My daughter Katherine has cooked up a batch of Soft Wax 2.0, a non-toxic finish that I use on my chairs, kitchen countertops, tables and other household objects.
We switched to making this finish because it is non-toxic. And it works just as well as the high-solvent based wax she made for years. Katherine sells the wax through her etsy store. It is $24 for an 8 ounce jar, which is enough to finish two stick chairs (at least). A little bit goes a long way.
Here are the details and instructions.
Soft Wax 2.0 is a non-toxic finish for bare wood that is incredibly easy to apply and imparts a beautiful low luster to the wood.
The finish is made by cooking raw, organic linseed oil (from the flax plant) and combining it with cosmetics-grade beeswax and a small amount of a citrus-based solvent. The result is that this finish can be applied without special safety equipment, such as a respirator. The only safety caution is to dry the rags out flat you used to apply before throwing them away. (All linseed oil generates heat as it cures, and there is a small but real chance of the rags catching fire if they are bunched up while wet.)
Soft Wax 2.0 is an ideal finish for pieces that will be touched a lot, such as chairs, turned objects and spoons. The finish does not build a film, so the wood feels like wood – not plastic. Because of this, the wax does not provide a strong barrier against water or alcohol. If you use it on countertops or a kitchen table, you will need to touch it up every once in a while. Simply add a little more Soft Wax to a deteriorated finish and the repair is done – no stripping or additional chemicals needed.
Soft Wax 2.0 is not intended to be used over a film finish (such as lacquer, shellac or varnish). It is best used on bare wood. However, you can apply it over a porous finish, such as milk paint.
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.
Soft Wax 2.0 is made in small batches in Kentucky using a waterless process. Each glass jar contains 8 oz. of soft wax, enough for two chairs.
I first learned about the Nannau oak while working on “Honest Labour: The Charles Hayward Years.” Flipping through every page of every issue of The Woodworker magazine, I skimmed a lot of text. But a lot of what Hayward wrote slowed me down, like this entry in the Diary, a regular smattering of bits and pieces of news all somewhat related to wood that I loved to read.
Old Welsh Oaks
The unexpected fall, about six weeks ago, of the giant oak tree in Powis Castle Park, Welshpool, recalls other historic oak trees in Wales. There was the Nannau oak, near Welshpool, which fell suddenly after a great storm in 1813. As the “haunted” tree it was long an object of superstitious dread. The legend goes that in a quarrel Owain Glyndwr slew his cousin, the Lord of Nannau, and thrust his body into the hollow trunk of the old oak. Not far from the Nannau oak is another which is connected with Owain Glyndwr, and is called Glyndwr’s Oak or The Shelton Oak. It is now a gnarled old specimen, and the story tells that from its branches Glyndwr watched the fate of his ally, Henry Hotspur, at the battle of Shrewsbury, in 1403. Owain was unable to reach Hotspur, on account of the swollen state of the Severn, the bridges being held by the King. The tree is now so hollow with age that several persons at a time can stand inside its trunk.
–– Charles Hayward
Still we read about the falls of great oaks, such as as BBC’s coverage of the estimated 1,000-year-old Buttington Oak, which fell two miles from Welshpool, Wales, in October 2018.
The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about an obituary for the Salem Oak in June 2019.
The New York Times covered the 2017 cutting down of the 600-year-old “Old Oak Tree” in the churchyard of a Presbyterian church in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
How can you write 500 words, 1,000 words, on the death of a tree? Turns out, once you become an old-enough tree, you become the topic of (or, perhaps more often, the setting of) legends. True, untrue, it doesn’t matter. It’s difficult to read about a centuries-old oak that has died without also reading some fantastic tale associated with it. And once I started researching the Nannau oak, I realized there was just so much story to work with, which led me to “The Mabinogion” itself. How to turn this into something? I had no idea. But I couldn’t let it go which I suppose is the way most somethings begin.
