Tag Archives: Wax

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

Turned Cherry Bowl

In woodworking we often spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to make things rectilinear. Most trees I see do not have a lot of square edges on them to start yet many woodworkers have trouble thinking in the round.  Lately I’ve been doing some more green woodworking and wood turning and have been enjoying the explorations of different forms and techniques. When turning free form work I love how the wood speaks to me and tells me what shape it would like to be.

The cherry bowl below was a change from the very traditional colonial forms and delicate/thin shapes I spend a lot of time working with. I wanted to make a deep bowl with simple lines to let the grain and color speak for itself. I think mentally I was picturing something Asian inspired, though this piece could be at home on a very traditional table.

Completed bowl
Completed bowl

Recently I had a weekend out in the shop and turned this bowl as a thank-you gift for a good friend. Below is a quick chronicle of the process:

Bowl blank cut out on band saw and mounted to faceplate
Bowl blank cut out on band saw and mounted to faceplate

I had a nice bit of 16/4 Cherry in my shop for a long waiting for it’s time to transform into a bowl. Using a compass I marked out the largest circle I could get out of the blank, cut it roughly round on the band saw and mounted it to a faceplate for the lathe.

Turned outside of the bowl.
Turned outside of the bowl.

Once mounted on the headstock I turned the bowl round and formed the exterior shape of the bowl. For this bowl I wanted to try something different, so rather than turning a tenon which would decrease the external depth of bowl I could get from the blank I relieve the bottom of the bowl so that the bowl chuck could expand to hold the bowl rather than clamping down on a round tenon.

Bowl reversed and in the bowl chuck
Bowl reversed and in the bowl chuck

Once I got the outside of the bowl shaped the way I wanted it, I reversed the bowl and mounted it in the bowl chuck. Next I  hollow out the bowl being careful to not go too deep and blow out the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Applying the finish while on the lathe
Applying the finish while on the lathe

With the bowl still on the lathe I was able to apply finish to the bowl which helps speed up the process. As the bowl gets polished up, you can really see how the figure of the wood pops.

Close up detail
Close up detail

This bowl is finished with tung oil and wax.

Grain detail of the turned Cherry Bowl
Grain detail of the turned Cherry Bowl

Freshly turned the cherry looks pretty light on top of my maple bench, but with time and exposure to daylight it will darken up nicely and take on the warmer color you expect from cherry.

Bottom Detail
Bottom Detail

I learned to turn from Alan Lacer and Rich Friberg and one thing they both taught me was to add little details to surprise or delight folks who took the time to inspect what you made. On the bottom of this bowl I varied the surface under the bowl to give more visual and tactile interest.

Turned Cherry Bowl
Turned Cherry Bowl

I  am happy with the results and hope this sturdy little bowl has a good life.

Take care,
-Bill