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This conventional end from Denmark is straightforward, protected and tactile.

When I inform fellow woodworkers and clients that I take advantage of cleaning soap as a end on a few of my tables and chairs, they assume I’m joking. Then, once I pull out a Mason jar full of cleaning soap end to indicate them the way it works, they chuckle as a result of it appears to be like a lot like, properly, snot.

After seeing the outcomes on completed items, nevertheless, they realize it’s no joke.

Using cleaning soap as a end on furnishings and flooring is widespread in Denmark and different northern European international locations. It produces a low-sheen end that’s remarkably smooth to the contact. It appears to be like finest on light-colored woods – from white maple to woods about as darkish as white oak.

And, as you may think about, it’s a protected end. It is perhaps the one end the place your fingers and garments are cleaner after utilizing it. It is finest used on naked wooden or wooden that has a cleaning soap end on it already. It doesn’t do a lot over an current movie end.

There are downsides to the end – it’s not sturdy and requires common however easy upkeep.

For the final 12 months, I’ve been experimenting with totally different recipes for cleaning soap end made utilizing a number of merchandise you may get by way of the mail, at well being meals shops and at your grocery. After ending, and dwelling with, about a dozen items utilizing cleaning soap, I’m a convert. It won’t the very best end for each state of affairs, however in case you are curious it’s positively simple to try to grasp.

The Right Soap

Flat white. This maple tabletop is completed with two coats of cleaning soap end that was blended to supply a significantly flat sheen.

You can’t simply rub a bar of Irish Spring on a chair and name it carried out. (Wait, perhaps you may. Try it for your self.)

A Danish cleaning soap end makes use of pure cleaning soap flakes which might be blended with scorching water. Soap flakes are a pure type of cleaning soap that doesn’t embody extra detergents, fragrances or different fashionable chemical substances. It is just an oil that has been blended with an alkali resolution to create a salt of a fatty acid. Our ancestors made cleaning soap by pouring tallow (animal fats) onto the ashes from a hearth.

You can nonetheless purchase this necessary and elemental cleaning soap from a number of sources all around the world. Look for firms focusing on “natural soap flakes.” You’ll discover a bunch. (See under.)

The flakes are white and smooth to the contact. They don’t have a lot of a scent till you combine them with water. Then they’ll scent simply a wee bit. Your nostril will register the scent as “clean.”

The different choice is to make your individual cleaning soap flakes from “Castile soap.” Castile cleaning soap is a easy cleaning soap comprised of a vegetable oil, corresponding to olive oil. You can discover bars of this cleaning soap at many well being meals shops. I can get it from my nook grocery. Shred the Castile cleaning soap such as you would a laborious cheese to make your cleaning soap flakes.

If you combine these flakes with scorching water you’ll produce a resolution that’s someplace between whipping cream and a smooth wax in consistency. The trick is deciding how a lot water so as to add to how a lot cleaning soap.

Two Solutions

Soap flakes. Simple cleaning soap flakes don’t have any detergents or fragrances added – that’s what’s finest for a cleaning soap end.

When I first began to dig into the recipes for a cleaning soap end, I discovered two varieties. One used a lot of water and a little cleaning soap – a couple spoonfuls of cleaning soap and a liter of water was a typical recipe. Then there have been recipes that used equal components cleaning soap and water. I attempted each.

When you combine a little cleaning soap and a lot of water you make a mayonnaise-like resolution that’s simple to use and imparts a matte end with gentle safety.

When you combine equal components cleaning soap and boiling water you rapidly find yourself with a waxy resolution that provides furnishings a semi-gloss sheen and gentle safety.

Neither cleaning soap end is bullet-, baby- or waterproof. But each are simply utilized, repaired and renewed.

Soap & scorching water. An answer of water and a little cleaning soap will make a soupy combine that doesn’t seem like a lot at first.

To combine up a watery resolution – what I name “soap soup” – boil 4 cups of water and pour that into one cup of cleaning soap flakes. Stir vigorously. The outcome appears to be like like bathwater after a lengthy soak. Don’t throw it out in frustration (like I did the primary time I made it).

Put the answer in a jar to let it cool and arrange. After a few hours, the liquid will flip an opaque white and turn out to be a bit stiff like shaving cream or mayonnaise. After 24 hours, the stuff is able to use on furnishings.

Soap soup (later). After 24 hours the “soup” companies up into one thing like mayonnaise. This may be simply ragged onto wooden.

