The Strategic Paraffin Wax Reserve

Where did all the paraffin wax go?

Paraffin wax has many uses around the shop and can often be found in my tool belt or shop apron. It’s something I often take for granted and rarely thought about until recently when I needed to replenish my stock and could not find it in any of the usual places…

The Hunt for Paraffin Wax:

I tried all the places I’d swear I had seen it before…

  • My local food stores — Shaws, Hannafords, Market Basket, and Stop and Shop
  • The big box stores — Target and Walmart. (Walmart even listed it in stock on the website with a product ID but after searching on my own nobody in the store had a clue about it and all claimed people regularly come into the store expecting them to have things the website says are in-stock but nowhere to be found)
  • Any other place I thought might reasonably have it — Walgreens, Rite-Aid, CVS, True Value

No luck.

The next best idea I had was to try some craft stores. Michael’s and AC Moore didn’t list it on their websites, but Hobby Lobby claimed to carry some but was sold out online. After clearing snow in the evening and feeling a bit of cabin fever I decided to give Hobby Lobby a try in person. After hunting around I finally found some in the candle-making section. Given all my hunting around I bought the last two 1lb blocks of paraffin — likely a lifetime supply for most woodworkers.

The Strategic Paraffin Wax Reserve
The Strategic Paraffin Wax Reserve

My favorite workshop uses for paraffin wax:

  • Lubricating screws — especially when driven into hard woods or when the screw made of a softer metal like brass it lubricates the threads and makes it easier to drive the screw. It does not affect the screws ability to hold in the wood, and is accomplished quickly by dragging the threads through a block of wax
  • As part of a workbench and similar shop finish — From Tage Frid and other sources he would dissolve paraffin with turpentine and boiled linseed oil and use it as a durable renewable workbench finish
  • Sealing metal and tools — by dipping them into melted paraffin
  • Lubricating planes and saw blades — a quick rub with some paraffin will help your planes and saws glide easily through the wood
  • Lubricating wood on wood moving parts — such as the tail and shoulder vises in a traditional workbench or on a drawer slide
Waxed Screws In Hard Maple
Waxed Screws In Hard Maple

Tips on working with paraffin:

  • You can cut up the block of wax into any size chunk you like using a large kitchen knife. I tend to use a block about the size of a hotel bar of soap
  • Be careful in the summer as it can melt in the sun, so be careful where you store it in warmer weather. I normally have an old Altoids tin in my toolbox to keep it from getting on everything
  • For making a finish be careful as paraffin is flammable so you’ll want to melt it in a double boiler or slice it very thin or use an old cheese grater to increase the surface area before mixing it with your solvent(s)

Where did all the paraffin wax go?

Paraffin wax is generally a bi-product of the gasoline production industry and is most often used to make candles, seal jars, and as a USDA approved coating for candies and some fruits and vegetables. For folks that used to can their own food they would often seal the jars with paraffin wax (often marketed as ‘Gulf Wax’ in the food store near the Ball Jars — it came in a white box and was cut neatly into 4 bars.) From looking online it seems the USDA has advised against using wax to seal your preserves and canning seems to be less popular in recent years as most food stores no longer stock Ball jars and that sort of thing — replaced by ziploc containers and other modern plastic disposable junk. Without the connection to food, I could see food stores dropping it from their shelves.

I suspect there might be more to the story, so if you have a better theory on why paraffin seems to be a lot harder to find, or have spotted some recently, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Take care,
-Bill

34 thoughts on “Where did all the paraffin wax go?”

  1. Not a day goes by in my shop when I don’t reach for my block of paraffin wax for screws or lubricating plane soles. I’m grateful for the heads-up about its surprising new scarcity and will start keeping my eyes out for it.

  2. Weird. I wrote about paraffin as the “highly recommended” in the forthcoming issue of PWM – easy to find around here. (Hmmmm…..side business?!))

    1. I always assumed it was easy to find as did most people I spoke to — we all swore we had just seen it at the local grocery store, but when it came time to look for it we all had the same luck. (At least North of Boston and into Southern NH metro area.) Seems like now it is a seasonal item at best. Next time you are in your local store take a look and let me know if other regions are not seeing the same thing.

