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Wax Mix

I am doing a bit of outdoor work and need a bit more of my wax mix, so I thought I would be kind and share the recipe and process.

The mix is very simple.   Equal parts  of Safflower Oil, Turpentine, and Paraffin.

For wax I am using a candle I bought cheap.

The candle  is filthy, but instead of scraping off  a layer of wax, I will skim the surface, let the dirt settle to the bottom of the molten wax, and filter it  through  a strainer.  Because I am working outside  while this stuff melts, I will probably have to remove leaves and sawdust anyway.

The wax is nearly molten here, and seems fairly clean so far.  The can is a #10 bean can, and is in a small cheap sauce pan with a bit of water  in it so the wax is in a double boiler.  This limits the temperature to around  the boiling temperature of water, and reduces the chance of the wax hitting critical temperature and bursting into massive flames.  I am using an old electric hot plate,  that has been through many an outdoor experiment.

After the wax is melted, I add the oil.  This cools the wax and makes opaque white curdles.  I wait till it is melted again before I add the turpentine. This again cools it. I wait until it is clear and put it in the odd tin or other  containers I have collected for keeping wax in.   I add the turpentine last as it is the most dangerous to put over heat.  I am using an electric hot plate so that I don’t have open flames.  I also have a wet towel ready in case anything happens.

This time, I added about two tablespoons of borax.  Some of it won’t dissolve,  but a bit of it will help preserve wood from mold, rot, insects and some corrosion, so it is good stuff to have.

I also decided to add some camphor.  I mostly dissolved a block into the mix.  Camphor repels some insects, and prevents some rust, so it may not be a bad thing to have the scent mixed into the tool handles.

To protect metal such as bandsaw blades and framesaw blades, I substitute food grade mineral oil instead of safflower in the same wax mix.  Safflower oil thickens and eventually turns solid, so it will gum up on moving parts.  Good for wood, bad for gears.

The safflower oil I use is High Linoleic Acid safflower oil.  I use it instead of BLO for just about everything. is a superb drying oil and is used in quality oil paints. It does not tend to mildew or yellow. It dries slower, but you can instant dry it by heating it carefully over a burner. I treat wooden tools with the wax mix and quick cure the surface over a burner as well.

If the nutritional label has Polyunsaturated fat as a much higher number  than Monounsaturated fat then it is the right stuff.

Note that the Polyunsaturated fat has a much higher number than Monounsaturated fat.   The other safflower oil (High Oleic Acid) will have the opposite ratio.  Before I use the oil, I test it.  I open a bottle, and dab a bit on a scrap of paper, that I set under the bottle.   I leave the bottle on the outdoor window sill of my workshop.  It is out of the rain, but exposed to weather.  If it thickens to a waxy resin in a couple of weeks, then I know it is the right stuff.  I also leave the lid loose on the bottle.  This allows it to breath.  As a result it will dry faster when  I do use it.

I get my safflower oil at my local Kroger’s Grocery.

A variation that I am also partial to is:

4 parts paraffin, 2 parts carnuba, 2 parts beeswax, 6 parts High Linoleic Acid Safflower Oil, 6 part pure gum turpentine, 1 part borax. These recipes are fairly classic.

Borax is the best of the best preservatives, but it tends to leach out. Waxing outdoor projects will slow leaching,   Any borax you can get without leaving it gritty, that you can add to the paint and wax, is a good thing. If you don’t mind the grit, that might even be better.

Now for some background on safflower oil.   Safflower oil history is a bit odd.  Authoritative documents disagree regularly.  Artists who have loved using safflower oil, change their mind and never use it again.  It is considered drying, simi-drying and non drying.   One person finds it to be the best for painting, another finds it to be useless.

Some sources will say it has been used in paint for 200 years, others will say 20. Carthamus tinctorius,  safflower, has been cultivated by man since 1600 BC.   It has been used as a dye for clothing, and makeup, and paint for ages.

The data on the use of the oil is pretty conflicting from where I sit.   It started to be cultivated strongly in the U.S.  about 1950.  And has been used for paints ever since.   A ‘mutation’ was discovered  by the University of California, where the normal ratio of linoleic to oleic fatty acids is reversed.  This gives a monounsaturated oil instead of polyunsaturated.

Drying oils are called drying oils because the will oxidize and otherwise harden.  ‘Normal’ safflower oil is about 77% linoleic fatty acid, and 15% oleic fatty acid.  Monounsaturated oils don’t dry.  So the mutation does not dry well at all.  The oil stays oily.  Pure high linoleic acid safflower oil drys very well.

So if this is actually a reasonably common mutation, as mutations go,  then it is likely that some people in the past have grown mixes, or reasonably pure strains one way or the other.  As they selected the best producing plants to replant seeds from, they probably had no idea that the drying quality of the seed oil was being selected and altered as well.   This would tend to make one artist love the stuff, but then abandon it later, and another artist hate it from the beginning.  This would make a test fail or succeed at random.

I have had great success with safflower oil, yet I will be testing it for drying qualities before I use it.  You never know when a farmer is going to save a different seed, or change seed suppliers.   The old books on commercial soap making always advised you to test oils before making soap.  Apparently oil adulteration and swapping has a very long history.

