My daughter Katherine has been making a linseed oil and beeswax finish as fast as she possibly can for the last few weeks. And she has been selling out within minutes of posting the jars for sale. As always, I am happy to share any recipes I can so you can make this at home. It’s not difficult. This finish was developed with some advice from Jeff Stafford, a woodworker and finisher in Indianapolis. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming “The Stick Chair Book,” which will be released this fall.
My favorite clear finish for chairs is a combination of linseed oil, beeswax and a little bit of citrus solvent. It is easy to apply, safe and is a lustrous finish that does not make a film barrier between you and the chair. It is easily renewed or repaired by adding more finish. This finish works for woods of all colors – from maple to walnut. It will add a yellow/orange cast to light-colored woods. So if you want a whiter finish, use soap instead.
You can buy a linseed oil and wax finish from many suppliers. Some of them are reasonably priced; others are extraordinarily expensive. I make my own because it’s easy and cheap, and because I am in control of the entire process.
I buy beeswax from Bulk Apothecary, which sells raw ingredients for people who make personal-care products. A pound of beeswax pellets costs anywhere from $5 to $10, depending on how much you order. A pound of beeswax pellets is about four cups by volume.
You can also get it from beekeepers, which is where I got mine for many years. The upside: it’s usually inexpensive or free. The downside: you need to refine it to get the insect parts out.
The second ingredient is raw linseed oil – not the commercial boiled linseed oil (BLO) at hardware stores. BLO has toxic metallic driers and is not what you want for this recipe. Raw linseed oil is also available from most hardware stores, but sometimes you have to ask them to order it for you. I pay about $10 for 32 ounces (four cups by volume).
People will tell you that raw linseed oil never dries. They are misinformed. Linseed is a drying oil. It takes some time for it to fully cure, but if you apply it correctly you can sit in your chair after a couple hours of applying this finish.
The third ingredient is just a bit of citrus solvent (limonene). The solvent loosens the mixture so it is more of a soft wax (like a lightweight peanut butter) and not a bar of soap. You can buy limonene from a variety of sellers and pay anywhere from $1 per ounce to $13 an ounce. I usually pay about $21 for 16 ounces (32 tablespoons). In total, a batch of this finish costs about $7 to $20 to make and will finish more than 10 chairs.
Linseed Oil & Wax Finish Recipe
2 cups (16 ounces by volume) of raw linseed oil
3/4 cup beeswax
2 tablespoons limonene
I make this finish in a metal quart paint can from the hardware store. Place the metal can on a hotplate, fill the can with the raw linseed oil and turn on the hotplate to between low and medium. Monitor the temperature with a cooking thermometer. Beeswax melts at 151° (F). As soon as the temperature of the oil reaches 151°, pour the beeswax pellets and limonene into the oil. Stir with a stick until the beeswax melts (it takes less than a minute). Turn off the hotplate and remove the mixture from heat.
Allow it to cool. It will become a paste after about an hour of cooling. Seal. You can use it immediately or keep it indefinitely.
— Christopher Schwarz
42 thoughts on “Cook Your Own Linseed Oil & Wax Finish”
Thanks, Chris. You’re a dear for sharing this.
If I were to use tung oil, would that stop the yellowing effect?
I have never done an experiment over time to compare the yellowing effects of the two oils.
A lot of the marketing for tung oil claims it won’t add yellow, or it only adds a little. But the marketing for finish materials is the most suspect part of this craft (my opinion).
Sorry I can’t answer this question better.
Hey folks , long time lurker, first time poster. Thanks Chris for sharing, I’ve been making and using a similar wax for years now and I absolutely love it…
One thing I would love help with is what would be the best pigments to use to make a light brown and dark brown version of this type of wax that would completely dissolve and blend in. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about pigments but would love to make a family/eco/food safe alternative to the briwax and liberon that I’ve been using for a hundred years now….
I’m a huge fan thanks so much for all the wonderful dialog and contributions!!
I am no expert when it comes to the world of natural pigments and dyes – especially their toxicity. All natural stuff kills, too.