For spelling, capitalization, usage, style, context, out of curiosity:
crinoline marqueters vs marquetarians Archimedes Dukes of Hazzard hindguts pseudopodia dammit vs damn it “is [read the book to find out] from Raising Arizona” Martin Löffelholz mushrooming magic marker wallered out cabal shagreen Kha’s tomb Esperanto boogering whoop-de-do tenterhooks Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area geegaw Liberace chapeau popliteal height vicar cwtsh Shmoo Gouda Old Testament charlatans Castile
I think that list is marketing gold in and of itself but I will add this, despite the fact that Chris hates praise (something he writes about in this book): “The Stick Chair Book,” which was created from a great wealth of research, intimate knowledge and years of experience, is every part of every definition of the word generous. And, it was a joy to read.
A few weeks back I promised a panel glue-up primer… and today is the first time I’ve needed to glue up a panel since. The basic stock prep for the panel pieces is the same as the rest of the prep, until it comes to sticking the two (or more) pieces together. So that’s where I’ll pick up. And as always, it’s best if you can surface your lumber then do any glue-ups within a few hours. The less time the wood has to move, the better – even if you’ve properly acclimated it.
If I’m using yellow glue or liquid-hide glue (which is almost all the time), I rip both edges of pieces for a glue-up; I want those outside edges flat and level so the clamps have a good, parallel surface on which to close. If I’m using hot hide glue and doing a rub joint (which is almost never), there are no clamps involved, so the outside edges don’t matter.
Regardless of my approach, the first steps are the same. Lay out the panel and mark it with a cabinetmaker’s triangle.
You want to joint the edges so that you cancel out any non-perfect-90° angle from your electric jointer or jointer-plane work. If you’re jointing by hand, match-plane the two while clamped together in your vise. This will cancel out any error in your angle. If using a electric jointer, mark one edge “I” (inside) and the other “O” (outside). I runs against the fence, O runs not against the fence. This cancels out any error in the jointer’s fence.
I carefully joint each mating edge, fairly slowly, and at the same, steady speed. Then I immediately proceed to glue up.
Let’s dispense with the rub joint first. For a panel glue-up, the only glue I’d use for a rub joint is hot hide glue (though some sources will say other glues work, too). With the two mating edges freshly jointed, simply coat both edges – quickly – then rub those two edges together lengthwise until the glue starts to gel, doing your best to keep them aligned across the thickness. Then set them on end against a wall and give the glue time to completely dry. No clamp necessary. (The few times I’ve glued up panels this way, I’ve left them a little thick so that I can level the glue line after, and not end up with a too-thin panel. Typically, I use the tack-ability of hot hide glue only for glue blocks and veneer.)
I use liquid hide glue (preferably the the Old Brown stuff) for most things in woodworking, but for typical panel glue-ups, I reach for the yellow stuff. It sets up more quickly, so the clamps can come off after 30 minutes (which means I can get more glue-ups done more quickly – and every minute is precious when prepping stock for classes).
I’ll have a glue-up station ready to go on my bench before I bring stock in from the machine room, usually with a piece of paper underneath an odd number of clamps, because I always want one in the center (and if my prep is good, I can dispense with putting every other clamp on top of the panel). Along with the glue bottle, I have a bucket of water (hot water if I’m using hide glue) and a rag.
First, I run a bead of glue down the center of one board.
Then I spread it evenly with my finger (which is fast) or with an old toothbrush (which is slower but less messy).
I want enough glue that I can rub the wet edge on the dry edge and get enough glue on the mating board that its edge is also fully wetted. But no more than that.
Then I wipe the excess glue off my finger before tightening the center clamp. I keep a finger or two of my non-clamp hand on the seam so that I can feel if I need to exert downward pressure on either board for a perfect mate. (Usually, doing the glue-ups immediately after prep obviates this problem.) I don’t tighten all the way – just enough to hold the joint closed as I repeat at both ends. Then I snug them in the same order until the joint is fully closed and I see a line of glue beads down the seam. That tells me the joint is closed tightly enough, and that I used enough (actually, just a tiny bit too much!) glue.
Next I reach for the bucket and rag, and with an almost-completely wrung-out rag, wipe off the excess glue with small circular motions along the seam. Rinse, re-wet and re-wring the rag often (you don’t want to simply spread thinned glue over the surface). And don’t forget to do the other side. You’ll have a little squeeze-out under the clamps, but it’s easy enough to knock off with a scraper, chisel or plane after the glue is completely dry. Note that none of us in this shop has ever had a problem with glue-size interfering with finishing. Any residual glue is planed away.
