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Found - a good finish for outdoor oak


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Established Member
24 Jul 2007
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A question that seems to come up fairly often on here is what finish to use on garden furniture and similar, to preserve the nice clean look of new wood, rather than letting it go silvery grey.

Seven years ago I bought some oak and made a folding adirondack style chair - garden-chair-in-oak-t43584.html

When I made it, knowing no better, I gave it a couple of coats of Danish oil. After a couple of years, the oil all disappeared and the chair started to take on the usual grey colour of outdoor oak.

I ignored it for a while, though it didn't look as inviting to sit in as it used to. Then at a Wood Fair at Westonbirt I saw "Le Tonkinois" varnish on sale. The following year, I bought some, and about three years ago I finally got round to re-finishing the chair. No pictures from this stage I'm afraid, but you can imagine grey wood and some power-assisted sanding. I think I gave the chair three coats.

Early this year, I rubbed down the arms a bit and refreshed the whole thing with another couple of coats.

Here it is, having stood out in the weather the whole time; as it was when new (it's the one on the right!) and as it is today.

The varnish, described as being based on tung oil, is imported from France and is available by mail order here - http://www.letonkinoisvarnish.uk - or at various outdoor fairs and boat shows. I used the Marine No 1.

I like it. I wouldn't suggest it for fine cabinetwork indoors - and looking at my photos nobody would think this was fine work, what with the visible drips and runs. But on the positive side, it's dead easy to apply with a brush or rag and it builds up very quickly. You can sand back after each coat if you want, or slap it on like I did.
Its big virtue is that it flexes well, so it doesn't split at corners. You could object that it looks a bit thick and plasticy - but it does its job of protecting the wood and will flow into small splits or holes. (I've seen it used in more exposed positions on boats, where it stands up very well.) It's easy to freshen up, with just a wipe over or light sanding. I'll probably do this every couple of years.

It seems to be fairly economical in use - I'd guess at about 100ml to go over the chair with a refresher coat, a bit more than that for the first time.

Horizontal surface and end grain:

Horizontal surface:

One of the feet, turned upside down, showing that the skin is still intact despite having stood on wet paving slabs:

So although you won't find it in your local B&Q, I'd say it was worth getting some if you want to keep oak or other outdoor woodwork looking new.


Established Member
2 Nov 2009
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That's impressive- I'll add it to my 'to try' list. I've just this week received a clear finish to try on outdoor woodwork.

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Established Member
23 Dec 2009
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I look at this every year at Harrogate, seems like some of the bold claims are true then.

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