A Durable and Natural Wood Finish November 10, 2015 12:06

A few months ago my friend Wes (LifeSpace Gardens) and I took a look at the ingredient list on the all-natural wood polish he uses. We discovered to our delight that the key ingredients - beeswax, carnauba wax, and orange oil - were all available off-the-shelf at Homesteader's! Ever since then, he's been hounding me to concoct a homegrown version.

A few days ago I moved into a quaint but awkwardly laid out basement suite off Vancouver's Commercial Drive. The unusual kitchen layout required a custom island, et voilà! A reason to whip up some wood finish.

kitchen chimney

Now, I deviated a bit from the script here. Wes' polish uses orange oil to dissolve the brittle-but-shiny carnauba wax and the tough-and-antifungal beeswax. For that reason, the product he uses stays liquid well at room temperature. My concern was that even though orange oil is a natural product, it would evaporate quickly and be possibly irritating in an enclosed, poorly ventilated space (my new apartment). For that reason, I left out the orange oil and used a food-grade mineral oil instead. It's non-volatile, but also not as strong a solvent, so the resulting product had to be applied hot.

I also added some pine rosin. I guess I put that in there because when added to beeswax and jojoba, it makes reusable food wraps pliable, anti-microbial, and slightly tacky. Unfortunately, it also made the finished wood surface slightly tacky, and the whole mixture extra sticky during application. In short, I will leave out the pine rosin next time!

setting up a bain marie or double boiler

Even though none of the ingredients is highly volatile, they're *all* flammable, so it's very important to avoid overheating. I achieve this using a primitive double-boiler or bain-marie setup. The lower pot has a few inches of water. Use a pot that you never want to cook with again for the actual melting (could be a pot you already use for candle making, for example!). 

beeswax, carnauba wax, pine rosin, and mineral oil

That's pine rosin at the top, carnauba wax flakes on the right, and beeswax on the left. It's all soaked in mineral oil.

melting beeswax, pine rosin, carnauba wax, and mineral oil together

The beeswax chunks are always last to melt. Be patient!

thoroughly melted and mixed beeswax, pine rosin, carnauba wax, and mineral oil

All melted. The pine rosin was quick to look dissolved, but required constant stirring to prevent it from settling to the bottom as a sticky mass. Eventually it was all uniform.

using a hair dryer and cloth to rub the mixture into the wood

A hair dryer on high or a hot air gun is a must for this. Some heat-resistant gloves would have been nice too - I had to take some breaks. I tried this two ways:

  1. Poured some of the finish from the pan onto the wood, then frantically tried to rub it in before it cooled and solidified. The result was having to re-melt a lot of it with the hair dryer and lots of work to rub it in.
  2. Dipped the rag in the pan and rubbed in small sections at a time. This seemed the more user-friendly approach.

That's Caitlin helping by pointing the hair dryer at the wood wherever the mixture solidified too early. It was definitely helpful having two people for this, as the rubbing-in required pretty aggressive work with the cloth for both methods.

the finished pine wood island

The finished top. Boy, it doesn't look too different, does it? It's also got some lighter spots. Those areas *feel* like they're coated, so I think it must be a difference in penetration depth. I was able to darken some of the light areas (to match the rest) by applying the hair dryer for several seconds and then rubbing vigorously with the soaked cloth. What you're seeing here is the spots we missed. You know what though? We think it looks just fine.

More pics to follow after we use it to slice beets and spill some red wine on it.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with the recipe:

Ingredient qty

Notes to self

Beeswax 50g

smaller chunks would melt faster

Carnauba wax 50g

melted well

Pine rosin 50g

melted OK but difficult to stir in; seemed to contribute to stickiness even in finished surface. Omit next time.

Mineral oil 1/4 cup

could use a little more to keep the mixture liquid at lower temperature. A liquid wax like jojoba could also substitute.

Orange oil - omitted due to concerns about enclosed space. consider using a small amount next time to make application easier