To combine a laborious resolution, start with a cup of boiling water and a cup of cleaning soap flakes. Pour about half of the boiling water on the flakes and blend. Add water little by little till you get a stiff whipped-cream-like resolution. Let that cool and arrange. After about an hour, it will likely be waxy and able to use.

Wax on. With equal components water and cleaning soap, you’ll rapidly create a stiff combination that may be virtually instantly utilized to the work.


Applying the cleaning soap soup is straightforward. Rag it on in order that the wooden is wetted and a bit foamy. Let it stand for a couple minutes. Then take a clear rag and wipe off the surplus. Let it dry for an hour then sand the floor – I take advantage of a #320-grit sanding sponge – and repeat.

Soap’s on. The skinny cleaning soap end rags on like a smooth hand cream.

After 4 coats you’ll begin to see some sheen construct up. Stop everytime you like the way in which it appears to be like. Two coats is affordable – so is 10.

Oak & cleaning soap soup. Here’s a white oak chair completed with the “soap soup” resolution. It is sort of dead-flat in sheen and takes on a grayish forged from the cleaning soap.

To renew the end, apply extra cleaning soap resolution to scrub it and create the unique smooth sheen. How usually it is advisable to apply cleaning soap will depend on how a lot you employ the piece. I’ve a soaped worktable that sees day by day use and wishes a new coat each six months.

The waxy resolution is utilized extra like a wax. Get a clear, cotton material and scoop a single dip-sized dollop into the center. Wrap up the cleaning soap and twist the material round it to create a ball of rag and cleaning soap.

The entire ball of cleaning soap. To apply the wax-like combination, spoon the cleaning soap into a rag and wrap it across the ball to create one thing much like a “rubber” when French sharpening.

Squeeze the rag and the cleaning soap will start to leach out of the rag. Rub the rag in your work and a small quantity of the waxy cleaning soap will stream onto the wooden. After you end a leg or seat or door of your venture, come again with a clear rag and buff out the cleaning soap resolution. It will polish as much as a semigloss sheen like every wax polish.

Rub-a-dub-dub. Your physique warmth and friction will begin to soften the cleaning soap and it’ll stream by way of the rag.

Repeat the method a couple occasions till you get the look you need.

This cleaning soap polish may be renewed at any time. You can use both resolution at any level – use the watery resolution over the waxy resolution if you wish to experiment with a flat look. Or vice versa.

A cleaning soap shine. The waxy cleaning soap end produces a medium sheen.

It’s a nice end, however it requires maintenance. If you’re pleased with the convenience of melamine or the sturdiness of bar high, you in all probability received’t like a cleaning soap end.

What concerning the so-called ‘Scrubbed’ Finish?

Many sellers in vernacular antiques will describe a desk as having a “scrubbed” end on its high. Scrubbed tops are usually useless flat in sheen, practically white and the topic of a lot controversy.

What made them seem like this? Lye? Oxalic acid? A white pigment stain?

Chances are that a true scrubbed end is created like this: You purchase a desk that has a end – wax, oil, paint, no matter. It’s washed and scrubbed every single day with family cleansers, bleach and a barely abrasive pad. Over the course of many years, the unique end wears away and is changed by cleanser and bleach.

Because this end is fascinating, vintage sellers have a popularity for faking it by stripping off the highest coat on a tabletop and bleaching out the wooden’s coloration with oxalic acid or one other type of bleach.

Scrubbed? Who is aware of if this 100-year-old tabletop is a true “scrubbed” end. But that is what it’s speculated to seem like.

Woodworkers can create a scrubbed end by merely leaving off the topcoat and including a cleaning soap end. Then depart the remaining to the consumer. The finest description of a scrubbed end is in Alan Peters’ e-book, “Cabinetmaking: The Professional Approach, 2nd edition” (Linden). As I can’t say it any higher, right here is a prolonged quote from that e-book concerning the matter:

“At occasions this (a flawless end) disturbs me, for the floor that some admire and a few craftsmen attempt to fulfill has little to differentiate it from a piece of plastic laminate; for that’s exactly what the floor has turn out to be, after the grain has been stuffed and countless coats of plastic movie have been utilized and painstakingly rubbed down.