    2. It will be funny if hoarding and reselling paraffin wax will be the hot new thing to do. 😉 A few years ago when we could no longer get Butcher’s wax I was pretty sad and really rationed out what I had left. I’ve moved on to Staples wax which ironically is made in the same town in NH where I live, but I miss that old orange can. Googling around today it looks like someone is making what used to be Butcher’s Wax again (same product names, website and colors, minus the the Butcher’s name) http://www.bwccompany.com/catalog.html If I ever see it in a store I’ll have to give it a try.

      1. I wonder…because paraffin is used in canning, if it’s easier to find closer to end of the growing season. Not much general call for it in most kitchens in the depths of winter.

    1. Hi Dave, Thanks for the comment. Have you seen it there recently? I was thinking larger and older stores might be better but all had the same luck around here. If you see it at your local store next time you are there, let us know. Take care, -Bill

    1. Hi Richard, Thanks for the comment. I suspect you are right and it may only be a seasonal item these days for regular food stores. I wish we had more stores like Reny’s down here in NH — that place is great. (Also not often I get to say down here in NH 🙂
      Take care,
      -Bill

  3. I wondered why I couldn’t find it anymore. Used to be at the grocery with the canning jars. I found it at the hardware store though. Lots of Amish around here that must still use it for canning and they do cater to them. If all else fails it’s available at the A to Z online store…

    1. Thank you for the note. I’m glad to hear the hardware store has it near you. If the craft stores didn’t come through for me I was going to break down and buy through Amazon though as of the time of this writing the cheapest I could find a 1lb block of Gulf Waz was $8 via Royal Oak (the company that makes it) selling as a 3rd party seller through Amazaon. Normally 1lb is $2-4 in the food store so I didn’t want to pay that much, though in gas and time I surely spent the equivalent. Hobby Lobby had it on sale 30% off this week so I paid $3 each for my two 1lb bricks (usually $4.29) — the last 2 they had. They had other 1lb candle wax bricks that were more white than clear and the same price but different labeling which didn’t mention paraffin on it anywhere. I stayed away from that whiter style as I think it likely has some other hardners or similar, like the clearance bin white taper candle I tried from my wife which did not work well.
      Take care,
      -Bill

  4. I’ve been using those little “Glimma” tea candles they sell at Ikea (100 for $3.99). I don’t know if they’re pure paraffin but I haven’t had any problems with them.

    1. That is a good possible alternative source. The food stores still seemed to stock bags of tea candles. Before my hunt for the wax I tried some cheap white tapered candles my wife got on clearance and the wax didn’t seem to transfer as well to the threads — too brittle so based on that I didn’t try any other brands or forms of candle. Walmart and similar places had lots of the wax cubes you melt over a tea light to make a smell which might be another viable alternative if you get one without the dye in it.

      Thanks for the note.
      Take care,
      -Bill

  5. Too bad you don’t live next to a refinery. I used to work at one and we had an entire wax plant (that would have been a great setting for a horror movie). Bet you could even gotten some kosher paraffin since the rabbi would come by and bless whatever needed blessing.

  6. Wondering why beeswax is not as desirable to you. I haven’t given it much thought but I use beeswax for the same purposes (purpii?). So I have never given paraffin a thought as being more desirable

    1. Hi Scott,

      Good question as it made me pause and think for a bit. As far as I know you can use beeswax fairly interchangeably with paraffin for the workshop uses I called out in this blog post. I think I mainly preferred paraffin because of my own prejudices, experiences, and availability. Warranted or not I think I mainly preferred paraffin for the following reasons — it was dirt cheap, easily found (at least in the past), seemed to be pure/clear, non-toxic, and seemed a bit harder/melt at a slightly higher temp compared to beeswax. With beesewax it seemed softer the few times I used it and I was never sure how ‘pure’ it was — worrying that the color and/or impurities might have side-effects or reactions. I also had a lot of allergies as a kid (nuts, some flowers, some foods etc) so I shied away from that nature based product. I also heard from some old-timers that beeswax had a tendency to build up on surfaces like wooden plane soles, though I never used it enough to say for sure. Next time I am at woodcraft or similar I should pick up a block of beeswax and give it a try.

      Take care,
      -Bill

      1. Makes sense. I agree it is softer and I could see how it would build…perhaps? But as a galoot I too “think I mainly preferred beeswax because of my own prejudices, experiences, and availability”. It’s good to question these things every few years though and you have made me pause as i have nothing against paraffin.

