My favorite finish (for now)

About two years ago, I hatched an evil scheme: I intuited that Chris would be writing about polissoirs within the next six months. I also figured that he would eventually invite me to write on his blog. And so I slipped him a small mahogany board that I had finished to look like it had been polissoir-ed, but was in fact finished using more modern techniques. Last week, my plans finally came to fruition, as he mistakenly put forth my sample board as an example of polissoir-ization. It was all very reminiscent of Armand LaMontagne’s Brewster Chair.

Actually, it didn’t go down quite like that, and I apologize for inadvertently leading Chris astray. The irony is that I really did give him the board because I thought that the finish I used looks a lot like a polissoir-ed finish, but I didn’t intend for him to get his boards mixed up.

So what is this miracle finish? It’s something that you’ve probably never heard of: Polyx-Oil, from Osmo (a German manufacturer of wood flooring and wood-finishing products). Polyx-Oil is one of a number of finishes known as hardwax oils. As the name suggests, hardwax oils are a blend of a hard wax (typically candelilla and/or carnauba) and a drying oil (soy, tung, linseed, etc.). Hardwax oils have become popular in Europe in recent years, but they’re still relatively unknown in North America. Until very recently, the only products imported to the U.S. were those from Osmo, but some of the other manufacturers have started to show up. My experience is only with the Osmo products, so from now on that’s what I’ll be talking about. There’s a list of Osmo dealers available on their web site (you can also buy through the company named after a mythical female warrior nation).

While Polyx-Oil hardly qualifies as a Lost Art, it’s interesting that it really isn’t that different from old-time finishes: just oil, wax and a pinch of drying agent. It would seem that much of modern finish chemistry uses the same materials as always, and that the main differences are in molecular micromanagement.

Polyx-Oil was originally developed as a finish for wood floors. While neither “Foolproof!” nor “The Last Finish You’ll Ever Need!” it is easy to use and does a good job of protecting wood against everyday spills and such, but it isn’t truly waterproof. I think it’s fine for most furniture, with the possible exception of dining tables. I wouldn’t use it on bathroom cabinets, and I’d think twice about it on kitchen cabinets. It’s also not recommended as a finish for oily tropical woods. (Osmo recommends against using it on mahogany, but I haven’t experienced any problems with either real mahogany or its African relatives.)

Osmo makes three variations of Polyx-Oil, the original Polyx-Oil, Top Oil and Polyx Pro Oil. All three are very similar, with the only significant difference being the amount of solvent. Top Oil contains more solvent, and is supposedly optimized for furniture and countertops (as opposed to floors). Polyx Pro Oil contains virtually no solvent, for situations that call for a very low-VOC finish.

I’ve used both original Polyx-Oil and Top Oil, and have to say that if there is a difference, it’s hardly noticeable. Top Oil does come in a container with a screw top, making it a bit more convenient for touch-ups. I haven’t tried Polyx Pro Oil, mainly because it only comes in very large containers and is therefore rather expensive.

Through trial and error, I developed a finishing schedule that deviates from the Osmo instructions but is well suited to furniture and casework. The resulting finish is silky and semi-matte. It looks and feels like paste wax over oil, but is more durable. You can download a PDF of my finishing schedule here.

Osmo Polyx-Oil

Four out of five African Hoopoes endorse the use of Polyx-Oil (the fifth is currently busy trying to eat a beetle)

–Steve Schafer

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A Correction to my Entry on Polissoirs


My recent article on the new polissoirs from Don’s Barn and a long-term test of the burnishing effect from the tool had a significant error: The photo showed the wrong sample board.

That similar-looking sample board was given to me by woodworker Steve Schafer – he’ll be blogging about the finishing schedule on that sample board in the near future.

Last tight I rooted through my wood rack to find the mahogany sample that I prepared 18 months ago. I made it halfway through the rack without finding it; when it turns up, I’ll post a photo of it.

In the meantime, here are photos of two projects that I finished with a polissoir about the same time I made the sample board. These two stools were finished with a polissoir only on the lathe. Like all properly prepared polissoirs, it had a little wax on the tip, which was applied when I first got the tool. But I wouldn’t call this a wax finish. It’s a burnished finish, much like the burnishing finish you get when you use shavings to polish a piece spinning on the lathe.

So the result isn’t wrong – just the photo.

Apologies for the error. I should have marked Steve’s sample board as it is very similar looking to mine.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Finishing, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 2 Comments

A Great Variety of Useful Tools


American Industries—No. 9, Small Tools

The industry under consideration is peculiarly American. It is representative of a class of establishments that have given our manufacturers a world-wide reputation for goods that are both cheap and reliable. This success is mainly due to the system of manufacture inaugurated here some years since, and which seems to thrive better in this country than anywhere else. But for the special machines, the system of inspection, and assembling we should still have the old-fashioned tools, with the defects consequent upon fitting one piece to another, and the prices would be far higher than the more perfect machine-made article now demands.

