My daughter Katherine has been making a linseed oil and beeswax finish as fast as she possibly can for the last few weeks. And she has been selling out within minutes of posting the jars for sale. As always, I am happy to share any recipes I can so you can make this at home. It’s not difficult. This finish was developed with some advice from Jeff Stafford, a woodworker and finisher in Indianapolis. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming “The Stick Chair Book,” which will be released this fall.
My favorite clear finish for chairs is a combination of linseed oil, beeswax and a little bit of citrus solvent. It is easy to apply, safe and is a lustrous finish that does not make a film barrier between you and the chair. It is easily renewed or repaired by adding more finish. This finish works for woods of all colors – from maple to walnut. It will add a yellow/orange cast to light-colored woods. So if you want a whiter finish, use soap instead.
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You can buy a linseed oil and wax finish from many suppliers. Some of them are reasonably priced; others are extraordinarily expensive. I make my own because it’s easy and cheap, and because I am in control of the entire process.
I buy beeswax from Bulk Apothecary, which sells raw ingredients for people who make personal-care products. A pound of beeswax pellets costs anywhere from $5 to $10, depending on how much you order. A pound of beeswax pellets is about four cups by volume.
You can also get it from beekeepers, which is where I got mine for many years. The upside: it’s usually inexpensive or free. The downside: you need to refine it to get the insect parts out.
The second ingredient is raw linseed oil – not the commercial boiled linseed oil (BLO) at hardware stores. BLO has toxic metallic driers and is not what you want for this recipe. Raw linseed oil is also available from most hardware stores, but sometimes you have to ask them to order it for you. I pay about $10 for 32 ounces (four cups by volume).
People will tell you that raw linseed oil never dries. They are misinformed. Linseed is a drying oil. It takes some time for it to fully cure, but if you apply it correctly you can sit in your chair after a couple hours of applying this finish.
The third ingredient is just a bit of citrus solvent (limonene). The solvent loosens the mixture so it is more of a soft wax (like a lightweight peanut butter) and not a bar of soap. You can buy limonene from a variety of sellers and pay anywhere from $1 per ounce to $13 an ounce. I usually pay about $21 for 16 ounces (32 tablespoons). In total, a batch of this finish costs about $7 to $20 to make and will finish more than 10 chairs.
Linseed Oil & Wax Finish Recipe
2 cups (16 ounces by volume) of raw linseed oil
3/4 cup beeswax
2 tablespoons limonene
I make this finish in a metal quart paint can from the hardware store. Place the metal can on a hotplate, fill the can with the raw linseed oil and turn on the hotplate to between low and medium. Monitor the temperature with a cooking thermometer. Beeswax melts at 151° (F). As soon as the temperature of the oil reaches 151°, pour the beeswax pellets and limonene into the oil. Stir with a stick until the beeswax melts (it takes less than a minute). Turn off the hotplate and remove the mixture from heat.
Allow it to cool. It will become a paste after about an hour of cooling. Seal. You can use it immediately or keep it indefinitely.
— Christopher Schwarz