        And for beeswax the good thing is I can buy off a beekeeper and help the local, non-Big-Box economy

      2. I like that aspect of keeping it local, and I am not thrilled about supporting the petro-chemical industry that produces paraffin. I think the price of beeswax in woodworking stores scared me away from raw beeswax. Thinking about beeswax in one form or another I do use it regularly in my Timber Framing via Land Ark’s End Grain Sealer which is mainly beeswax and citrus oil and love it for that use. Next time I see some solid beeswax I’ll have to give it another try.
        Take care,
        -Bill

  7. Decades ago, paraffin wax was sold from behind the counter in my small town due to the pervasive use of it on car windows around halloween.

    I think LV includes a warning about using beeswax on it’s Veritas saws -due to the buildup.

    1. Hi Ray,
      Thank you for the comment. That is funny about the kids using it on cars.
      You’re right about the LV Saw warning, I just dug up a copy off their website of the ‘Care and Maintenance’ they suggest so others can see it.

      Take care,
      -Bill

      Care and Maintenance

      To ensure many years of service and to prevent damaging the fine teeth, always store the saw with the blade protector in place.

      A light coating of wax will prevent the blade from rusting.

      Rubbing paraffin wax on the side of the blade just before use will also allow the saw to run more smoothly through the cut.

      Do not use beeswax candles; beeswax will gum everything up.

      IWE-411 Rev. A (Above pasted from LeeValley.com

  8. Aqui onde vivo há dois tipos de parafina, em liquido e em barra.
    A liquida uso para lubrificar ou como restauro de pequenos riscos em mobiliario.
    A em barra para parafusos.

    1. Obrigado pelo comentário. A receita de Tage Frid no post chama uma receita de como fazer uma versão líquida da parafina. Se você tem uma marca favorita ou lugar para obter a parafina líquida, nos avise.

      Tome cuidado,
      -Bill

      Jose’s Comment Translated:
      Here where I live there are two types of paraffin in liquid and bar.
      The liquid is used to lubricate or to restore small scratches on furniture.
      The bar is used for screws.

      My reply In English:
      Thank you for the comment. The recipe from Tage Frid in the post calls out one recipe for how make a liquid version of the paraffin. If you have a favorite brand or place to get the liquid paraffin, let us know.

      Take care,
      -Bill

  9. In my Walmart (that had it in stock on their website), it was next to the gelatin in the baking aisle clear across the store from the canning supplies. Had about 15 boxes.
    -david j

    1. Hi David,

      That is good to hear. For other readers, what part of the country are you in?
      A friend of mine from work who lives about an hour north of me in a more rural area picked me up a 1lb box of Gulf Wax for me in the food store (Shaw’s) for $3 so it definitely seems some areas are better for stocking it than others.

      Take care,
      -Bill

  10. I’ve not had a hard time finding it here in MN. Cub Foods carries it right next to their canning jars in the storage bag like Ziplocks aisle. I don’t use if for tools but for my baking of Christmas cookies. Yum.

    1. That is good to hear. Seems like my area is in the minority for not having it readily available. You should take a piece of one of those blocks and put it in your toolbox for use with screws — it’s well worth the few extra seconds.
      -Bill

  11. Old thread, but parafin will generally be found with geletin, baking, or candy supplies. It is used f andor several cooking applications, primarily candies and chocolate making

    1. Thank you for the comment, that is a good reminder. At the time I was searching for it, we tried the baking section of the local food stores, Walmart and Target and no luck. Hobby Lobby was the only place near me in Southern NH that had any. A friend of mine from work who lives about 90min north of me went to his local food store and they had it in the canning section as would be expected. It sounds like it may have become more of a seasonal item in some parts.

  12. canning section or an old hardware store should have it, if the place has well worn floors and heavy dust, home fuses and everything you thought was gone it is the right place!

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the note. Yep, that is the kind of place I would have expected to find it as well. In the months since that post what I’ve learned, at least for my neck of the woods is that it seems to only be a seasonal item these days around canning season and a friend of mine picked me up a pack of gulf wax from a supermarket near his house that had it in stock to supplement what I found at Hobby Lobby. Apparently canning processes have moved away from sealing with wax which apparently has also added to the relative scarcity at times as the demand has dropped off.
      Take care,
      -Bill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s