When I first got into leathercrafting, edge finishing was of secondary importance. However, after seeing more videos and tutorials about using wax to finish edges, I became interested in learning more about the benefits of edge finishing with wax.
Leather wax provides a water-resistant barrier on the edge of the leather, and it is used to finish the edges of small leather goods like wallets. It can range from $6 to $18 for a larger amount, depending on which of the three main types of wax (beeswax, lanolin, or carnauba wax) one purchases.
Edge finishing can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of leathercrafting, but it’s also a part of the process that allows crafters to demonstrate how closely they pay attention to details. Using wax to finish leather can be a crucial component for producing leather goods that last—let’s take a look at what leather wax is and what kinds of leather wax there are.
What is Leather Wax?
These days, when you think about your favorite leathercrafter on Instagram, it’s very likely that pictures of wallets with “mirror edges” come to mind. What coats those edges is often some kind of leather wax applied after all the burnishing is finished. It is used to seal the edges and protect the leather from absorbing any moisture that would cause it to rot and eventually get ruined.
The wax used for leathercrafting is often simple beeswax. Sold most commonly in small yellow chunks, beeswax can be applied in various ways to the edges of leather products, depending on the desired outcome. However, a few other kinds of wax are also used in leathercrafting.
Types of Leather Wax
Though there are many different brands of leather wax, the main three kinds used in leathercrafting boil down to: beeswax, lanolin, and carnauba wax.
[Beeswax] has natural, water-resisting properties and a neutral odor, making it a popular choice for protecting leather goods.
Beeswax is relatively self-explanatory; it’s the wax honeybees make and is use to build their nests. It has natural, water-resisting properties and a neutral odor, making it a popular choice for protecting leather goods.
Lanolin, or wool wax, comes from sheep wool, and it is used to moisturize and prevent the leather from drying; sometimes, it appears as something called “saddle oil.” It is usually combined with other materials to make a leather balm. There’s a slightly different application for lanolin since it actually moisturizes leather, so this is something to consider when comparing it to beeswax.
Carnauba wax is the third of the primary kinds of wax used in leathercrafting, and it is similar to beeswax. It creates a water-resistant barrier for the leather and helps with reducing fingerprints and scuff marks on the leather.
Characteristics of Leather Wax
There are three main kinds of materials for leather wax: beeswax, lanolin, and carnauba wax.
Between the three materials, the sizes of beeswax, lanolin, and carnauba wax generally range from 1 oz chunks of beeswax to 4 oz of carnauba wax. Larger quantities can be purchased, but since wax lasts quite a while, even one ounce of wax will last the independent maker quite a while.
Some waxes come in various colors, which will add a bit of coloring to the edge (or wherever you choose to apply it) of your leather product. For the most part, waxes are sold as either solid chunks of wax or a type of balm that can be applied.
Leather wax is relatively inexpensive, with a one-ounce piece of beeswax costing about $6 and four ounces of carnauba wax costing around $10.
Pros and Cons of Leather Wax
Pros of Leather Wax
- Provide water resistance in leather
- Adds matte or glossy shine, depending on the wax
- Simple to use
- Darkens leather
Cons of Leather Wax
- Darkens leather
- Can prevent moisturizing of leather
- Using too much wax can cause it to gum up and attract dirt and grime
How Leather Wax is Made
Leather wax is usually made by melting the core wax material (beeswax, lanolin, or carnauba) and combining it with other materials (like paraffin). This chapter from Stefan Bogdanov in the Online Beeswax Book suggests using five to six parts beeswax, eight parts tallow, and eight parts neatsfoot oil to create a leather balm.
Additionally, according to this paper by W. Huang of the Liaoning Shihua University, paraffin used in tandem with beeswax creates a well-distributed wax that is easy to use and cost-effective, especially when compared to carnauba wax. Once the wax and other materials are melted, the mixture is cooled in a mold and becomes the solid wax that is commonly used.
Check out this helpful video that demonstrates the process of making wax.
Cost of Leather Wax
Leather wax is relatively inexpensive, with one ounce of beeswax costing about $6 and four ounces of carnauba wax costing approximately $10. Beeswax, despite costing more, is likely to last a bit longer than the other kinds like lanolin and carnauba, so that’s something to factor into purchasing decisions. The chart below demonstrates the various price points of each kind of wax:
|Kind of Wax||Price per Ounce|
Tips for Working With Leather Wax
- Have some canvas cloth ready – Rub the wax in after application. This removes the excess wax and helps it penetrate the leather’s surface.
- Using a heat gun – A heat gun can help get a gloss on the surface of your edges. Rub the solid wax onto the edge, then apply a heat gun until it melts. This creates a hotstuffing effect that allows the wax to recover its gloss and provide water resistance.
- Avoid using too much wax – Using too much wax can cause a buildup, which will cause your leather products to become dirty faster and make moisturizing your leather in the future much harder.
Some alternative options to leather wax (especially when it comes to edge finishing) include Tokonole and gum tragacanth, which provide burnishing and seal the ends of leather, so there is a bit of water resistance included. Leather balms can also be a good option for introducing water resistance; however, many leather balms are made with some kind of wax anyhow, so it’s not exactly a strict alternative.
I reached out to some big leathercrafters on Instagram, asking about their choice for wax, and a number of them mentioned that they use Columbus wax. Generally, this is a polishing wax, primarily used to finish up edges. These crafters suggested using the wax after sanding and burnishing to get a glossy finish after applying and rubbing it in with a canvas or microfiber cloth. It comes in a few colors, but the most recommended colors were natural and black.
Leather Wax Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Leather Wax
Leather wax does not really need to be cleaned since it is likely only going to be used on burnished or cleaned leather. However, if your wax does get dirty, you can just scrape off that layer and dispose of it.
How to Maintain Leather Wax
Wax is best kept in a cool, dark area – exposure to the sun may cause it to slightly soften or even melt. Try to keep it somewhere clean as well – getting debris in wax is generally not advisable.
How to Store Leather Wax
Leather wax is reasonably simple to store; keep it in the box or container that it arrived in, and keep it away from debris or dust on the workbench.
Is wax good for leather?
Yes, wax is good for leather, especially when used on edges or anywhere that might more likely absorb moisture. Wax helps to resist water and other liquids from soaking into the leather.
What is the best wax for leather boots?
Simple beeswax can be a great option for leather boots – all you would need to do is warm it up so that it melts a little bit and then apply. After applying, rub the waxed surface with a microfiber cloth to remove excess and encourage penetration. Avoid using too much, as this will make your leather boots harder to maintain in the future and potentially gum up if immediately exposed to dirt and grime.
Does beeswax darken leather?
Yes, beeswax can darken your leather. If you’re unsure how dark the leather will be once applied, you can try using a minimal amount in a discreet area and observe the color change.
Does wax dry out leather?
Leather wax will not directly dry out leather, but since it forms a protective barrier for the leather, it is ideally the final step in maintaining or producing a leather good. If there is too much wax on the leather, it will be hard for oils like mink and neatsfoot oil to penetrate the leather.
Can you put car wax on leather?
You should avoid putting car wax on leather at all costs. Car wax and waxes used to protect leather are made of different materials, and specific components of car wax can build up in leather, causing it to become brittle over time.
Ultimately, leathercrafting comes down to attention to detail. Adding wax is not a critical step in creating a good product, but it is one of the touches that demonstrates a keen attention to detail. Not only is it functional in how it provides water resistance, but it contributes to the clean, aesthetic sheen that is often sought after among leathercrafters.