Darbin Orvar

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Darbin Orvar - Girl in a Shop

My adventures in building, diy, construction, testing and finishing.

Filtering by Category: Finishing

DIY Beeswax Polish Mix on Furniture

After almost 8 weeks the brick dust with linseed oil finish is ready for the beeswax polish. The stool has been curing, in the sun, on the shelf and in the air for a while now. The colors are complex and the piece really has an aged look, very similar to the honeyed fir floors in some older homes. The sun-baking process created a variety of color changes, depending on where and for how long the sun was able to reach the surface.

This process is very similar to how bricks are created in hot ovens, the color depends on how close the bricks are to the heat source. The whole piece has a very organic nature to it. This is as far from plastic as you can get.

I prepared the surface by sanding with a 220 grit and decided to smooth it further to 320. Contrary to my expectations the surface was not oily at all, despite using a raw linseed oil over a number of weeks. I think the sun is really a key ingredient to curing the oil and making sure the oil has dried properly.

Whenever you are using oil and a wax finish like this there is even more pressure to get the wood right. Sanding and smoothing are critical, and glue squeeze-out is a real problem because you can see any imperfection so easily.

Beeswax Finish

A beeswax finish is one of the oldest and most natural methods for finishing furniture. Waxing in general is a simple method for achieving a very smooth silky surface on any properly prepared wood. It would be hard to find a finish simpler or easier than this.

You can place this wax on top of just about anything. In some of my earlier videos you will have seen me apply wax over paint, polyurethane, oil and shellac, it is just that versatile. Most of the reason people like wax is the very smooth feel you get with it. Typically it does take the shine off a glossy finish like polyurethane and therefore makes the wood look more natural according to some, and I agree. Too much gloss does have an unnatural look.

To make your own mix is pretty easy. You can buy beeswax online or locally from an apiary, and it comes in blocks or cut up in bags. Melt the beeswax and add the mineral spirits to create your mix. You can play with the ratios but 1:1 seems like a good number for general use in terms of waxing furniture. If you add too much solvent sooner or later it will not solidify at all. A 4:1 (solvent : wax) mix might be better for brushing on the wax though as it would be a lot softer.

There are lots of paste waxes on the market and for the most part they are pretty similar. They usually contain beeswax, carnauba, paraffin, solvents and scents in a variety of proportions. When you make your own you can really play with the mix, adding more or less of any ingredient you wish.

Over the next few weeks I will be exploring further into these concepts with waxes, oils, scented oils, and pigments. Hope you stay tuned.

If you would like to watch the process of creating the wax polish check it out here:


Using a Varnish Oil and Thinking about Durability

There are a few different concepts I wanted to cover in this week's blog and video. So this is less of a project piece and more of a thought piece. Not everyone is concerned with what I am concerned with but please bare with me as I go over what I think is a subject deserving of more coverage.

Last week I made a sort of silent film where I constructed a sheet music box and finished it with a wipe-on varnish oil. Because it was silent I did not go into why I chose it nor how I came upon the product. I covered some of this in the last blog post but I want to expand upon some of the things I was concerned with in the Fine Woodworking piece I referred to last week.

A round up of products is always questionable. Did you include every product? Or, is there any bias in the tester? And so on. Letting go of those points for a minute I suppose there were really two points that struck me about the article. Firstly, Chris Minick is a scientist by trade, and product reviews are definitely not science. Second, I thought it was questionable to have a product round-up including oils, strongly oil-based finishes and a variety of wipe-on varnishes including polyurethane. Granted that the article was about wipe-on finishes, but why then would you have a set of criteria which when reviewed even cursively by a beginner would yield the same conclusion as the lab-coated reviewer?

To put this plainly: reviewing a product is not science. Science is to discover that which is unknown, these products are clearly known. Anyone even mildly familiar with finishes would not compare wipe-on type oils such as Watco Danish Oil or Boiled Linseed Oil in the same breath with a wipe-on poly where the criteria were strictly durability and water/heat resistance. Finishers use Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish or Tried and True Varnish Oil for very different reasons than they use other products, and durability alone rarely determines what one chooses.

