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The first tenet of “I Can Do That” is that all projects we build for it must be doable with the modest (but decent) set of beginner tools we’ve identified, and for which we’ve provided instruction in the free “manual” (that can be dowloaded for free on the “I Can Do That” page). Sure, we add to that set from time to time when we discover we’ve neglected a critical tool, but when we do, the manual gets updated.

The second tenet is that all the projects must be able to be accomplished by a novice woodworker in less than two days of shop time (and typically, even a rank beginner can do it in less).

The third and final tenet is that all “I Can Do That” projects must be made entirely from wood and supplies that can bought at a home center, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot or Menard’s. That’s why just about every project in the column is made from dimensional pine, “white wood” (whatever that is), poplar or red oak. And because the selection at the home center doesn’t typically include wood you’d want to show off, we often paint the projects.

Well, with the “Hanging Shelves” I built for the April issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, I disobeyed tenet No. 3. But I didn’t mean to.

The 1/2″-thick pine, roofing nails and “Bittersweet Chocolate” paint were from the home center. The ebony Briwax that I rubbed on the painted project (after I’d knocked it around a bit and sanded the edges to give it an aged look) was not. I pulled that off the finishing shelf in our shop, and made the erroneous assumption that one can indeed find my favorite colored wax at any big box store. One cannot. And a reader called yesterday to tell me this.

My local Ace Hardware has it, and so do Rockler and Woodcraft. But Lowe’s and Home Depot? Not so much.

So here’s a solution for those who a) eschew buying from the Internet and b) don’t want to drive all over town looking for the stuff: Kiwi shoe polish, in black (even my neighborhood grocer has that.) Both products are a blend of waxes and pigments, and both contain a somewhat-irritating solvent (toluene in the Briwax; heavy naphtha in the Kiwi), so wear gloves when applying either (whether it’s to your shoes or to wood).

Yes, the Briwax is a little easier to spread and it flashes off the wood more quickly than the shoe polish, but the end result looks and feels pretty much the same. (At least on wood. I wouldn’t use the Briwax on my new boots.)

— Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 7 comments
  • clifft

    Megan, I use pine almost exclusively which I can get
    rough cut any size I want from my neighbor’s sawmill.
    Mostly mixed up analine dye and then finished with
    several coats of shellac, and finally paste wax.
    Dye leaves a swirly pattern, not even,
    but then each piece is unique and quite acceptable.
    – everything is non toxic.
    Now I must try shoe polish for something even simpler.

  • smiley1958

    I love working with wood, I have built many things over the years, and now I am building a pantry, I am good with wood, but I have a shelf that is made out of pre-laminated particle board, can anyone tell me, whats the best way to cut it without getting any chipped edges?.

  • mvilhauer

    While in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, I noticed a great deal of woodworking with hand tools. One of the favorite tricks of the artists was to take inexpensive white wood, coat it with shoe polish and buff it to shine like ebony. It’s a great trick.

  • tsstahl

    Great. Now I gotta find a horsehair brush to begin the spit shine on my shelves.

  • mvflaim

    Megan, I deal with Big Box hardware stores ona daily basis as a sales rep for a building materials manufacturer. Trust me when I say this. They suck! It’s better off buying your supplies from local mom and pop hardware stores any day.

  • Mitch Wilson

    Megan, your next ICDT project should be a nice shoe shining box. Good place to keep your Briwax.

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