Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I've been experimenting with making my own wax mixture for waxing un-waxed canvas. Professionally waxed fabrics are made with trade secret formulas and have properties that would require a chemist's analysis to really begin to understand.

From what I've read, paraffin is the chief ingredient. There are also references to beeswax and linseed oil, so I've played around with all three with a ratio of four parts beeswax/paraffin and one part linseed oil. So far it seems like its a basically functional recipe, but there is still something happening in the commercial products that I don't understand. There is somehow more of an oiled, less waxy quality to professionally manufactured material. (An aside: Did you know early on sailors treated their sails with linseed oil, which turned them yellow? They then started using the sail material for rain gear, hence the ubiquitousness of yellow rain jackets.)

A shop apron I made recently

With my concoction I heat it up to liquid form and then paint the wax onto the untreated canvas. It goes on pretty easily but then hardens up unevenly and quickly, so I then put the whole thing in the oven at about 200 and that makes it saturate and even-out through the material. It's ready to go after that.

This is well and good, and offers a modicum of repellency to the fabric, but it's not quite the highly water resistant result I'm hoping for. I've wondered if perhaps petroleum jelly might be worth adding to the mix; it's sticky yet pliable and quite hard to remove.

 A pair of canvas Converse sneakers, waxed

The nice thing about being able to wax material myself is that I'm not limited in what I can make bags out of; I love the look feel and texture of waxed cotton and enjoy the potential of being able to wax whatever I like.

An appealing aspect of this experiment is that we collect wax from our beehives and have accumulated a reasonable supply over the years. It feel good to have this a somewhat locally produced product. Makes me wonder where linseeds grow, and are linseeds from a tree? a shrub?
The waxed parts for a handlebar bag in process

I recently made myself a handlebar bag from home-waxed canvas and it worked pretty well in the few rain and snow showers that its been through. It's not waterproof, but I get the impression that it is resistant; that water stays at the outer surface, even if the moisture is not exactly beading on the outside.

Applying the melted wax

This is an ongoing experiment and I'm encouraged with what I've come up with so far. If anyone has experimented with their own waxing process or has any insights or suggestions, I'm curious to hear what you know.


I got ahold of some petroleum jelly and rubbed it into a piece of canvas. It seems so like the commercial stuff--quite repellant and saturated without being really waxy at all, but also not too oily. It'll definitely be what I'll try with whatever the next project is.


Greg Wallace said...

Hi Dave.

I wonder if adding a solvent would help? Maybe citrus based or vinegar or real turpentine?


Very cool stuff to be experimenting with though.

Dave Cain said...

Hi Greg,
Thanks for the suggestions. My latest experiment is with petroleum jelly and it seems like a strong candidate.
Hope things are good with you,

Anonymous said...

Linseed oil is from flax

Anonymous said...

I love your apron! I know it has been a while, but I thought that I might add something. I am currently experimenting with beeswax. I have made beeswax polish, and now I am making oiled canvas. I am lucky in that my partner has worked as a chemist for a variety of companies ( some who use natural herbal products like Blackmores and now more pharma companies) so he can help me work out the labels. Petroleum jelly was the ingredient that you were missing. May I also suggest adding a natural oil like olive oil? I hoped that it worked out for you! Cheers Cathie

Charles Haynes said...

Linseed is the same as flax seed.