I wrote to the company that makes Tried and True and asked where they saw their product. I mentioned the article by Fine Woodworking and asked them to clarify where they picture their product in relation to the polyurethanes mentioned in the round-up. In their response they believed that their product is not meant to compete against polyurethanes.

Given that, it is not hard to see that craftsmen of all types choose their finishes for more than just the simple concept of durability. Personally I am not looking for a perfect finish, or a fool-proof finish, a term I have read and heard one-too-many times. I am looking for what belongs on each and every project individually. There can't be a perfect finish for counter tops, violins, floors and sheet music boxes. Each project has different demands.

Which brings me to my next point: durability and product preservation. We often take the better-safe-than-sorry approach to finishing, especially when a client is involved. Better to go a little overboard with protection, than worry it is not enough. This makes sense. You don't want to go against a client's wishes or cause undo problems. So polyurethane and lacquers are certainly important to achieving this. So sometimes its just not worth taking the chance.

Since I made the box for myself and wanted to try something that was for myself, no clients or expectations were involved. I did not have to worry solely about durability and I could free myself and try out a product I had not used before. A can of Tried and True Varnish Oil had been sitting on my shelf for a while and this seemed like a great project to try it out on. I like to explore new finishes, so I buy a few and test them on scrap wood, later on coming back to them when an appropriate project comes up.

Such a small box doesn't need too much finish, and I could take my time applying it, so the rather finicky nature of the product could be explored. Overall I really liked the product and said as much in my last post.

I guess it comes down to what we expect and how we assume certain things in life. I often try and challenge my own assumptions about products and techniques, and one of the great problems I see is why would you use something that does not provide the utmost in protection for something that offers very little. That is the crux of the varnish vs. oil argument.

My real concern with scientific-style reviews is the misleading nature as to what science is and how it does not belong in product testing. Immediately it makes me imagine all sorts of absurd comparisons.

If I lined up water, motor-oil and olive-oil while donning my lab coat, and went on to test which was better for engine lubrication I obviously would have some instant winners. The point being water and olive-oil should not have been in the round-up to being with.

Nothing is the good-for-every-use product that everyone may want. I would not line up hard film finishes with oil. Even though many products attempt to cross the line between a varnish and an oil with varnish oils, there is some instant recognition that the durability of a finish is simply one of many factors that expert finishers consider.

The bottom line has to be that you have to do what you want to do, but know that there is no real restriction. You can safely use products in ways not necessarily recommended by the manufacturer or that are generally accepted. It's about understanding what may happen and your tolerance for accepting responsibility.

Using Raw Linseed Oil and Brick on a Tabouret Stool

It's not hard to find articles that deal with finishing wood when a simple oil finish is applied. So what I wanted to do was show how well oil finishes really work and how beautiful they can truly be.

Working in my shop.

Working in my shop.

As one of the most inexpensive and safest choices, you have to wonder what is wrong with oil that it is generally passed over in favor of costly and toxic alternatives. For the most part it is the lack of permanence that turns people away from using oil in any real way. It is usually added to pop the grain of a wood with mineral spirits in a wash application. This is especially true for linseed oil as it has a great ability to highlight the grain of most woods from walnut to mahogany to fir.

Breaking the brick with a chisel.

Breaking the brick with a chisel.

I decided to try an old idea by mixing brick dust with raw linseed oil and applying the slurry to the wood with a cloth. I originally learned of this by reading the writings of Thomas Sheraton, an eighteenth century furniture designer.

Immediately this concept appeals to me. Sometimes you are just drawn to quality, and this is one of those times. Because it takes time and space and energy, you form a bond with each piece that starts the furniture off on a path that you just know will be appreciated for a long time to come. When you do not apply a film finish the wood remains exposed to the elements. Sunlight, moisture, hands, and feet all wear on the wood with each year. The furniture becomes darker from the air and the light, and where hands grab the piece the edge is smoother than another as the oil remains like a fingerprint that is unique to your family.

To complement the oil the brick adds a reddish grit that makes it feel like a sandpaper slurry. You can apply it with a cloth or paper towels, but you might need a lot of paper towels because of the abrasive nature of the mix.


To make the mix you create a dust with a piece of a real brick. You can't use a modern brick, make sure it is a real fired clay brick. Modern “bricks” are really concrete and contain gravel, which does not easily grind to dust.

