Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Home-made natural wood treatments

I made this wax wood treatment from beeswax, raw linseed oil and turpentine, for the final treatment of the timber frame and interior woodwork of the cob bathroom. I like it so much, it’s become part of the treatment regime for exposed woodwork in all the buildings.

A slab of natural beeswax before melting

It’s simply a mixture of equal parts of each ingredient, so 1/3rd beeswax, 1/3rd linseed oil and 1/3rd turpentine. Beeswax comes in slabs and is available from local hardware stores by the kilo. I cut a chunk with a heated knife, melted it in a makeshift double boiler, then measured the liquid quantity to determine how much linseed oil and turpentine to add.

Gently heat the linseed oil and turpentine before adding to the beeswax, or the wax will cool rapidly and form lumps in the mixture. Mix the warm turpentine and linseed oil into the melted beeswax, stir well, and pour into a pot to set. If you use plastic, wait until the mixture has cooled slightly beforehand or the plastic might soften and deform or melt. (If you’re wondering about the mangled thumb, it was an accident with an axe a couple of years ago.)

Melting beeswax

When set, the beeswax/linseed oil/turpentine mixture looks and smells like traditional furniture polish, which is not surprising because that’s exactly what it is, or at least one recipe for it. I soon found out that the easiest and nicest way to apply it is by hand. The warmth of your hand softens the mixture, making it easier to work into the wood, and applying it is rather like giving a massage, especially if using it on whole lengths of timber in the round. So after the lime, I went on to treat all the chestnut and olive timbers used in the construction, and the end grain of the eucalyptus and pine roof timbers to give an added layer of protection from moisture and the elements.

Beeswax, linseed oil and turpentine wood treatment

There’s something very deeply satisfying about caring for wood in this way. Applying a coat of polyurethane varnish with a paintbrush just doesn’t compare. Each fresh application brings out a new depth and intensity in the colours of the grain. There is a relationship formed with the wood through the touch of the hands, a communication of sorts.

It makes me wonder what madness persuaded us to forego this pleasure, this slow delicious dialogue with our surroundings, fashioning our own shelters from materials we find around us or make ourselves. What perceptual deformity had us volunteering ourselves for soulless uniformity, non-participatory conformity, and a lifetime’s enormity of debt …? All for a ‘home’ which we never have time to enjoy because we’re mostly out working trying to pay for it? Truly slavery was never abolished. It just changed shape.

After being massaged into the wood, the mixture can be left to harden and penetrate before buffing with a soft cloth.

For a harder wax suitable for use on surfaces (like wooden floors) that will get a lot of wear, the beeswax component of this recipe can be changed to 50% beeswax, 50% carnauba wax.

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