Le Tonkinois Varnish

B & D Murkin

UK main importers for

Le Tonkinois varnish

Flexidisc sander

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Frequently asked questions

What is it and how is it better than my normal brand?

Le Tonkinois, [pronounced Lee-TON-kin-wah] is an environmentally friendly natural oil based yacht varnish that actually does what the other brands claim to do.

Is it any good for boats?

Far better than most yacht varnish, on boats in fresh water sea or sludge, Le Tonkinois is an old traditional yacht varnish, used long before they invented the stuff that falls off. It is also good for underwater protection, but cannot match anti-fouling paints for long term immersion. We show it at Southampton and major national boat shows as well as at boat jumbles throughout the country.

Is it suitable for outdoor and interior woodwork or is it only for boats?

It certainly is suitable, probably better than anything you have ever bought before.

Is it suitable for kitchens?

It is ideal for use in kitchens, fully waterproof, not marked by hot cups or plates, not affected by boiling water, alcohol etc, and is classified as safe to use in food areas.

Can it be used over an existing finish?

Depending upon their condition most coatings except for wax can be over-coated by Le Tonkinois provided the surface is sanded first to remove surface dirt and to provide a key for the new coat.

If after sanding the existing finish is not in good condition it will need to be completely removed.

If only a part area is removed a colour variation may be visible.

Remember the adhesion between the varnish and the wood is only as good as the layers below it.

Brittle finishes like shellac do not have the flexibility of Le Tonkinois and can separate from the material underneath.

What about Ultra Violet?

Le Tonkinois is highly resistant to Ultra Violet. Its natural materials protect both the varnish and the wood below. We have no reported UK UV problems in our 10 years experience with Le Tonkinois. One sample exposed untouched for 10 years has shown increasing yellowing but where we added an extra coat every 3 years as recommended no deterioration is visible. In much higher UV exposure areas (Mediterranean, Caribbean etc) the surface layer sometimes shows signs of deterioration after two to three years.

Sanding off this top layer and adding further coats restores the protection.

I don't like high gloss surfaces, do you do it in matt?

Le Tonkinois is naturally glossy, each successive coat increases the depth and brilliance of the gloss. For a matt or satin finish add Gelomat just to the final coat. Add 1 part Gelomat to 2 parts varnish for full matt, 1 part to 3 parts varnish for satin, or alter the proportions to give the finish you prefer.

What is the recommended recoat time and what if I need to leave it longer?

We recommend 24 hours minimum in normal temperatures, if you apply it too early it occasionally causes problems with later coats. There is no maximum time between coats but if it is longer than a few days lightly sand and clean the surface with white spirit to remove any contamination before applying. In cold weather increase the time between coats, see later question for more details.

Can wood  be stained?

If the wood needs staining we recommend using water based stain before applying Le Tonkinois. There is no problem with solvent based stains but the stain seals the wood pores, restricting penetration by the varnish first coat. Pigments can also be mixed with the varnish.

Does bare wood need priming with a thinned coat?

No, you can use Le Tonkinois as it comes. It penetrates deeply and does not need thinning.

You can add up to 10% white spirit for deeper penetration on the first coat if required.

What about using it on oily woods like Teak?

Ideal  for teak, mahogany, oak etc. Modern varnishes do not adhere to woods which contain a lot of natural oils and flake off very quickly. Le Tonkinois bonds well to these woods including Teak, Iroko, Pitch pine and similar if the surface is "degreased" first to allow the necessary penetration of the first coat. It also copes brilliantly with Oak, which is notorious for its own special problems.

Is it just for wood? Can it be used for metal?

It gives excellent corrosion protection to metals. It is suitable over most materials such as fibre glass, epoxy, etc provided the surface is lightly sanded to give a key. We do not recommend epoxy on teak. Pictures in our photo gallery show it used on metal garden furniture and over paint.

Can it be used over epoxy?