Iron mortar and pestle.

Iron mortar and pestle.

I first break up the brick with a cold chisel and then I use an iron mortar and pestle to create the fine powder, but you could use a marble or stone one instead. If you don't have a mortar and pestle you can use a hammer with a brick wrapped in some towels and crush it on a concrete driveway or garage floor. Of course you may damage your floor so consider that before grabbing your sledge hammer. Getting the brick to the powder stage will be difficult without the mortar.

In terms of proportions I added about a 1/2 cup of dust per 2 cups of linseed oil, by volume. You should experiment to find the proportion you like best. I also added heat to the mix on my induction top. I never let the oil go above 140 degrees because there is no need to. You don't want to cook the wood, just make the slurry easier to apply and adhere to the wood. Things don't generally go on well when they are cold.

Use a cloth to apply the mix generously to the wood. It doesn't matter if it drips or gets all over the place. I just wipe the excess into the workbench anyway. Of course the brick is very gritty and when it dries it gets everywhere.

When you let the piece dry make sure you put it somewhere that is dry. A cold, damp garage is probably not the best place for it. I wait about 2 days to wipe off the excess oil and grit, but you can adjust that to your schedule. When the piece is “fully” dry you can add another coat of the mix. That should be about 2 weeks or so, depending on where it is drying. Again wait a good while before wiping it off. I like to let the piece in the sun for a good while after it is oiled. It darkens quite a bit in the sunlight.

You can add as many coats as you want and let it age as much as you want. But eventually I am going to add a coat of wax made of turpentine and beeswax to finish it.

Over time you should wipe the piece down with mineral spirits to remove the wax and prepare it for more straight linseed oil. I would say every year or so you want to add additional oil, or even more often if you like. You can also add wax whenever you wish to revive the finish.

Paint a Tabouret with Chalk-Style Paint

Finished Tabouret

Finished Tabouret

Chalk-Painting the Tabouret

For our next project, we decided to go for chalk paint. Chalk paint has become quite popular these last couple of years, however it's not a new concept at all. In fact, many old-fashioned milk paint recipes contained chalk which blur the lines between chalk paint and milk paint.

Chalk paint is not one thing - it's a concept. You can either buy pre-made chalk paint, or you make your own. The fundamental principle is to use flat latex paint and add a chalk component to produce a thicker paint that coats surfaces easily.

Why are people liking this type of paint so much? Well, it goes on most surfaces very easily, even furniture that hasn't been sanded or primed. That makes it an ideal candidate for old pieces, kitchen cabinets, or other projects where you want to eliminate the sometimes great amount of prep work. The chalky nature of chalk paint also produces a very matte finish which creates an interesting, antique-style look.

In terms of the chalking material you have a couple of different options such as Sodium BiCarbonate, Calcium Carbonate, Plaster of Paris and Grout to choose from. Each material produce a slightly different result:

- Sodium BiCarbonate (baking soda) is a common household supply. Sodium BiCarbonate dissolves in water (or latex paint). In paint, that results in a chalky or sandy finish which is easy to sand down.

- Calcium Carbonate is what common drawing chalk is made of. It's normally sold as a fine powder, and is what historically was used when creating this type of paint. Calcium carbonate makes a great chalk paint, which doesn't harden and is easy to work with. The one downside with Calcium Carbonate is that it can be a little tricky to find. Order it online, or check out your local home brewing supply store. You could also buy a few packs of regular chalk sticks and smash them up in a mortar and pestle, or use a plastic bag and a hammer (it's important to create a fine powder.)

- Plaster of Paris is a commonly available substance used in construction and patching up walls. The one downside with Plaster of Paris is that it hardens when it comes in contact with water, so your mixed paint can harden rather quickly depending on how much water you add to the slurry. Tip - make smaller batches of paint, if you're working on a big piece of furniture.

- Grout is also commonly available at your home improvement store. It's a slightly more coarse material and is similar to Plaster of Paris in that it hardens when it comes into contact with water. Again, start out with mixing smaller amounts to avoid having your paint harden before you finish your project.

