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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

Picture of 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

Picture of Let It Cool
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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Thank you for your Instructable

Nice job.

Rima

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

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

antagonizer (author)  timoftheshire6 days 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.

isdsb1 month ago

thanks! does this darken the leather?

antagonizer (author)  isdsb1 month ago

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

sl035603 months ago

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

antagonizer (author)  sl035603 months 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.

jnichols69 months ago

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

Eluinn jnichols68 months ago

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

antagonizer (author)  Eluinn8 months 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.

rhallen8 months 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)?

rhallen rhallen8 months ago

Erm, sorry, missed your reply to tummygrowl before posting.... Still, is dye the way to go, or are there other coloring agents I should consider?

antagonizer (author)  rhallen8 months ago

I've only tried it with Feibings leather dye, and only in very small quantities. If you do try something else, I'd suggest only using coloring agents that saturate naturally into leather or else you could end up wearing it on your pant cuff. If you do experiment, let me know. I'm interested in what other people come up with.

I've had good success using children's crayons as a coloring agent in all kinds of oil based cosmetics, like greasepaint and lipstick. You might give it a try for this polish and see if it works.

antagonizer (author)  linuxnewbie8 months ago

Crayons are made with paraffin wax. I've never tried them, tho I wouldn't recommend using them unless beeswax is hard to find in your area.

Antagonizer, you may have missed the point. I proposed using crayons as a coloring agent, not as substitute for beeswax. In preparing cosmetics that use beeswax, I've melted small quantities of crayons into the mix in order to provide color.

Also, when I was in the Army, we would deliberately set a small amount of polish on fire (Dangerous, please use extreme caution!) so that the soot would intensify the black color in our boot polish.

Hope that clarifies things.

p.s. checking around, I found an instructable that may illustrate the process-

http://www.instructables.com/id/Shoe_shine/

antagonizer (author)  linuxnewbie8 months ago

linuxnewbie, I've heard that they use it in the army, and I agree it would be good in a pinch for sure. My meaning was that paraffin based waxes are very bad for leather. Many of my early experiments, when I first started doing leather, involved paraffin/petroleum based products. Rather than sealing in the natural oils, they actually wick them out, and over time, damage the leather. I have an arrow quiver that was severely hardened and almost unrecoverable because of it. I ended up having to strip, and re-dye it. Again, it's a fantastic short term solution tho.

outworldarts9 months ago

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)  outworldarts9 months 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)  neo716658 months 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.

rhallen neo716658 months ago

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.

tummygrowl8 months ago
This is great. Thanks for the post. Have you tried anything with the addition on dye?
antagonizer (author)  tummygrowl8 months ago

If you mean dye in the polish, yes, but I'd only use it on shoes. Feibings works well, you just need to add more solids to compensate for the liquid.

hugoforte8 months ago

Do you sell your special blend, and if so where?

antagonizer (author)  hugoforte8 months ago

I do through my facebook page, but being from Canada, shipping to the US can be costly, unless it's in quantity. That's partially why I decided to share the recipe on instructables. If you want to look anyway, you can check out my work at;

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Badwolf-Customs/524889100885349?ref=hl

aspiehler8 months ago

I enjoyed this Instructable and will probably try making my own polish to give out as gifts.

A suggestion: your ratios paragraph is a little confusing. First you list your ingredient categories in the order solids, semi-solids, liquids, but then switch the ratios to liquids, solids, semi-solids, but then go back to the original order when the ingredients are used. Also It would also be clearer to list dimensionless ratios in whole numbers, so instead of 2:1/2:1/2 you have 4:1:1.

antagonizer (author)  aspiehler8 months ago

I agree that the order can be confusing to some and may change it, however the ratios are purposely done that way because, in the past, people I've taught have treated the recipe as literally 4:1, lumping the solids and semi-solids in the same catagory. I've just found it's less confusing for people who aren't good at ratios.

Rasmis9 months ago

Nice recipe. I will try it out. A bit of advice: You can use an oven, if you are too lazy to do the pie-tin-lid-bain-marie-hack.

Background: I recently bought beeswax and shea butter to make a paw protection creme for my dog. (Because I live too remote to have some readymade mix delivered, but not too remote to order beeswax and shea butter :-S)

I cleaned out an old mustard glass, popped in the ingredients (wax, butter, oil), and gave it 5-10 minutes, while warming the oven to 170°C to cook dinner. Worked perfectly.

Question: I don't have coconut butter, but I do have the shea stuff. Could it be used instead?

antagonizer (author)  Rasmis9 months ago

Absolutely. Shea butter is fantastic. I've used it myself. Only trick is that it has a grittier texture than coconut butter so you have to ensure it is completely melted in or you'll end up with micro scratches. Never tried the oven, but if it works without 'cooking' the ingredients, I say go ahead.

Superb! After the initial succes with the paw stuff, I've also made a beeswax+oil combo for wood. Haven't found the right ratio yet, as even a small amount of beeswax (1:10) is enough to make the surface very slippery. But it does seem to leave a nice seal, after a quick wipe.

Re the cooking of ingredients, I've gone off recipes suggesting olive oil, and I used rape seed oil or sunflower oil, because of their high smoke point. You might need to be more careful with castor and almond oil, but I think you are safe, as long as you keep the temperature below 200°C / 400°F.

dukegb9 months ago

Excuse my poor english helped me by big G,

I think you should set up an award for the most deserving instructables. And what did you do research and experimentation deserve a nice prize, congratulations.

antagonizer (author)  dukegb9 months ago

Your english is fine. Thank you for the compliment.

Slim499 months ago

for those of you needing metal containers.

they have some with food grade screw tops. 1.2 oz. 1 oz, etc..

try: Deep Metal Tin containers
@ Unline Supply 800-295-5510



S-17905
2 x 1 1/2"
2 oz.
Slim499 months ago

WoW!

Nice job, and Thanks!

best ever described.

dfunct9 months ago

This is an okay recipe. I have researched plenty. I found that beeswax and Carnauba wax do great. Add some Gum Arabic for the shinning quality. Oh and do not forget the oil. Oils are good for softening the leather and having the wax spreadable.

Polish II.jpg
antagonizer (author)  dfunct9 months ago

Carnauba wax is good, but it's a bit of overkill if you're using beeswax. Don't really need two solid binders in there. The gum arabic, tho, is a resin. I wouldn't put that in a polish since most resin's contain their own spirits such as turpentine. Not to mention a resin wouldn't do anything in the way of polishing or conditioning the leather.

curbowman9 months ago

Sorry for posting this question here, but I just remember I have an old black leather jacket that looks very used. My brother told me to use normal shoe bitumen (the black "Cherry Blossom" brand paste) to cover the ragged parts. Is that correct?

antagonizer (author)  curbowman9 months ago

I've never heard of using bitumen on shoes, however no shoe polish is good for leather products. In fact they aren't good for shoes either since they often contain things like turpentine. They're basically a degreaser, dye and polish all in one made of harsh chems. Best to pick up some black Fiebings leather dye from you local Tandy for about $6. You can dilute it to match the natural fade of your jacket. Just try it on an inconspicuous spot first. Then just finish with a decent polish, like the one I posted and your jacket should last you a good long time.

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