This year I have experimented a lot with using a soap finish on chairs and tables. Soap is a traditional Danish finish used on furniture and floors. It’s easy to apply, easy to renew, low on the toxicity scale and leaves a delightful low-sheen finish that is remarkably soft to the touch.
The downside? It’s not very durable.
After decades of using finishes that require bio-hazard gear, using a simple soap finish is a delight. I use it whenever I can convince my customers of its benefits.
The soap you need for a soap finish isn’t the stuff you probably use in the shower each morning – that has fragrances and other additives for the modern marketplace. A soap finish is made using pure soap flakes or shredded castile soap.
You can buy soap flakes from the Pure Soap Flake Co. or buy castile soap at a half-decent drugstore or grocery store (I can get Kirk’s Castile at my corner store).
I use two recipes for mixing up the finish.
One recipe uses equal parts boiling water and soap flakes (try using two cups of each ingredient). This makes a waxy, semi-hard paste. Wrap it inside a rag and rub it on your project (oak and light-colored woods work best). Buff it with a clean rag. You’ll get a semi-hard satin sheen.
The other recipe is two tablespoons of soap flakes to two cups of boiling water. Let that sit overnight and it will give you a mayo-like gel. Rub that onto raw wood, let it dry and buff it with a clean cloth. It will give you an almost-flat finish with a soft finger feel.
Try it! What do you have to lose?
— Christopher Schwarz