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
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.
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
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.