The last task is to check the clock and write the time on the edge of the panel. After 30 minutes, you can take the clamps off and move on to the next glue-up. With multiples, I usually stack them up to dry (another reason to remove the glue on the surface), and let them sit overnight before ripping to final size and squaring the ends.
I know there are all kinds of charts, studies and special clamping doodads to help you achieve ideal clamp pressure. I’m sure those are useful. For someone. Me? This simple approach has served me well for more than a decade.
After these experiences at the other schools, it seems [James] Krenov’s relocation to California remained his central focus. When Krenov returned to Mendocino in 1980 for his longest engagement yet, he brought Britta, having already considered the area as a possible place to resettle and start a new life. The couple stayed in a renovated water tower in Mendocino, and used their time in the area to look for a new home. They found it just north of Fort Bragg on Forest Lane. Tina remembers her mother being thrilled at the palm tree in the front yard, an enticing embodiment of the exotic locale, far away from her native Sweden where she had lived up to that point. The Krenovs were also taken with the coastal environment – Krenov had always lived in cities and towns with an active maritime culture, and the presence of working boats in the Noyo harbor was a comfortable familiarity. During their first visits, the Krenovs began a practice of walking along the steep headlands along the coast, one they continued on a daily basis for the next 30 years.
Creighton Hoke, after returning to Richmond, Va., to pack up his tools and quit his cabinetmaking job, had moved back to Mendocino in hopes of attending the school that fall. He arrived just a few weeks after attending the workshop and was dismayed to find what he perceived to be little progress in the establishment of the school. Initially, Hoke took on a foreman position at Brian Lee’s millwork shop, hoping to use the skills he had developed as the lead in a cabinet shop in Richmond. This employment quickly fell through – Hoke was living on Lee’s land, in a tree house that had been built by Crispin Hollinshead on the rural property a few years earlier. And the workshop was, in his recollection, literally knee deep in shavings from the machines. Hoke left his position in Lee’s shop, and was looking for another opportunity, still driven by the hope that in a year’s time, he might be enrolled in the still-unrealized woodworking school under Krenov.
Under Lee’s organization and efforts, several craftspeople from the workshops and the community gathered to make a formal pitch to the College of the Redwoods administration in the fall of 1980. The administration was, by all accounts, enthusiastic about the proposition. The establishment of a woodworking school meant a boost in income for the community college system, which was paid based on student hours; a six-day intensive over nine months constituted a sizable number of credit hours. With Krenov at the helm, it would also bring national exposure to the otherwise locally focused school system. The pitch that the group made also noted that the program would be exceptionally rewarding for the local community’s craftspeople, as well. For that community, tying the program to the community college network would also drastically reduce the tuition for students – for California residents, the program would only cost $100 for the nine months.
After this proposal to the board in Fort Bragg, a second meeting was held on the main campus of the College of the Redwoods, 150 miles north in Eureka. At this second meeting, Hoke and Hollinshead, who had been central in the initial meetings, were joined by Bob Winn and Judy Brooks, members of the College of the Redwoods staff in Fort Bragg who had been on the board that heard their initial proposal. Winn and Brooks were early champions of the proposed program and central members of the community in Fort Bragg.
“The fact is that many of us were disconnected from the larger community, and had no real profile among our neighbors aside from breaking down in our pickup trucks downtown,” Hoke remembers. Winn, Michael Burns’s close friend, was an English and history teacher at the Fort Bragg campus and a persuasive voice from the school system and community in support of the school, a role he continued to play in subsequent years. Brooks, who would become a trustee in the College of the Redwoods school system, also lent her voice in support of the program, and developed a strong relationship with the woodworking program. Both advocated for the promise of the woodworking program, and all were excited to find that the administration at the college was already on board with the plan.
