DIY Waxed Canvas Tool Roll #2: Wax On...Wax Off, the Search for the Best Wax Recipe

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Blog entry by DylanC posted 11-28-2016 03:21 AM 6769 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Intro Part 2 of DIY Waxed Canvas Tool Roll series Part 3: Are All Waxes Created Equal? »

I’ve always wanted a good tool roll for my chisels and another for my files and rasps, and I suppose one for my brace bits, and the list goes on. The ones I’m most familiar with are the waxed canvas types that we have in the Army. Even today, when synthetic materials are so widely used, the tool bags used for most Army equipment (trucks, HMMWVs, etc.) are still made of waxed canvas. This stuff is really tough and water/soil resistant. So when I went shopping for tool rolls, I found the commonly available ones (canvas or nylon) just a bit wimpy. But the GOOD waxed canvas & leather tool rolls are a bit out of my budget at $100 to $200 a crack (see Texas Heritage Woodworks or Cotter Pin Moto Gear). So I spend a few minutes (read: hours or maybe days) searching the net for how waxed canvas was made.

The basic recipe for the wax mixture generally contains wax (beeswax and/or paraffin) along with varying amounts of boiled linseed oil and a solvent, usually turpentine or mineral spirits. Even with these three simple ingredients, the ratios were all over the map. I found a few good resources and a bunch of not-so-good ones. A lot of the How-To’s out there are folks like me doing this for the first time but don’t have any experience for comparison or to qualify their results. I appreciate them documenting their recipe and process, but I was looking for a bit more “expert” advice. The best help I got was from a youtube video from a guy who’s used a certain formula for years. His video (LINK HERE) goes through the whole process to whip up a batch and use it to waterproof an old canvas knapsack. Lots of videos and blogs around the net had basically the same content, but with vastly different recipes. It was his experience with his mixture that gave him (and his recipe) the most credibility. A second good resource was a blog post discussing the his successful recipe for making traditional oilcloth & tincloth (LINK HERE). The summary is this: A mixture of equal parts BLO and mineral spirits is a good waterproofing mixture for natural fabrics like cotton canvas. Adding wax to the mixture increases the durability of the fabric at the expense of flexibility and added weight. But the devil is in the details. How much wax to add, what solvent should I use, etc? The traditional mixtures used turpentine and beeswax. Later, mineral spirits and paraffin (petroleum-based products) became popular. The tincloth recipe linked above actually uses a wax ring (the kind that goes under your toilet) as the wax. So I’ve decided to test four mixtures to start with. The ratios are in WAX:BLO:MS order. I settled on mineral spirits rather than turpentine because I had some on hand.

0:1:1 – BLO and mineral spirits. Basically traditional oilcloth.
2:1:1 – Paraffin wax, BLO and mineral spirits.
2:1:1 – Beeswax, BLO and mineral spirits.
1:0:1 – Paraffin wax (leftover from some of the wife’s used-up jar candles) and mineral spirits.

My basic purpose is to determine if oilcloth is “good enough” for what I want, and if there is any reason to use beeswax (~$8 per lb.) over paraffin (~$4 per lb.). That last mixture with no BLO got thrown in there because, during my research, I found several other uses for similar mixtures for waterproofing and leather conditioning. Johnson’s Paste Wax, for example, is somewhere around 25% paraffin and 75% solvents. Similarly, a product called Sno Seal for waterproofing boots is around 35% beeswax and 65% solvents. The actual ratios are trade secrets, but the MSDS sheets list the main ingredients and their rough proportions. I figure if nothing else, I can use this last one on my boots or my cast iron tablesaw/bandsaw/jointer/etc.

To create each batch, I used an empty jar from the wife’s extensive collection of used-up candles. I put 4 oz. of wax in each jar and then put the jar into a pot with 1/2” or so of water in it. This went onto the stove as a kind of double boiler. While the wax was melting, I mixed 2 fl. oz. each of BLO and MS in a mason jar. Yes, I know fluid ounces and weight ounces are not equivalent, but I wanted to keep the math simple. Once the wax was melted, I removed the jar from the pot of water and took it to the garage where I poured the BLO/MS into the wax. The wax was sufficiently warm that I only had to stir them together and did not have to reheat the mixture. The residual heat was enough to re-melt any wax that hardened when the BLO/MS was added. Once mixed, I covered them and let them sit to cool completely.

So far, I’ve mixed all three of the wax mixtures. A more in-depth discussion of each sample will be included in upcoming posts.

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

4 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 5169 days

#1 posted 11-28-2016 03:33 AM

I know you asked about waxed canvas but have you considered leather instead?

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View DylanC's profile


209 posts in 4130 days

#2 posted 11-28-2016 03:58 AM

I know you asked about waxed canvas but have you considered leather instead?

- Mark Shymanski

Not really. Some of the reasons I am going with canvas are because I am familiar with it, because its cheaply available in large pieces ($13 for a “heavy” canvas drop cloth at local big-box store) and because sewing seems less intimidating than leather work. I may come to regret that last part, though. I’ve already learned my current sewing machine isn’t cut out for canvas, something I will address in an upcoming post.

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

View hnau's profile


88 posts in 1999 days

#3 posted 11-30-2016 05:38 PM

-- Spammer in processed of being removed.

View bhuvi's profile


97 posts in 1998 days

#4 posted 12-01-2016 01:54 PM

-- Do NOT click links. Spammer in the process of being removed.

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