Glossing over it

I’ve talked about it before, but it’s time to open the can again. Tonkinoise oil.

Just so you know, I hate yacht varnish. Oh, for all sorts of reasons. It being rubbish, for example. For a start, it flakes off. It gets water underneath it and makes a lighter-coloured bubble. Which will flake off. It gets degraded by the sun, as who doesn’t? But when yacht varnish is broken down by age, what happens is…. oh. You guessed it. It flakes off.

What usually happens of course is that only some of it flakes off. Then you have to get the sander out and discover, in the course of things, that what you’d happily thought was wood is in fact plywood. And you’ve just gouged stripes in it of the kind the Beast of Bodmin would have been pretty proud of. Or Black Shuck, in these parts.

So Tonkinoise. The French Navy used to use it. One coat just makes the wood underneath look deep and rich and luscious. Five coats makes them shine like a Kennedy’s yacht at Hyannis. You don’t have to de-grease the wood, the way you have to with yacht varnish, otherwise…… Got it yet? It’ll flake off.

The bumpkin on the Drascombe I got just before Christmas looked a bit tired, so I sanded it down a few weeks ago, because, practising to be an imaginary parent, it wasn’t going out looking like that, whether its friends do or not. The bumpkin, or bookin, or bumpkin, depending on your tastes for those unlucky enough not to have a Drascombe Lugger, is the thin stick that pokes out the back as we salty sailor boys call it. It keeps the sail on the mizzen mast out, since you ask. And it was looking old and tired. Just sanding it made it look better.

Not remotely flakey

One of the biggest deals about Tonkinoise is it soak into the wood instead of making a layer on top of it, which means it can’t flake off. And I don’t understand why most boat people in the UK have never even heard of it.

This is just one thin coat of it. You can see the difference immediately. I like it shiny, but if you want a hard-working matte finish juts add some white spirit. That’s the only thing to watch out for – if you’ve just cleaned your brush with white spirit it’s not going to go on shiny.

But there’s another difference too, a big one. It’s made of crushed nuts or something similar, not something stewed up in a chemical factory. It’s environmentally friendly. When the oil wells go dry there will still be Tonkinoise.

And best of all, it doesn’t do weird things to your head when you’re working with it.

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