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How To Make High Grade Natural Beeswax Leather Polish and Conditioner

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Picture of How To Make High Grade Natural Beeswax Leather Polish and Conditioner
Years ago, when I started working with leather I would often use the commercially available polishes on the store shelves, or the proprietary blends found at the leather craft stores. They ended up being pretty costly, but more so, they didn't last very long and contained chemicals that seemed counter intuitive to traditional craft. So I set out to create my own.

My first attempt was simply a mix of paraffin wax, harvested from candles and heavy grade mineral oil. It worked, but again, I was still using chems on my work. So the formula evolved from there. As usual, I had to research. A trip to the library proved very informative. I started by looking at recipes that were nearly 1000 years old, and although they didn't really mention ratios, they did talk about ingredients in detail. (interestingly, human urine featured heavily in most). So, I eventually made a trip to a local bee keeper and picked up some natural beeswax and started experimenting with that.

I wanted my polish to do five things:
1 - It had to soften the leather; Dying can end up removing the natural oils in the leather so I needed a way to put them back.
2 - It had to Condition; Leather should have a supple feel when you handle it and though it may not be stiff, it shouldn't end up feeling course either.
3 - It had to protect; I mean long term protection that kept the oils inside, preventing the leather from drying and cracking, and also keep outside elements like salt and dirt from saturating.
4 - It had to shine and bring out the natural luster of the leather.
5 - It has to degrease; old leather can be pretty dirty.

Now, I have my own proprietary formula that I sell, and I'm not about to give that one up, however I wanted to offer some insight into mixing your own, personalized blend of ingredients for a polish that will enhance your work.

Here's a caveat; This polish works on A LOT of different materials, and not just leather. I use it on wood, pleather, canvas (for oiled canvas) even metals, but does not play well with suede. If you're not sure if it will work, I recommend trying a tiny bit on a hidden area before using it on the whole piece.

In the first image, you can see a before and after using the polish. I generally use pieces of old cotton hoodies for buffing rags, and tho they may leave a bit of lint behind, they polish extremely well. Another interesting factoid; in a different form, this polish can be used as lip balm. It's all about switching up the ratios which I'll talk about later.
 
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Step 1: Tools And Supplies

Picture of Tools And Supplies
Tools:
Measuring spoons
Tins for your polish (I'm not a fan of plastic bottles but you can use them)
Pyrex measuring cup
Small pot
Small aluminum pie plate
Wooden spoon
Bamboo skewers (optional)

Supplies;
Beeswax - solid; Protection for leather. Creates a barrier for environmental influences
Coconut butter - semi solid; Conditions the leather surface.
Sweet Almond oil - liquid; Softens the leather internally and replaces the natural oils lost through dying
Castor oil - liquid; Heavier oil that provides the 'shine'. Can be replaced with mineral oil if necessary.

**Optional**
Pure Ammonia or Alcohol - liquid; Cleans and degreases the surface before polishing. As I mentioned before, the old recipes called for human urine.

Step 2: Prepping Your Equipment

Picture of Prepping Your Equipment
The setup is extremely simple. The small pie tin is flattened, and holes are punched in it to allow bubbles to pass through. It's a very important step because allowing the pyrex cup to sit on the bottom of the pot could cause the preparation to burn. Next fill the pot so that the water just covers the pie tin  by 1/4 of an inch. Finally the Pyrex cup is sat on top of the pie tin.

Step 3: Adding Ingredients

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Ratios;
Ingredients are broken down into three categories; solid, semi-solid and liquid and the ratio of each depends on the consistency of polish you are trying to create. A safe mixture ratio would be 2-1/2-1/2 liquid to solid and semi-solid respectively, however you can change it up depending on your application. If you wanted a softer polish, you can increase 3-1/2-1/2 or even as much as 4-1/2-1/2, however I wouldn't go much softer than that. If you reduced to 1-1/2-1/2 you would be making something the consistency of lip balm. More beeswax/butter means firmer mixture while more oil means softer. The choice is yours.

