You wouldn't buy a can of paint without looking at the color chips but, when it comes to teak finishes, boat owners are groping in the dark. To find out exactly what you can expect from a teak oil, both in longevity and in coloration, we conducted a test of 12 different brands of oil.

The testing process was simple but effective. A single plank of new teak was sanded smooth and then taped off into separate panels. Each teak finish was applied exactly according to the directions on the label.

We then gathered a group of impartial judges who ranked the new finishes according to their appearance and tone. Two months later, after the plank had been left outside in the California summer sun and hosed off occasionally with fresh water, they voted again.

The hands down winner was Starbrite Premium Golden Teak Oil, which was chosen as the best-looking finish at the end of the test, although only two judges chose it initially. While much of the initial gloss was gone, it showed no signs of weathering and retained a warm tone.

Second was West Marine Products Gold Teak Oil Premium Blend, which also retained its finish, but with a slightly different color. Deks Olje #1 was a distant third because it looked too much like varnish, and was one of the darkest finishes. Matthews' One Step Teak Oil & Sealer would have been third if Deks Olje was dropped for being too much like varnish.

Worst finishes, losing their finish and turning grayish in just two months, were Mequiar's Mirror Glaze 46 Gold Teak Oil and Teak Wonder.

Others falling in the middle were Watco Marine Teakwood Finish, Starbrite Teak Oil, First Mate Teak Oil, Teak Brite Teak Oil, Daly's SeaFin Teak Oil, and H.A. Callahan's Teak Oil II.

In the process, we learned that teak oil, in general, is a short-lived coating and requires regular maintenance. We also found great differences both in the ease of application and color, which ranged from golden hues to stain-like darkness.