Soap Finish: What’s it Like?

The more I use soap finish, the happier I am with it. But many woodworkers are skeptical. And I applaud that. For too long companies have tried to sell us this, that or the other as the “miracle” finish that is easy to apply and will leave furniture looking like glass.

Well I don’t want my furniture looking like glass. I want it to be subtle and understated.

That’s where soap comes in. It leaves a flat-sheen surface that is soft to the touch. And it’s easily maintained. Today I noticed the top of this 48” x 48” worktable was getting a little scruffy. I whipped out the jar of soap and rubbed some on. Five minutes later I wiped off the excess and the top looked like new again.

Plus my hands were cleaner than when I started.

All the details on a soap finish are in “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” or you can find plenty of recipes online.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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29 Responses to Soap Finish: What’s it Like?

  1. Daniel says:

    Would you use it on a bookshelf? Would the soap get on the books?

  2. waltamb says:

    Thanks for the update… Wonder how it would be on Workbench Tops?
    Too Slippery?

  3. About how long between touchups are you experiencing with it so far?

    What does it look like when it’s “a little scruffy”?

  4. Rachael Boyd says:

    I will try it on my next project,I am a big fan of BLO and shellac.I also like chalk paint but you need to wax over that so could I use the soap over the chalk paint instead of wax ?

  5. dnramirez says:

    Would the soap finish work on a maple dining table top with hot plates, water and wine glasses?

  6. waltamb says:

    Did dome samples on Ash, Tulip Poplar and Pine.
    Very little if any color change… Interesting.
    I went right onto a fine planed surface, so I’m wondering about Grain Raising.
    I even tried it on the sides of a Wood Body Hand plane, have to reverse that.
    The raw or Oiled wood left a bit more grip.
    I would definitely use this on Floor and Trim IF I were wanting a light colored Danish look that is easy to maintain.

  7. oltexasboy says:

    Obvious question I suppose but why soap?

  8. waltamb says:

    Wish I could post a pic… I like the result.
    Hand planed or tooled surfaces, finished with the Soap Finish… WOW !
    I can only imagine what a well used piece of furniture will look like year after year of use and cleaning with more… Soap Finish.
    Safe, Natural… I’m going to send you some of min Chris to try… it is more of a clear liquid.
    Did not darken the Cherry Much at all.

  9. TrevorML says:

    as an alternative, could you use a pure unadulterated olive oil soap like the Greek soaps which are very cheap to buy, or if you have money to splash around, use French Marseilles olive oil soap, as these are made from pretty much just olive oil and caustic soda, and by small manufacturers?

    cheers from Down Under

    • TrevorML says:

      forgot to say… EXCELLENT chapter is the Soap Finish one in the ADB! and what I have read elsewhere from the book is EXCELLENT!! loving it, and loving Chris’s wry humour!

    • waltamb says:

      I believe that is exactly what “Castile” Soap is.

      • TrevorML says:

        exactly, and therefore being a “pure” soap one would think it would work as well as soap flakes… hopefully I will get a chance to do a test this weekend… would love to do the soap finish on our as of yet finished baltic pine kitchen floor, but feel I may come across lots of doubts from my better half 🙂

        I remember see an article about Australia’s own Princess Mary of Denmark where they had pics of the inside of the palace where they in Copenhagen and the floors were all what looked like bare wooden floors… albeit ones that had been well and truly scrubbed such that they had almost a bleached looked about them… but they looked wonderful!

    • Indeed. Any pure soap – such as castile made from olive oil – will work.

  10. TrevorML says:

    thanks LAP for the confirmation… won’t be wasting any of my Greek olive oil soap after all 🙂

  11. dnramirez says:

    What if you decide you don’t like the soap finish, can you sand it off and apply another finish such as brush lacquer? How do you prepare the surface?

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