, in a process called co-extrusion, eliminating the need for any caulking between strips. The planking product is 2 inches wide and the roll product is 6 inches wide, with integral black (or white) seam co-extrusions every 2 inches. PlasDeck is 0.25-inch thick.
When the strips (and the wider roll material) come out of the extruder, they are smooth on the bottom and the top, a condition that doesn’t look much like real teak or lend itself to non-skid properties. To provide some surface traction, PlasDeck roughs up the top side of the material with belt sanders loaded with 40-grit sandpaper, giving it a surprisingly teak-like appearance. While Gribble claims the material is stain resistant, if it does get stained, 40-grit sandpaper will remove the marks.
Another PVC-based decking product is made by Lonseal. Their teak and holly PVC product is a convincing interpretation of this traditional interior deck covering.