Ammonia/Alcohol;
When using your polish on older items, grease and dirt can embed themselves in your project. That means cleaning before you apply, however, it's difficult to get everything out. For this, we add a grease cutter to the mix to ensure that the polish soaks in evenly allowing for max protection.  It doesn't take much to do the job. In fact, only a few drops will do the trick as it really doesn't blend well with the mixture. I've tried it with more and found there is no benefit so 4-5 drops per cup should be enough.
Caveat; if you intend on making lip balm, leave out the ammonia.

First Step;
Add the beeswax and coconut butter. If you need a measurement to start with you can use 1/8 cup of beeswax and 1/8 cup of coconut butter. Allow them to melt completely and add your  ammonia, if you choose to include it.

Next;
Keep stirring then slowly add your almond oil (1/4 cup). It will cool the mix causing lumps so add it slowly allowing the mixture to re-melt. When it's fully blended, you can start adding the castor oil (1/4 cup). It's quite a bit thicker, so you'll need to stir it good to blend it in. 

Keep heating the mixture for 4-5 minutes making sure that it never boils. If you see steam rising from your mixture, reduce the heat and keep mixing. Don't worry about water steam covering the outside of the pyrex cup. It shouldn't interfere with your concoction. You can wipe it off and keep going.

Step 4: Pouring Your Mixture

Picture of Pouring Your Mixture
Get your tins ready by removing the lids and lining them up. You can pour your mixture directly into them from your pyrex cup, filling them to 1/8" below the lip. If you can't find small tins, old altoid, mint, candy tins will do just fine, or you can purchase small plastic cups with lids from the dollar store.

Step 5: Let It Cool

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That's it. All that's left is to let the mixture cool down. The ammonia will leave small bubbles in the mixture and won't mix completely, but that's alright. They'll stay suspended inside as sort of, 'micro beads' that will degrease your items as it conditions and protects.

As I mentioned before, this preparation will work on a huge variety of materials, is very long lasting, and is the basis for things like lip balm, oiled canvas, waxed leather etc. All you need to do is change up the ratios of ingredients. Experiment with them and never spend a cent on commercial chemicals that are designed to wear off quickly, forcing you to re-apply often and spend more money.

Thank you for following me and I hope you enjoyed the instructable.
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ChaseM718 hours ago

I have been experimenting with different ratios and combinations of all the ingredients but none of my formulas will buff to a shine. It always ends up being very dull. What am I missing? less beeswax? the coconut butter I am using is liquid at room temperature. Would a higher melting temp butter help? I am at a loss.

antagonizer (author)  ChaseM717 hours ago

I'm guessing you're looking for a gloss finish rather than just a conditioning matte polish. Try this; 1tbsp beeswax, 1tbsp shea butter, 1tbsp castor oil, 1tbsp almond oil. Basically, you're mixing 1:1 solid to liquid which will result in a stiffer polish, but one that will buff to a high gloss. If it's too stiff, you can re-melt and add an extra 1/2 tbsp of castor oil, but the consistency should end up being slightly stiffer than refrigerated butter. In other words, difficult to move, but not so stiff it's a solid block. Hope that helps.

Be careful using vegetable oils, they will go rancid. Also, I don't want to be critical, but many of your statements on oils are inaccurate. Mineral oil is actually great in that it won't go rancid.

antagonizer (author)  outworldarts1 year ago

Actually;

1 - Almonds and castor beans are both legumes not vegetables while coconut is all three catagories.

2 - shelf life of almond oil is 9-12 months

3 - shelf life of castor oil is 12+ months

4 - shelf life of coconut butter/oil is 12+ months

5 - shelf life of beeswax...indefinite

6 - mineral oil is a petroleum distillate and is suspected of being carcinogenic. Either way, it's not very natural.

7 - it's not being eaten. It's polish, however if you wanted to eat it, it'll last over a year unrefrigerated.

Hope that clears it up for you.