The world of artist paints and fabric is a good source of information on dyes and pigments. You might reach out to:
Kremer Pigments in NYC. https://shop.kremerpigments.com/us/
Dharma Trading: https://www.dharmatrading.com/home/natural-dyeing-supplies.html
I know there are a couple books out there on natural dyes/pigments, but I haven’t picked them up. Hopefully I will in this lifetime.
Sorry I couldn’t be any help.
Wow thanks so much, Chris. This is something I’ve been curious about since I discovered making my own wax at home. I’ve been a life long user of both briwax and liberon but now that I have kids I wanted to create something with less VOCs like you and hopefully more eco friendly . Thanks again you are really great!
Also, just to clarify not so worried about being food safe, that would just be icing on the cake
Is there a significant difference in the raw linseed oil you get at a hardware store and flaxseed oil from a health food store? Linseed oil is another name for flaxseed oil, and I’ve read of folks making their own natural BLO with it.
They are the same thing. I have used both flaxseed oil and walnut oil from the grocery as a furniture finish. When sold as a dietary supplement it is more expensive.
Similar story for butcher block oil vs mineral oil. BB oil is generally $10/qt and marketed for cutting boards. Mineral oil $2/qt and sold as a laxative. But otherwise both are identical.
Great. I use walnut oil for my spoons. Perhaps I’ll mix up a batch of this with some of that.
@Brett, one good thing about food grade flax oil is you can see the ingredients, and if its 100% flax oil use it to also season cast iron pans. thats what I do after reading Susan Canters blog about the science of seasoning cast iron.
They should not be the same thing, proper raw linseed for use on wood has to be “deslimed” (I don’t know the english term, so i just made a straight translation from the swedish). That is, it should have all proteins removed.
Is raw linseed oil the same as raw flaxseed oil?
What is the soap you mention to use for a whiter finish?
I have written a lot about soap finish here on the blog. You should be able to find the information using the search button. I use soap flakes from a company called Pure Soap Flakes.
I have been making similar finishes for some time (without the citrus, I will try that next time)
– stirring the mixture a few times during cooling prevents unmixing
– slightly different ratios oil/wax gives different consistency. Some are better in cold/hot environments, for hard/softwoods, for first or last coat. (to be honest: I am lazy and do not measure the quantities exactly, so I end up with a variety of finishes ;-p )
– I make a similar mixture of liquid parafin and solid parafin (this one never dries), for lubrication of a.o. metal plane soles
Thanks Chris. As a Ph.D. chemist, I really dig finishing and making my own finishes much for the same control reasons you mention. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Slightly related, I hate the term varnish. It is so vague. I’d prefer if they just could say what ingredients they used.
For what it is worth, back as an undergrad I remember taking organic chemistry and we did steam distillation of orange peals to obtain a mixture limonene and carvone (the ketone version of limonene), which I believe are part of the terpene family. It was a lot of fun and probably part of the reason I ended up becoming an organic chemist. Not sure the industrial feedstock for limonene but I’m guessing the orange juice industry generates a lot of orange peel waste that could be an inexpensive feedstock.
Thought I’d ask you with your chemistry knowledge, I’ve ordered D-Limonene Citrus/Orange Turpene on the assumption that it was the same thing, but now ive received it it only says “orange terpene”, so im wondering if it actually is? I’ve googled it but haven’t been able to find a straight answer.
terpenes are just a class of phytocompounds that generally give things their smell (other things can produce smells in plants but terpenes are the big ones). The smell of pine is pinene, citrus is limonene. Based on what you quoted, I’d assume that its limonene extracted from orange production waste and that’s all.
A great way to get info is to look up the SDS of the product. That will (usually) list all or all of the important ingredients and provide a CAS numbers. Those make a targeted internet search. This link is pretty good for industrial chemistry info (https://chem.nlm.nih.gov/chemidplus/rn/1330-20-7). As you’ll tell, i needed some info on Xylenes last time I used the link.
Thanks Lex, that’s really helpful. Ill keep that mind. Annoyingly the bottle I ordered had no SDS or CAS.