We do not recommend using it over West System epoxies.

For other epoxies read our epoxy page before doing so as there are potential problems.

What about impact damage?

It has a tough durable coat which withstands abrasion and impacts. It doesn't peel or crack. Areas subject to severe abrasive pressure are easily repaired without affecting surrounding areas.

How long does it last?

Le Tonkinois provides long lasting protection. It does not need regular stripping and re-varnishing, simply clean and sand the surface before adding another coat every few years to extend the life.

Does it allow wood to breathe?

Wood expands and contracts through temperature and atmospheric changes, a process timber experts refer to as breathing. The flexibility of Le Tonkinois allows for this where others fail.

Non experts sometimes associate breathing with the next question.

Is it micro porous?

Most modern varnish coats contain minute tunnels or pores left by evaporating solvents. Some manufacturers claim this porosity allows extrusion of natural fluids, note however this is not a one way process, it will also allow intrusion of water vapour and contaminants. In truth it allows continuation of the natural process of rotting and discolouration. An article in the Telegraph about micro porous paints questions manufacturers claims, when you apply more coats the holes are unlikely to align with holes in the coat below so stopping the micro porosity.(details).  Le Tonkinois is not micro porous, it is fully waterproof.

My original brand of yacht varnish does not last as long as it used to, will yours be better?

Solvent in modern varnish evaporates harming the environment. New regulations in 2010 limit the maximum solvent content to 500 gm/L, roughly half the total contents. The regulations also restrict the quantity of solvent emissions allowed for large users. These changes have reduced the effectiveness of their varnish, to the extent that one well known brand of yacht varnish even says it is not suitable for marine use! (see photo)

Le Tonkinois varnish does not contain these solvents and is definitely ideal for marine and outdoor use. However other EU regulations have required some changes to the Le Tonkinois manufacturing process so that we now recommend sanding between coats.

I have used Danish oil. How does Le Tonkinois compare and can it be used on previously oiled wood?

Danish oil provides inferior protection and needs regular repeat applications. It gives a satin finish, Le Tonkinois can be gloss satin or matt. Danish oil has warnings about spontaneous combustion of application rags. The ash seat testimonial user tried Danish and Tung oil before Le Tonkinois. (details)  Le Tonkinois can be applied to oiled wood, follow the instructions for removing excess oil before applying.

How is the best way to prepare timber before applying Le Tonkinois?

In our experience, the best tool to use is the Flexidisc sander. This will transform rough sawn timber into a  fantastically smooth surface in seconds. Remember the smoother the surface Le Tonkinois is applied to, the better the finish.

Is there an alternative to sanding discoloured wood?

Our Traditional Wood Cleaner may be used to lighten and freshen greyed surfaces and can remove many stains.

What about varnishing in cold or very hot  weather ?

Le Tonkinois protection is very good in cold or high temperatures once the varnish has dried.

It is preferable to apply the varnish in the warmer months.

Very high temperatures during application can sometimes cause problems especially if the area is not in the shade.  In cold weather Le Tonkinois will be thicker and flow less. It hardens by a chemical reaction with oxygen in the air. The speed of the reaction reduces significantly as the temperature drops so in cold weather it can take a  very long time to harden. Time between coats should be considerably increased, depending upon the temperature it can sometimes take several days.


Do you need a high quality brush to get the finish on your examples?

For a really top quality finish a good quality brush is required. However because the brush marks disappear as Le Tonkinois dries very acceptable results can be made using lower quality. Some of our smaller samples have been done on shows using cheap brushes as we don't get time to clean them.

Can I spray Le Tonkinois?

We have no experience of spraying but it can be sprayed.

The original advice was to thin with white spirit. One of our users overheard me mentioning this on a show and entered the discussion. He always sprays and gets excellent results every time without adding white spirit. He explained white spirit always contains some moisture and this can cause a bloom under the varnish. He heats the varnish, 0.5 or 1L cans, in boiling water for about 30 to 60 seconds before spraying. He uses a grid to prevent the can touching the bottom. The perfect temperature is when the varnish flows out of a 20 second viscosity cup in 20 seconds.