Going rancid doesn't just effect if its being eaten. Its one of the first signs of a natural product rotting and can smell bad. I'm sure you been playing with leather a lot longer than me but I'm not gonna rub anything that stinks and is rotting on my leather. Then again before I learned any better the ranch hands taught me to use olive oil to bring leather back from being dried out and they used it on everything. On heavily used items where it wears out fast I still use it.

antagonizer (author)  neo716651 year ago

Olive oil works great to condition leather, tho I wouldn't use it in heavy amounts. However without the beeswax sealant, you'll find you're re-applying more often than you should. Honestly, I'd stay away from oils that are extracted from fruit and vegetables and only work with legume oils.

What is your opinion on Neatsfoot oil? I've had some pretty good results with it, but leatherwork is not my main hobby, so my experience is limited and probably not as extensive as yours. I'd be interested to know what you think.

antagonizer (author)  ElChick28 days ago

I don't personally use it. I find neatsfoot hardens leather and prevents other conditioners from sinking in. Some guys swear by it tho. I met a traditional artist in Inuvik that liked to use bear grease, but again, I prefer plant based oils.

Oxidation is what makes the oils go rancid. In a liquid state, oxygen can easily diffuse through the oil and cause a whole bottle to go rancid. However, beeswax is almost as good at stopping the penetration of oxygen as the plastic containers that cheese and cold-cuts come in at the supermarket. The other ingredients mixed into the beeswax will probably compromise this somewhat, but still, I'm pretty sure you'll find that this prevents oxidation (i.e., rancidification) of the oils mixed into the beeswax, provided they are well mixed.

If you don't use your polish for very long time perhaps you'll eventually get a thin rancid layer on the top (which is exposed to oxygen), but I suspect you could wipe that away and carry on. And if you're using the polish so infrequently then it probably isn't worth your time to make it yourself in the first place....

Mind you, I am speculating a bit here -- I have not performed a real-life verification test or anything. But in my day job I do a lot of chemistry and physics and I think I'm on pretty solid footing here.

JosephineB12 months ago

Hi Antagonizer, Your tutorial is very informative. Thank you for uploading it. I had a few questions though.

If i were to use this mixture on cotton fabric, do i really need coconut butter or shea butter for conditioning? Similarly, you said almond oil makes leather supple by restoring natural oils. Would these work in a similar manner on natural fibers?

kpendragon3 months ago
Would this type of mixture possible work on wood? Anyone have an idea please
antagonizer (author)  kpendragon3 months ago

Works great on wood, leather, pleather, vinyl, etc. Just try it on an inconspicuous piece first.

Thank you!
buildtwenty3 months ago

Just made this recipe following the recipe [2-1/2-1/2 liquid to solid and semi-solid] and happened to spill a little water into the final mixture. Will this batch be spoiled, or can I just apply as usual?

Also: for degreasing my leather jacket, how would I go about using alcohol (70%) to degrease and clean before applying the polish? I'm under the impression I shouldn't add it to the mixture, rather, applying alcohol to the garment directly and allow for drying before applying ...

Thoughts anyone? Much appreciated!!

antagonizer (author)  buildtwenty3 months ago

The mixture is hydrophobic, and water won't affect it. You can mush it up, cold, a bit and any water will leech out of it. Then you can just pour it out.

Put a couple drops of alcohol in the mixture. It'll degrease as you polish and help it apply more evenly. Ammonia works good as well. Like the water it won't mix, but if you blend it well will make little beads in the finished polish.

mmarquis3 months ago

I'm very interested in making my own as I have yet to find a good polish/finish I like. Any suggestions as to what Coconut product to use? Would using the coconut oil ruin dyed projects? I have easy access to the coconut oil in the image below but no butter anywhere nearby. Thanks for the Tutorial!

Viva Labs-Organic-Extra-Virgin-Coconut-Oil-54oz-ib369dhn.jpgMTH-09365-3.jpg
antagonizer (author)  mmarquis3 months ago

Coconut oil/butter are essentially the same thing. The brand I use calls it butter, but I suppose the majority refer to it as oil. You should always test your polish on a small non-visible section of whatever you plan to polish first. There are some heavily processed leathers out there that just won't accept any polish and rely on synthetic sprays.

Thank you, I'll play with a few different types to see what works best for me. Have you tried using directly over a dyed veg tan project with no other sealers? That's mostly the type of work I do with leather so that would be my application of it.