What prompted the transition from soft wax 1.0 to 2.0? I made a batch of 1.0 and love it.
To greatly lower the VOCs in the life of my family.
Do you order the white or yellow beeswax pellets?
I use yellow.
Been making my own for quite some time too. I use a dash of pure gum spirits rather than the limonene. I bet yours smells better. But I do appreciate the pine resin scent too.
I also have a batch I made up with some carnauba for a harder finish. About a ratio of 1 to 5 carnauba to beeswax. Use it on all of my natural finish projects.
Thanks for sharing, Chris! I’m always amazed at how generous woodworkers are with their advice.
Is this applied similar to danish oil, flooding the surface then wiping away excess shortly after? Or is it applied more like a paste wax? I can’t wait to try it out, I’m always excited to try simple finishes.. never had the patience for those crazy involved built up finishes! Thanks again!
APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS (VERY IMPORTANT): Applying Soft Wax 2.0 is so easy if you follow the simple instructions. On bare wood, apply a thin coat of soft wax using a rag, applicator pad, 3M gray pad or steel wool. Allow the finish to soak in about 15 minutes. Then, with a clean rag or towel, wipe the entire surface until it feels dry. Do not leave any excess finish on the surface. If you do leave some behind, the wood will get gummy and sticky.
The finish will be dry enough to use in a couple hours. After a couple weeks, the oil will be fully cured. After that, you can add a second coat (or not). A second coat will add more sheen and a little more protection to the wood.
Circa 1850 is an excellent BLO that is made by actually boiling and has no metals. I highly recommend it for wax/BLO finishes! Only for sale in Canada but Canadian ebayers will ship.
While searching for raw linseed oil, I’m finding terms and labels like purified, polymerized, cold-pressed, and degummed. Does any of this matter as long as the linseed oil doesn’t have the metallic driers and other additives?
Or should I stick with the hardware store version that’s simply labeled raw linseed oil by a manufacturer like Sunnyside?
You don’t need any fancy oil. The Sunnyside Raw Linseed Oil is fine.
Chris, do you have an alternative to limonene for those of use with sensitive skin?
I do not, I’m afraid. Perhaps one of the chemists here can recommend something.
Chris, I’m wonder if in your ingredients pic that’s actually linseed oil or just a dark lager you keep handy:)
Chris, how would you apply this finish to something like a turned bowl? Can you apply while the bowl is spinning on the lathe, or just rub it on afterward?
Either approach works!
Hi Chris. I really appreciate the conversation. There’s been a lot of talk recently in the National Park Service preservation world (where I work) about using linseed oil and linseed oil-based paints on historic structures. One of the things that comes up a lot is the need to avoid any product that still has fatty content, a problem with your typical boiled linseed oil. Bjorn referred to this above, and it’s interesting that most of the products we use come from Sweden, and they are very expensive. The gold standard is “cold-pressed refined linseed oil.” I wonder if the raw linseed oil you mention meets this standard? Apparently, the problem with the improperly refined versions is that they will go rancid. Any thoughts?
I wish I could answer your question with authority. I can’t. My observations:
“Raw linseed oil” from the hardware store has never gone rancid for me. Not in the can and not in the wood.
“Flaxseed oil” for human consumption does go rancid and has to be refrigerated.
I don’t know the industrial process that separates them. Sorry. You might (if you haven’t already) reach out to the people at Sage Restoration. They are advocates for linseed oil paint (I have used it for exteriors and am impressed). They are quite knowledgeable.
Thanks for the recipe!
Converted the ingredients to metric units and celsius in case someone else finds this useful.
2 cups (16 ounces by volume) of raw linseed oil (474ml -> 510g)
3/4 cup beeswax (178ml -> 185g)
2 tablespoons limonene (36ml -> 43g)
I just made up a batch of this for the interior of my new cabinets – and my whole house smells wonderful. Thank you for sharing this, as I’ve never been fast enough on the draw to get any from Katherine. Warm regards from Montana and thanks to all the LAP team.
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