“Natural wooden finishes, corresponding to oil and wax, are very inclined to marking of their early levels and do require care and a focus. Frankly, this dilemma of discovering wooden finishes that depart the fabric trying like wooden, resist marking and enhance reasonably than deteriorate with age, has dogged me and sometimes defeated me these previous 20 years….

“For instance, a scrubbed end to an oak eating desk, so favoured by the Cotswold School, is a stunning floor, immensely sensible in use, bettering with age and growing a great floor texture that may look positive in lots of conditions, particularly within the older farmhouse or cottage-style dwelling, and for more often than not it requires not more than a wipe over with a damp material after a meal.

“However, it’s also just about colourless, simply a bland uniform silvery gray. It has not one of the color variations of say a rosewood veneer or an oiled elm floor, and it’s this richness of color and grain that many people discover enticing about wooden, so one has to maneuver on this occasion to a end that heightens and preserves these traits….

“Ten years in the past on transferring to Devon I wanted to make a pine kitchen/eating desk rapidly for our personal use. Today, it’s a stunning golden color much like previous stripped pine with not a bruise and hardly a scratch to be seen. We don’t use a desk material, solely place mats, and we’ve by no means handled it in any respect gently. Yet, all that it has acquired in remedy or end is a common wipe over with a damp material after use and, as soon as a month maybe, it’s completely washed and scrubbed with scorching water and family detergent. The scorching water raises any bruises and scratches and the desk appears to be like like new, or reasonably, even higher than new, for it has acquired a beautiful patina now. There is not any comparability with the treacly, bruised and scratched polyurethane surfaces so usually encountered with fashionable manufactured pine tables.

“A scrubbed end just isn’t restricted to pine, and I’ve used it for eating and kitchen tables and sideboards in oak, chestnut, pine, cedar and likewise sycamore. In the case of the latter, if an occasional wash with family bleach is substituted for the detergent, a fantastically white spotless floor will outcome.

“My only regret is that I cannot persuade more of my customers to have this finish.”

I couldn’t agree extra. My private eating desk was completely completed for about in the future. Then my youngest daughter spilled fingernail polish remover (acetone) on it, slicing proper by way of the lacquer and discoloring the wooden.

During the following decade, the desk noticed many extra injustices than that little spill. Now it appears to be like like hell. The lacquer is crazed and lifted in locations. Areas of the end are down to reveal wooden.

I’m on the verge of stripping off the lacquer on the tabletop and beginning contemporary, clear and bare. It appears a bit like revisionist historical past, like one thing Stalin would do if he had been a woodworker. But I don’t envision this tabletop trying any higher in my lifetime except I take away the movie end and begin over. 

What Happens if…

Many individuals marvel if water, stains, warmth or nasty solvents can harm a cleaning soap end. Yes, however the end may be simply renewed with extra cleaning soap. So don’t fear about it.

Can you employ it over different finishes? Sure, however it’s finest on uncooked wooden. I’ve utilized it over milk paint, cured oil, varnish and different finishes with various outcomes. If you aren’t positive (or don’t belief my recommendation) then attempt it on a pattern board. You’ll get your reply.

No end is ideal. But in terms of a end that’s protected, simple to use and simple to restore, cleaning soap is tough to beat.

Soap Finishes FAQ

Q: Will a completed object get foamy if wetted?

A: No. I’ve not discovered the end to foam up beneath moist glasses or spills.

Q: Is it a food-safe end?

A: While some individuals brush their tooth and clear fruit with Castile cleaning soap, I wouldn’t need to ingest it. It can irritate your pores and skin and eyes, so why put it in your abdomen? Stick with walnut oil or another food-safe end for spoons, and so forth.

Q: Does it go rancid?

A: I’ve not seen it go rancid, both in storage or on tasks.

Q: How lengthy does the cleaning soap combination final as soon as blended?

A: Indefinitely in my expertise. After a number of months the water and cleaning soap are likely to separate, however the combination continues to be usable.

Q: How usually does it must be utilized?

A: The reply varies. A kitchen desk would possibly want month-to-month upkeep. A chair in an workplace would possibly go for years with out extra soaping.

Q: Can I take advantage of cleaning soap as a workbench end?

A: Yup. I’ve discovered that it neither provides nor reduces friction. So it’ll present a little extra safety than leaving the highest naked. It’s additionally a excellent place to experiment with a cleaning soap end for the primary time.

Q: When it will get moist, does the wooden turn out to be slick?

A: No. It simply looks like moist wooden.

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