Soap as a Wood Finish
by Bob Flexner
You may be surprised to learn that a quite popular finish for furniture and floors in Denmark, and other northern European countries, is soap. I lived in Denmark for two years in the mid-1970s and have visited many times since. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful furniture finished with soap.
The wood used is always solid because excessive contact with water could lift veneer. It’s also always light in color: usually white oak, ash, beech, maple or pine. A soap finish deadens the rich colors of darker woods such as cherry and walnut.
Not just any soap works, only natural soap flakes. Ivory Flakes, which are no longer available, was an example. Now we have to import the flakes. (See Supplies for a few sources.)
The look is very thin, similar to oil or wax, but with no color and no shine. An oil finish adds a yellow/orange coloring, and both oil and wax add shine. A soap finish is totally flat. It looks as if there’s no finish at all, but it’s better than no finish because it resists stains.
Articles: You’ll find many free finishing articles on our web site.
In Our Store: “Flexner on Finishing” – 12 years of columns illustrated with beautiful full-color images and updated, and “Wood Finishing 101.”
From the April 2014 issue, #210