After this positive meeting with the administration in Eureka, the program was approved, and a part-time position to prepare and execute the plans for the school was created. Where Brian Lee had been instrumental in bringing the group together and providing the enthusiasm for the organization, the Guild took a back seat to some of the newcomers, especially Hoke and Burns, who were more driven in their specific hopes of working with Krenov. Lee would continue on as a driving force among the Guild and woodworking community, but a falling out with Krenov and disagreements with some of the newcomers led him to pull away from the school.
“Almost everyone – maybe everyone, in fact – would have gone right on doing whatever it was they were already doing, had it not been for the original, organizing energy of Brian Lee,” Hoke remembers. “There wouldn’t have been a Guild, or the workshops with Krenov. No ad in Fine Woodworking for me to see and respond to.”
Hoke took the part-time job with the college to set up the program, eager to find meaningful employment after his mismatch with Lee’s commercial business, and moved into an office at the Fort Bragg campus of the College of the Redwoods. A small piece of property was purchased at the eastern edge of town, behind the local school district’s bus barn, and construction of the facilities was underway by the end of 1980. During the next several months, Hoke worked with the school’s construction supervisors to design the school’s workshop, a daunting task that included everything from ordering materials, specifying the layout of the windows for the best natural light and ordering the machinery.
Gary Church, a member of the Guild, was contracted to build the tool cabinets, made in the same manner as Krenov’s own tool cabinet in the workshop in Bromma. One of Krenov’s students from his first stint at RIT, Hunter Kariher, was contracted to build the 22 workbenches; it’s interesting to note that Kariher also built the workbenches for Wendell Castle’s workshop school a few years earlier. The benches were built in the same European style that Krenov himself used and were shipped from Kariher’s Rochester workshop to Fort Bragg that summer.
By his own account, Hoke was driven by the dream of attending the school, but the task laid before him was far from simple. Krenov, over the phone, was a demanding presence, and threatened Hoke that he may not make the planned resettlement if the school wasn’t properly equipped. Krenov’s demands were informed by the ill-fated arrangements he had encountered at his prior engagements with RIT and BU, where he had found the facilities inadequate or the demands on him as a teacher either unfair or ill-informed. His exacting requirements were likely motivated by a hope that this last engagement would be a good fit.
That Christmas, Hoke and Burns worked together to lay out the building plan on graph paper on the kitchen table of Burns’s family’s home. Burns, whose experience in the trades and homebuilding, complemented Hoke’s now-nuanced understanding of Krenov’s expectations, and in the course of a day, the layout was finalized. Hoke worked closely with Larry Kavanaugh, the school’s director, to put these plans into place, and the two of them ordered the machinery and supplies for the program, specifying everything from window shades to lumber racks to the particular style of fluted dowel Krenov preferred. Kavanaugh, who became a close friend and advocate of Krenov’s in subsequent years, worked closely with Hoke through the process, and the purchase lists for equipment and materials show that the school was sparing little expense in equipping the workshop.
Hoke was also tasked with outlining a curriculum for the program – while the basic understanding among those involved was to simply follow Krenov’s lead, the administration required a detailed plan for the 1,728 credit hours that constituted the nine-month program. Here again, Hoke interpolated from Krenov’s books, and consulted with their author over the phone form a structured plan for the year.
This process was a daunting one for Hoke, and over the course of the year a tradition developed that continued into the school’s weekly rituals. Michael Burns, who was helping Hoke develop the program and work with Krenov to build out the home he had bought the prior summer, arrived at his office to pull him away for therapeutic drinks outside a local liquor store. The beverage of choice was Carlsberg Elephants, a malt-liquor from the Danish brewery, and the “Elephants” meetings continued as a ritual on Friday evenings. The meetings began as a small group of the school’s community, who circled up their cars outside the Sprouse-Reitz variety store downtown. In later years, the meetings moved to the “North O’ Town” industrial park, where a small satellite shop was set up by the school’s faculty and students, and by the late 1980s, it finally relocated to the school, becoming a weekly get-together for the students and the extended community of alumni, supporters and family members growing in the area. After its informal beginnings in the parking lot, Krenov began attending the gatherings with Britta, and it was especially Britta’s constant presence that students remember. During the next several decades, Britta would only miss a handful of “Elephants.”