I have bought small glass mason jars that are just the right size for balms and creams. They are wide mouth and you can replace the metal ring with those plastic screw on lids they sell. All available at Wal-Mart.

edwin.carson4 months ago

tried my first batch today. hope it turns out great. used a presto pot. i'm a pomade brewer btw so i have different waxes at my disposal. thanks for this instructable

A much simpler way to set up the pans is to use a medium sized saucepan and a glass mixing bowl. You want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water in the saucepan, but not the bottom of the saucepan. Easy peasy.
ElChick5 months ago

Hi! Question for you on your polish, and perhaps I'm not understanding the purpose of the conditioner/polish/sealant, but you mention that it doesn't work on suede. Does that include the "suede" side of regular veg-tan leather as well? For example, with your hat 'Ible, did you use the conditioner on the inside of the hat as well as the outer side? Meaning, did you use it on the inner suede side of the leather as well, or just on the outer smoother side? I would think you'd want to coat all sides of the leather to protect and condition it. Sorry, but as I said, perhaps I'm not understanding correctly the purpose for its application.

antagonizer (author)  ElChick5 months ago

I was referring to brushed suede as in jackets and boots, but the rough suede side of veg. tan leather should be fine. Just remember a polish will darken whatever you're using it on.

Thanks for the response! So did you use it on the inside of the hat as
well? Does that protect against sweat stains, or do weird things to
your skin since it is right next to it?

antagonizer (author)  ElChick5 months ago

No, there's nothing reactive, so unless you have an allergy you shouldn't have an issue. The oils absorb into the leather and the wax seals, preventing the salt from your sweat absorbing.

dpulley7 months ago

Could soy be used in place of the coconut? I use a skin product called Waxlene that is great for all sorts of things, though I've not tried it on leather.

antagonizer (author)  dpulley7 months ago

I've never used soy, personally, but I don't see why not. When substituting all you're looking for is oils with similar density as replacements. Mess with the recipe. Make it your own and experiment.

timoftheshire9 months ago

How would I change the ratios for a wax for waxing canvas garments and/or leather?

antagonizer (author)  timoftheshire9 months ago

I saw an instructable, recently that produces great waxed canvas here if you're interested;

http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Brown-Bag/

If you want to maintain the conditioning of my formula, just increase the beeswax 2-1 solid/semi-solid to liquid and you can use the technique in asergeeva's instructable. That should give you some impeccable waxed canvas.

sorry, confused about what exact order the ratios are in (I found that section a little unclear, maybe edit it to make the order of all the ratio mentions the same?)

Anyway, for the canvas, you mean 2:2:1 (solid:semi-solid:liquid)?

SparkySolar9 months ago

Thank you for your Instructable

Nice job.

Rima

SparkySolar9 months ago

I may be home bound soon, ( me daughters car had an electrical fire, now we sharing car.$

So I am looking for everything to make myself

Thank you

Rima

isdsb10 months ago

thanks! does this darken the leather?

antagonizer (author)  isdsb10 months ago

It does a bit, especially if the leather is really dry. Best to try it on a hidden patch first.

sl035601 year ago

can I use anything besides almond oil? I have several people allergic to almonds

antagonizer (author)  sl035601 year ago

Nut oils like walnut are generally the preferred choice, but if nut allergies are an issue, then any of the seed oils, like grape seed or sunflour would work, tho keep an eye on their shelf life. If you want to get away from organic oils, altogether, you can use a light mineral oil since it's hypoallergenic and has no shelf life. Olive oil isn't bad, but vegetable is a definite no.

jnichols61 year ago

Any ideas on a substitute for the coconut? I have a mate who's a leatherworker who is highly allergic to coconut...

I would recommend Shea and/or Cocoa Butter; they are both very similar in their attributes.

antagonizer (author)  Eluinn1 year ago

What Eluinn said. Tho, I would use the Shea butter over the cocoa butter. I've had some issues with cocoa butter, in the past, and simply discontinued using it.

rhallen1 year ago

Great instructable -- this is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Just one question: What about colored polishes? Do you have any suggestions for what to add and in what quantities (particularly for black and brown)?

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