Wax On, Wax Off

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Nov 2, 2011 | By Alex


In 1964, less than a year removed from his breakout role in The Great Escape, Steve McQueen competed in the International Six Days Trial, widely regarded as the most prestigious off-road motorcycling event in the world. While McQueen ultimately fell short of the title, the enduring image of McQueen on his Triumph donning a Barbour jacket brought mainstream attention to the English brand and greater awareness to waxed canvas, long considered a staple in any sportsmen's closet.

Like most performance gear, waxed canvas was born by way of function, and not form. Early mariners noticed that wet sails performed better than dry sails, but that their weight slowed the vessel down. To improve performance and combat the relentless ocean spray, mariners applied fish oils and grease to both their sails and clothes. Fish oils eventually gave way to linseed oil, which despite improving the smell of bars in port, was subject to similar problems: stiffness in the cold, and a "yellowing" effect.

In the 1920s, a consortium lead by England-based Websters introduced a paraffin-impregnated cotton, which greatly improved upon the shortcomings of the earlier linseed oil-based products. Early adopters included the British Army and J. Barbour & Sons, who utilized the material in their iconic outerwear for hunters, farmers, and motorcycling enthusiasts. !http://i1114.photobucket.com/albums/k538/aforch/Wax%20On%20and%20Off/BritishArmy.jpg! Although waxed canvas' popularity waned with the introduction of Nylon and PVC in the 1960s, many still prefer it for its mendability. Like a pair of selvedge denim jeans or a well-made leather wallet, waxed canvas gets better with age and develops wear patterns unique to the individual. The application of wax is surprisingly simple and only takes about 10 minutes. In conjunction with our sale of Otter Wax on Huckberry later this week, we asked our friends at the Portland-based manufacturer to walk us through how to properly waterproof a garment. Otter Wax has improved upon the traditional paraffin-based wax and other synthetic water repellents with its line of waxes that are made entirely out of natural plant based waxes and oils. How To Apply Otter Wax First, test the wax on a small, hidden area to see how the fabric takes the wax. Then, make sure you have some Otter Wax, a damp cloth, a lint roller, and a hair dryer (optional). !http://i1114.photobucket.com/albums/k538/aforch/Wax%20On%20and%20Off/HowTo.jpg! Step 1: Use a damp cloth to clean the surface of the fabric. Then us a lint roller to remove any remaining dust or dirt. Let the fabric dry for a couple of minutes. !http://i1114.photobucket.com/albums/k538/aforch/Wax%20On%20and%20Off/Step1.jpg! Step 2: Apply Otter Wax to the fabric using long, smooth strokes. Continue applying until an even layer of wax has been absorbed by the fabric. !http://i1114.photobucket.com/albums/k538/aforch/Wax%20On%20and%20Off/Step2.jpg! Step 3: Make sure the seams and edges of your fabric are waxed. Use the edges of the bar or rub the wax in with your fingers to reach difficult areas. Optional: use a blow dryer on low power to help the wax soften up and spread out to create a smooth waterproof seal. !http://i1114.photobucket.com/albums/k538/aforch/Wax%20On%20and%20Off/Step3.jpg! Step 4: Allow your waxed fabric to cure in a cool, dry place for at least 24 hours. The curing process can be sped up by placing in the fabric in the freezer for 20 - 30 minutes. !http://i1114.photobucket.com/albums/k538/aforch/Wax%20On%20and%20Off/Step4.jpg! Keep in Mind: Expect a slight tackiness for a while. It's normal and will eventually subside. You can touch up your item at any point without setting it out to cure. Apply where its needed, even on the go.

For those interested in learning more, check out Otter Wax. Valet Magazine has some nice articles here and here, as does Archival Clothing.