Materials Needed:

- 2 different colored flat latex paints of your choice (paint samples works great for smaller projects)
- Chalk component (either Calcium Carbonate, baking soda, Plaster of Paris or grout)

  • Calcium Carbonate: 1:1 mix worked well for us.
  • Baking Soda: 2 parts paint 1part soda seems to work well or try a slurry or baking soda and a little water then mix in paint
  • Plaster of Paris: 2 parts plaster and 1 part paint, but mix a slurry first
  • Grout: use unsanded and try a 2:1 mix with a slurry

With all these choices it is in your interest to experiment and try it out on a scrap piece of wood.

- Two small containers to mix paints in
- Small whisk or stir stick
- Nylon brush
- Fine Sandpaper 220 grit
- Rag for cleaning
- Clear wax (steel wool or rag for applying)
- Dark wax


Creating Chalk Paint

For our project we used Calcium Carbonate. Your ratios depend on what your surface is like and how much coverage you're looking for (the ratios will be different if you go for baking sofa, Plaster of Paris or grout, see above).

For our first coat we combined 2 parts Calcium Carbonate to 3 parts paint. This created a paint that resulted in a nice, chalky surface, however it didn't go on that thick. For our second coat we combined equal parts Calcium Carbonate to flat latex paint to create a thicker paint.

Make sure you start with a clean surface, especially if using an old piece of furniture. We started with a primed and sanded stool to ensure a really good base coat. Even though priming always ensures a better surface for any paint to grip on to, when it comes to chalk paint you can often get away with skipping this step.

For the first coat of paint, we used a dark red color. Chalk paint dries quickly and chalky, so you can re-coat within an hour or so.

For our second coat we used a lighter turquoise paint which covered the red surface nicely. If you're looking to achieve a layered look, make sure your two different colors are different enough to create a contrast.


Since chalk-paint contains such fine particles, it does a great job in getting into all the little nooks and crannies in a furniture finish. In other words - it's easy to accomplish a really nice surface. You don't have to be too concerned about putting on a perfect coat. Unlike glossy paint, your brushstrokes don't show up much, and since sanding is part of the design it furthers smooths out the surface.


Once your paint has dried, bring out some fine sandpaper and lightly go over your whole piece to smooth it down. If you're looking to create a more layered look, start sanding the edges and corners to reveal some of the underneath coat. How heavily you sand is a matter of taste. Some people prefer a rather heavily distressed finish while others prefer a more subtle look.

Top Coat

Since chalk paint is so flat and chalky, it's imperative that you protect the surface in some way. Wax has become the go-to finish for many people who use chalk paint and wax is easy to apply and looks great, however it's not that durable. If you're finishing a piece of furniture that will be handled a lot - such as a table top or seat for example, it can be a good idea to first apply a coat of polyurethane or shellac to add further protection. You can always add wax on top of that. If you only apply wax on a finish that gets worn a lot - be prepared to reapply the wax every so often to provide protection.


We decided to go the classic route and use two waxes - one clear and one dark. When applying wax, you cover your piece with it, then let it penetrate the surface of the wood, and then you wipe off the excess. Wiping off the excess is an important step which will create a smooth finish and avoids any build-up of unwanted finish.

For the first coat of wax, we applied it with 0000 (fine) steel wool to further work it into the finish and create a smooth texture. After a few minutes, it's time to buff off the excess with a clean cloth.

Wax applies easier if it's warm, so for our second coat we warmed a lump of dark wax in the hand covered with a cloth. Once the wax turned soft and slightly warm, you wrap the cloth around it into a small ball. With the softened wax inside the cloth, you can easily apply the wax all over your piece.

Dark wax adds additional dimension to the design and fills in nooks and crannies, further creating a layered look. Once the wax dries off, buff off the excess for a smooth and beautiful finish.


Using chalk paint is a great way to go if you're looking to add more character and depth to your piece. It's a nice option, no matter whether you're refinishing an old piece, or you're finishing a brand new piece. Also, if you haven't worked with chalk paint, you'll be pleasantly surprised how lovely it is to use - the coverage is great, it dries quickly and you have so much flexibility in creating a unique look. If you decide to go for a wax finish, you'll also appreciate the silky smooth finish this method produces.