The Miller’s Falls Company, of Miller’s Falls, Mass, manufacture a great variety of useful tools, most of them being of the smaller sort, such as are of the most general utility. A few of these, shown in the title page engraving, will be recognized by most of our readers as familiar objects. Among these are breast drills, bench drills, Barber’s bit brace, the ratchet brace, parallel vises, the miter box, the screw jack, all of which are so well known as to need no special description.
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Hamilton’s Tree-Felling and Cross-Cutting Machine


This machine is specially designed for felling trees. It is well known that in chopping down trees with an ax, two or three feet, according to the size of the tree, of the most valuable part of the lumber is lost. By this machine the tree is felled within five inches of the ground; and by removing the soil sufficiently to avoid dulling the saw, it can be cut as low as desired. Four men can do the work of ten men with axes in the forests.

It will be recollected that the butt must be squared, or cross-cut, before the log is ready for the mill; but the single operation of felling the tree with this machine leaves the log already squared. The land is left smooth, thus facilitating cultivation, and greatly increasing its value. The surface of the stump being left flat and level, is porous and spongy, so that by the action of moisture and air it soon decays; but when cut by the ax, its pores are sealed up and its surface rendered smooth, and the stump will not soon decay, but remains for years an unsightly and inconvenient object.
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Chipbreaker-setting Trick


Rhett Fulkerson of Nice Planes in Frankfort, Ky., showed me a cool trick for setting a chipbreaker quickly, precisely and perfectly parallel to the cutting edge.

Take a feeler gauge whose thickness is equal to the distance you want to set the breaker back from the cutting edge. In this example, I used a .005” feeler gauge. Tape the feeler gauge to a flat surface.

setting_block_IMG_8897 position-iron_IMG_8898

Touch the back of the iron to the flat surface and against the edge of the feeler gauge. Slide the breaker down the back of the iron until it contacts the feeler gauge. If your iron has a curved cutting edge, apply the downward pressure in the center of the iron and the breaker.

Tighten the breaker’s screw. You are done.


Rhett showed me this trick during the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Cincinnati, Ohio, this weekend. I also got to check out his planes, his plane kits and his new irons and chipbreakers that you can use to make your own wooden handplanes.

The O1 irons and breakers are very nice. The breakers have a machined lip like the improved chipbreakers found on Lie-Nielsen and Veritas chipbreakers. So the parts precisely on the back of the iron.


His plane kits in maple are also sweet. Thanks to pre-cut Dominos in both halves of the plane body, it is almost (almost!) impossible for the parts to shift as you glue them up. If you are looking for a plane kit, this is a very good one.

And his finished planes are excellent as well. Since I first saw Rhett’s planes, they have become sleeker and more comfortable in the hand. Definitely check out his site if you have any interest in wooden planes.

(Note: His site says his company is Nice Ash Planes. He recently dropped the “ash” as he started using other woods.)

— Christopher Schwarz


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Last Call for Free Shipping on ‘Campaign Furniture’


Free domestic shipping for “Campaign Furniture” ends at midnight tonight, April 5. After that, shipping and handling will be $8.

Eight dollars is a lot of money (though not as much as $300). That $8 could be a six pack of snooty beer. Or a 12 pack of stuff that has already been through the hobo once.

Save your $8 here.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Workmen and Their Tools


A Russian architect who is traveling in this country to study American building methods was greatly interested in the elevator which he saw used for raising brick in the construction of a great apartment-house. He even photographed the device, in order that he might have visual evidence of it to show on his return home. In his country no other method of hoisting brick is in use than the primitive one of carrying them aloft on the shoulders of men.

Such incidents are of common occurrence. Many of the labor-saving devices in use in America are unknown elsewhere. Our own countrymen traveling in Europe, and more especially in Asia, are astonished at the slow and toilsome methods there employed.

A failure to make use of labor-saving contrivances is not always due to lack of enterprise. Many of the inventions most useful to us “would not pay” where labor is cheap. Efforts to introduce the trolley-car for passenger and freight traffic in the West Indies encountered an obstacle which the American promoters had not foreseen.

The ten cents for which the company would carry a package five miles or more—a rate that would insure generous support here—did not seem small there, for the simple reason that many a native could find no easier way to earn ten cents than by walking the five miles and carrying the package on his head.

If “a workman is known by his chips,” he is also known by his tools. High-priced men do their work with high-priced machinery. The engineer of the mammoth locomotive which is pulling hundreds of people across country in a fast express-train is well paid; the poor Oriental, dragging his single passenger in a jinrikisha, gets barely enough for his support.

Not only does the high-priced worker create the necessity for mechanical improvements, but the mechanical improvements in turn augment productiveness. The lesson, then, for nations and for individuals is to make themselves worthy of good tools. Human muscles were made for something better than the work which a few lumps of coal under a boiler will do more easily.

The Youth’s Companion – July 26, 1900

—Jeff Burks

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