Appalachian Blacksmiths Association


1/17/2007 -- Wax finishes

Blacksmith History, Part 1
Blacksmith History--Part 2
Blacksmith History--Part 3
Blacksmith in the Oil Patch
Blacksmiths in  Africa
Antebellum Iron Works
Lewis & Clark's Blacksmiths
James Rumsey--Inventor
Advice for Beginners
Blacksmith Schools
Farrier Schools
Boy Scout Program
Village Blacksmith
Techniques / Projects
Iron and Steel
Forging Non-Ferrous Metals
Copper Repousse
All About Nails
Genealogy Tips
1982 ABANA Conference

RUSTY & DUSTY, the Appalachian Power Hammers 
WV Veterans Memorial 

Organized in 1978, the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association is an affiliate of ABANA. We represent blacksmiths, bladesmiths, and farriers in West Virginia and its surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky. 

We publish a quarterly newsletter which keeps our membership up to date on events. The newsletter also features many metalworking tips.  

To join the ABA, click on 
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Appalachian Blacksmiths Association


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Wax finishes leave a deep, lustrous glow to ironwork.  They can be used for exterior and interior work.  Generally, smiths blend equal parts of paste wax, linseed oil, and turpentine.  A smaller volume of bees wax is then added.  Japan Drier is available at art supply stores and it speeds drying time but is not necessary to harden the finish.

Some smiths prefer raw linseed oil to the boiled kind because it doesn't have drying chemicals in it.  Some smiths mix bees wax with linseed oil and then use paste wax in the final buffing.  

Beeswax can be used by itself.  In fact, European smiths used it for centuries by simply melting the wax onto the workpiece while it was still warm.  Unlike other waxes, bees wax is non-toxic and, therefore, can be used on cutlery and utensils.

Nearly all candles are made with paraffin.  Do not confuse this wax with bees wax.  Buy bees wax at a hardware store or from a beekeeper and use it.

For interior use, wax finishes hold up a long time and will only need an occasional buffing.  Depending on humidity and precipitation, outdoor ironwork will need to be inspected at least annually.  Rusty areas can be buffed clean with steel wool and then re-waxed.

For best results, ironwork should be warm (can hold in your hand) when applying the wax finish.

See these articles for additional information.


Bees wax

Paste Wax

Linseed Oil (Raw or Boiled)


Japan Drier



Tung Oil and boiled Linseed Oil will dry and harden.  Check the can and the label should indicate that driers have been added.  They are toxic to the taste and should not be used on any ironwork that will be used with food or drink.  Both are very durable.  Tung oil is the better of the two if you will also be finishing wood.  Tung oil allows the photoreactivity of the wood with sunlight.  Linseed oil tends to darken wood over time.

For cutlery, utensils, and food wares, you will need to use vegetable or mineral oil.  Keep in mind that vegetable oils will turn rancid.  Thus, if you finish a knife and don't use it for a while, you will want to clean it well before using it.  Mineral oil (a petroleum product) won't go rancid.  Use only a very light coat of oil on your food wares.

A point about oily rags:  they will spontaneously combust so dispose of them properly after finishing your work.

Tung Oil

Linseed Oil

Vegetable Oil

Mineral Oil



Brass bristle brush

Become an alchemist!  Turn iron into brass!

This simple trick is accomplished by using a brass bristle brush on iron at 'black heat'. The brass melts and transfers, making the iron have a nice brass finish.  If the iron is too cool, the brass won't melt.  And if too hot, you will wipe the layer of brass off with each swipe.  Practice makes perfect.  Be sure to "Brass" your workpiece before applying the preserving finish.



Terra cotta patina 
by Triple-S Chemicals

In olden times, the patina was the natural oxidation that served to highlight the workpiece.  Wrought iron actually oxidized (rusted) to a nice deep brown patina and then stopped because natural silicates in the iron preserved the metal.  Natural patinas often added value to the work.

In the modern world, patinas are chemically induced.  Our Suppliers web page lists several companies that manufacture patinas.  This method of creating patinas allows the smith to have great control over the colors and tones in his/her work.  Just follow the manufacturers directions closely. 




paint clip

A good blacksmith makes sure his work has a consistent, smoky black color.  That's why a wax finish highlights the workpiece so well.  For all others, there is flat black spray paint.

Paint has its place.  When colors are required, such as with avant garde artwork, paint is the only way to accomplish this.

A big drawback with painted metal in exterior work is trying to rustproof the iron so that it does not rust under the paint layer.  Zinc powders are often used in primers but they do reduce the detail because of the thickness of the primer coat.  And sometimes, extensive sandblasting is needed to clean the ironwork--a procedure that also has drawbacks.

If you need to paint your ironwork, discuss the job with paint stores and painters to find the best product line.

Clear lacquer and polyurethane are often used on projects such as interior railings and banisters.  The ironwork needs to have a consistent look to it because clear finishes will not hide any defects.  "Clear coats" will prevent oxidation caused by people handling or touching the work.  And they will feel better to the hand than does a painted surface.


New products, such as Gilders Paste, are being developed to meet the market for coloring and finishing ironwork. 

But there are also common old methods that are still popular.  Soaking your ironwork overnight in a bucket of tea will leave a gray steel patina on the workpiece surface which can then be finished with wax, oil, or clear coat.



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