A finish made from linseed oil and beeswax is an easy-to-apply, tactile finish that I like for turnings, vernacular chairs and other objects that don’t require the protection of a film finish, such as varnish or shellac.
The finish, which I call linwax, is available from suppliers such as Swede Paint, or you can easily make your own in a couple hours.
The nice thing about making your own is you can alter the recipe. Add some carnuba wax to make the wax harder. Or add some artist pigment to add color to the finish. You also have complete control over how environmentally friendly your finish is.
Today I made up a batch of the stuff for a chair I’m finishing. Here’s how I did it.
You have three basic choices: raw linseed oil, stand oil or “boiled” linseed oil. Raw linseed oil is untreated by other chemistry or heat. Some people say it won’t dry, but I haven’t found that to be a problem with this finish on the outside of a piece.
Stand oil is usually found at artist supply shops. It has been heated and thickened. As far as I know it has no other chemicals added to it. It dries readily as a finish, though it is more expensive than the other two types.
Boiled linseed oil has been treated in some way to make it dry fairly quickly. Sometimes it has been heated. Most times it has been treated with heavy metallic driers (such as cobalt). If you are looking to avoid heavy metals in your body (aside from Whitesnake, Poison, Quiet Riot et al), then don’t use this product. Your call.
I use pure beeswax. You can get this from a variety of sources, including places that sell raw materials for cosmetics (buying it at a woodworking supply store is quite expensive). One good source for the wax is Don’s Barn, which is run by Don Williams, a contributor to this magazine. Beeswax is soft but is easy to use.
In researching traditional recipes, I found a range of formulations, from 1 part wax added to 4 parts oil (1:4), all the way up to 1 part wax and 8 parts oil (1:8). For this recipe I used 1:4.
I poured 8 oz. of stand oil into a mason jar and then added 2 oz. of beeswax. I put this in a water bath on the stove and turned the heat to low. It doesn’t take much heat – beeswax melts at less than 150° (F). So the mixture shouldn’t even boil or percolate.
I stir the wax with a stick (sorry I don’t have a mail order source for these) occasionally until the wax is melted. Then I poured it off into some cheap plastic storage containers that were getting too ratty to store food. Let the wax cool. After an hour it will be a soft paste and ready to use.
Apply it with a cotton rag and wipe off the excess. A few coats will produce a nice, matte sheen – no buffing required.
— Christopher Schwarz
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