I suffer from asthma, is it petroleum based?

No. Le Tonkinois is made from natural renewable resources, - Linseed oil from a plant, Tung oil from the seed pods of the tropical Tung tree, pure resin, and vegetable thinners and driers. It does not contain volatile solvents and does not cause irritation to throat, chest or pets.

What is Tung and Linseed?

See our information pages on the Tung tree and the Linseed (Flax) plant.

Surely a faster drying varnish would be easier to use?

Quite the reverse, the main difficulty in getting a good finish is keeping a wet edge so the brush strokes blend together seamlessly. Brushing on some modern varnishes is a race against time, if the edge is even slightly starting to dry it will flow less giving a poor quality finish. By the time you notice the area that you did not put on enough varnish it is usually too late. Le Tonkinois allows about 20 minutes of working time.

You advise sanding between each coat, why is this important?

The manufacturing process had to be changed to meet EEC regulations and sanding between coats is now needed to provide a key for the next coat. If this is not done sometimes coats will not adhere and form globules on the surface that look similar to water on a waxed car bonnet. If this occurs remove using white spirit before the varnish dries. We use 220 grit paper between coats to remove the gloss.

Is the surface slippery?

On boats the varnish provides good grip for deck shoes, even when the surface is wet.

How long will it last on my floor?

All varnish on floors needs replacing regularly. The frequency of replacement will depend upon wear and how noticeable it is so we cannot give a figure. We now stock Le Tonkinois Parquets which is a product specifically for flooring.

What is its storage life and does it skin after opening?

Unopened it will store for many years.

If the can is partly used and resealed air inside the can may form a thin skin. The skin can be removed before the next use. Paint strainers will remove any small bits left behind. A can we originally used on demonstrations was left in our store WITHOUT any lid for at least 5 years. The skin sealed the varnish beneath. After removing a thick layer of skin the varnish was still fairly usable! Small amounts remaining at the bottom of the can have a low volume to surface area ratio and can start to jellify, once this has occurred it cannot be reversed as it is the result of a chemical reaction with the air. If you decant the varnish into smaller containers, glass plastic etc, there will be no air and it will store for several years. Alternatively drop clean pebbles in the can to raise the level and reduce the volume of air in the can.

One of our users recommends adding propane to the tin before storing. It is heavier than air so displaces the air. Propane is flammable / explosive so we have some safety reservations about this method for general users. We leave it to you to make this decision but if you do this always do it in the open air and well away from ignition sources, never in a workshop or enclosed space.

My wood has been waxed / polished, what do I do?

No varnish or paint will stick to wax, it must be completely removed. Polishes containing silicone can be a major problem. We have included an advice page.

Which do you recommend Classic or Vernis No1?

Le Tonkinois Vernis No 1 is a more highly refined version of Classic and has better performance. Classic builds up the finish quicker. Both can be used on top of each other without problems. No1 is normally supplied unless classic is specified, we stock both types.

Why haven't I seen it before if it is so good?

Traditional varnishes like Le Tonkinois use natural ingredients and the quantity is limited.

Le Tonkinois is made by a German firm who, as far as we know, is the only varnish manufacturer remaining with the highly skilled and experienced craftsman needed to produce these quality products. Mass production is not possible.

Can I buy it locally?

We demonstrate and sell the products at a broad range of show venues across the country as well as by post.

Your site url letonkinoisvarnish.uk is missing the familiar .co

We were one of the early websites which took advantage of the release of new domains including ".uk" in 2014. It was a first for both us and our website host technicians but by using a '301 permanent redirect' we were able to get anything going to our old site letonkinoisvarnish.co.uk redirected to letonkinoisvarnish.uk and also most importantly to transfer the original web rankings.

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