Soap: Making a Clean Finish
This traditional finish from Denmark is simple, safe and tactile.
by Christopher Schwarz
When I tell fellow woodworkers and customers that I use soap as a finish on some of my tables and chairs, they think I’m joking. Then, when I pull out a Mason jar filled with soap finish to show them how it works, they laugh because it looks a lot like, well, snot.
After seeing the results on finished pieces, however, they know it’s no joke.
Using soap as a finish on furniture and floors is common in Denmark and other northern European countries. It produces a low-sheen finish that is remarkably soft to the touch. It looks best on light-colored woods – from white maple to woods about as dark as white oak.
And, as you can imagine, it is a safe finish. It might be the only finish where your hands and clothes are cleaner after using it. It is best used on bare wood or wood that has a soap finish on it already. It doesn’t do much over an existing film finish.
There are downsides to the finish – it’s not durable and requires regular but simple maintenance.
For the last year, I have been experimenting with different recipes for soap finish made using a variety of products you can get through the mail, at health food stores and at your grocery. After finishing, and living with, about a dozen pieces using soap, I am a convert. It might not the best finish for every situation, but if you are curious it is definitely easy to try and master.
Video: Watch a Danish film showing soap being applied to a table.
Article: Read Bob Flexner’s take on soap finishes.
In Our Store: “Flexner on Finishing” by Bob Flexner.
To Buy: “No-Fear Chairmaking,” a video by Christopher Schwarz.