Another question is the long term reliability of oil as a finish.  This is also an area, that well informed sources, give conflicting information.  Humidity, temperature, pigments used, other chemicals, and environmental influences will all cause issues and make this a mixed area.  Throw in the mistake, misidentification and the occasional authority making stuff up, and you end up with some very conflicting information.   Now that a lot of fine oil paints are produced with safflower oil, and a lot of archival oils are based on safflower, there is a good chance that the curators of the future will be able to definitively give answers on safflower oil.

Above is the finished wax with a few tools soaking in it.  The white spot on the surface is a bit of wax I put in to test temperature.  Later when it cools, the mixture will harden into a nice thick paste.

Bob

10 comments to Wax Mix

  • Skip J.

    I have collected the ingredients recommended by Bob in preparation for making his standard mix, including a hot plate and some borax powder. However, Bob provided some of us with gifts that included some wax mix he had poured up into the tins he shows here. The problem is that the wax mix is so useful that I have been using mine in place of several different products, as well as the Minwax I usually finish furniture with. Having the ability to make my own unlimited supply from now on has been the greatest benefit of his whole program.

    I also noticed that he gives a variation here with beeswax where he adds paraffin and carnuba to offset the softness of the beeswax.

    Thanks Bob, another problem solved for me… I’ll let you know how it turns out. And, I guess if you throw in a few tools to treat while boiling up the mix – then you’re not wasting a lot of wax mix to finish the tools, just taking care of business as you go.

    Skip

  • Unlimited supply and better control of the actual contents! And yes, Skip, I too use this stuff on an amazing range of goods. I love the look of it, I love the feel.

    While I did make an effort to show a casual stance towards purity, the stuff I have made for others, and the stuff I would use on a cutting board are quite a bit cleaner. I would not add the camphor to it if it was going to be a food surface or given to someone else either as I try to maintain a food surface contact grade of materials. This batch is going on garden planters, so they are going to get dirty and stay dirty. For food surfaces, I try to use the paraffin that is sold for canning.

    A valid caution however would be if you boiled a tool with brass on it. Brass usually has a reasonable percentage of lead in it, so boiling the brass in oil, might not be as safe as a bit of honest dirt on a candle, that will mostly settle to the bottom. I am not sure of the probable leeching of lead that might occur, so I would err on the safe side.

    Bob

  • Skip J.

    Thanks Bob; I have on hand several of every size of ferrule that LV makes – so if I boil any of the tanged ones, I’ll wait on the ferrule ’til after. Eventually I’ll get to the socket handles tho and just throw’em in.

    However, I plan to use my mesquite on those and you say the mesquite soaks up (the) wax like a sponge?

    And, while we’re on the subject – I’m not sure I would want borax in a mix for a cutting board????

    You also mention heating the mix several places – I have done well by using a heat blower for several seconds on a waxed handle to stiffen up the surface before buffing out…. I guess if it was heated very much the wax might melt again – so would you say a quick’n dirty wand-waving of the blower is what works to dry it out???

    Skip

  • Looking it up, some countries us borax as a preservative, often in caviar. Borax can be used as a cleaner, but might not be ideal. Turpentine may well have issues as well. It used to be used in cough syrup, but not so much any more.

    I will probably go with safflower, beeswax and vodka for cutting boards in the future.

    Bob

  • Annalea

    Safflower, beeswax and vodka for cutting boards? Please explain. :o) I’ve been using straight walnut oil on my cutting boards, and while it works really well, applying it and letting it soak in for days at a time gets old. (I only have to do it about once a year, but I have a hard time going without my cutting board for that long!)

    We’re also planning on wood countertops in an apartment we’re finishing . . . what would you suggest for finishing those? I was thinking tung oil initially . . .

    Thanks so much for the good info I’ve already found. :o)

  • EF Lavender

    Bob,

    Lots of great info on your site. Thanks for sharing it.

    With regard to your wax mix, would it be practical to use on items larger than tool handles? I’m in the process of planning out some “Aggravation” marble game boards (18″ hexagon x 3/4″ thick) and thought this might be an ideal finish. If so, would the wax mix need to be applied hot or cold? Any pointers would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    Ed

  • Bob Strawn

    I will often soak the mix into wood and quick cure it by using a heat gun. It can rub in cold, but hot is better.

    Bob

  • I’m new here, so I just want to make sure I understand, you are using this as an outdoor finish? Would it work well on outdoor wood furniture like an adirondack chair in cypress? How long does it last? Does it need refreshing regularly? It seems like the push is always to polyurathane or spar varnish for outdoor furniture, but it degrades as well, and is a pain to redo every year or two.

    If this does need refreshing, does it have to be stripped first? Or can you just add more wax to the piece?

    Thanks for any info.

    Pete

  • Bob Strawn

    I am afraid that the wax mix will darken and grey over time in the outdoors. It will not need stripping in most cases and as it soaks in more than coats the wood. It can be scraped down easily if it has left a coating and adding more wax is easily done. I do use this wax mix outdoors, but I only use it to gently slow the eventual results of time and weather. So far, my milk paint experiments have held up to the weather much better than my wax experiments. http://toolmakingart.com/2008/06/16/two-layer-milk-paint/

    Bob

  • sd

    what is the functional difference between paraffin and beeswax? any reason not skip the petroleum products and use all beeswax if i’ve got it?

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