Note: This post was originally published on a previous version of my blog, Midwest Weaver.
When I was in the early stages of my weaving craft, I enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of videos, articles, blogs, podcasts, and other resources for all things weaving related: choosing a loom, warping a loom, weaving techniques, drafting patterns, what kind of yarn to use, troubleshooting, etc.
But I became frustrated when I tried to find information on something even more basic: whether I should wax or otherwise finish my Ashford Rigid Heddle loom, and if so, how? This post is therefore for other weavers out there with similar questions.
Some Ashford looms and spinning wheels (the Ashford Rigid Heddle and the Ashford Sample It) come unfinished and unassembled. Ashford recommends finishing the wood to protect your loom from the environment as well as regular wear and tear. Sealing the wood—by using a wax, polyurethane, or other stain—increases the longevity of the loom and keeps it looking smart.
After receiving my Ashford Rigid Heddle loom in the mail, I debated for a week or so about finishing it—I really wanted to start weaving but I also didn’t want to put it together only to decide later that I really should wax or stain the wood to protect it. The enclosed instructions from Ashford, I read, do indeed recommend finishing the wood before assembly, so I set to it.
First, though, came the process of deciding what kind of finish to use. Having used polyurethane wood stains before, I was not inclined to use such harsh chemicals on my new loom. What if the yarn of my first few projects absorbed some of the smell? What if I accidentally got some of the polyurethane on the reeds? (I didn’t want to gunk them up.) Should I stain the shuttles? Could this rub off, potentially harming my yarn?
Moreover, did I really have time or a well ventilated space in which to stain the wood anyway? (I live in Wisconsin and got my loom in the winter, when the temperatures measured -40 outside. The only space in our house suitable for staining wood is our unheated garage. This was clearly not an option.)
Finally, did I have time to visit the hardware store and pick out a stain that would work? Did I need a separate sealant to go over the stain? Could I paint the loom instead? It seemed like there were too many options, and I soon felt overwhelmed.
I ultimately decided to do what seemed easiest: to use the finishing wax that Ashford makes specifically for their products. I had never used a finishing wax before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The wax is available through several outlets online; I ordered mine from The Woolery, a fantastic fiber, weaving, and spinning store located in Kentucky.
The small, 2.6 oz jar cost $15 (plus shipping). When it arrived I was skeptical that it contained enough wax to finish both my loom and stand. The finishing wax comes with maddeningly simple instructions:
“Apply with a soft rag, steel wool or Scotchbrite, then buff to a deep rich lustrous finish with a soft cloth. No other finish is required.”
That was all I needed to do? I was suspicious.
Made from beeswax and tree oils, the wax reminded me of a thicker Vaseline, and was practically odorless, though I got a slight, pleasant floral scent at times. I covered my dining room table with newspaper and packing paper layered over an old towel to protect it, and laid out the unfinished pieces of the stand (see photo above). I grabbed my blue Scotchbrite sponge/scrub pad and set to work on the loom stand first.
I began by running my hands over each piece to brush off any lingering dust and to see if there were any rough spots or sharp edges that I needed to sand down with the piece of fine grit sandpaper that comes with the stand (and loom). There weren’t any, so I was ready to wax.
Then, I dipped a corner of the scrub pad side into the jar, smearing a small (dime size) dollop of the wax onto the first piece, and gently rubbing it into the wood (I used the scrub, not sponge, side for waxing). Take note: a little bit goes a long way. You do not need much to cover each side, though being liberal with the wax won’t hurt the wood, either (you’ll buff off any excess at the end).
As the wax adheres to the wood, the wood gains a beautiful, rich color. It is easy to see (or feel) if you miss any spots (see photo below). Sometimes I used my fingers to guide the wax into a crevice or notch in the wood.
I waxed three sides of each piece, laying them on the one unfinished side to begin “drying.” The wax isn’t wet per se, but it is a bit oily after it’s first applied. I began waxing the stand on a Sunday afternoon, when my one-year-old was home. I therefore waxed in fits and starts—off and on throughout the afternoon, in between snacks and naps and when my husband took over baby duty. Altogether, minus interruptions, it probably took me 45 minutes to wax three sides of all of the pieces of the stand. Then, after we put our son down to bed that evening, I returned to the dining room and waxed the last side of each piece, which took less than 10 minutes (uninterrupted). By then, the pieces had been sitting out for hours and the three sides that had first been waxed were already noticeably drier.
The pieces sat on my dining room table, absorbing the wax until the next night, Monday night, when I was finally able to return to the project. By now the pieces had absorbed most of the wax and were just a little sticky. Following Ashford’s directions, I used a soft rag to buff each piece gently, a satisfying process that removed the excess wax, leaving the wood silky smooth without any lingering grease or sticky spots. Buffing took about 15-20 minutes (uninterrupted), bringing the whole waxing project, from start to finish, to less than 90 minutes of labor. And in the end, I was left with beautiful, silky smooth wood that was now protected.
The next day, Tuesday, I got to work on the loom itself, which contains considerably more parts than the stand. As I laid out the loom pieces to begin waxing, I worried once again that I wouldn’t have enough wax to finish the job. Nevertheless, I got started, using the same method I used for the stand. This time, it took me a little over an hour to wax three sides of each loom piece (except the cardboard strips, of course).
Many of the loom pieces are an odd shape, so using my fingers to massage the wax into the wood was necessary (another reason I was glad the wax isn’t made of harsh chemicals), especially when I was working on the reeds themselves. The ridge where the wood meets the dents was too narrow to reach with my scrub pad. Again, it wasn’t a problem if I got some wax on the dents—it was easy enough to wipe off.
After the wax set for awhile, I finished the last side of each piece. Later, I buffed the pieces until all excess wax was gone. Again, I was left with a beautiful finish. I especially like how the wood on the reeds turned out—each reed seems to have its own unique grain (see photos below). As it turns out, I had plenty of wax to finish both the stand and the loom; I even had some wax left over.
All in all, I was extremely pleased with Ashford’s finishing wax. It was inexpensive, easy to apply, had no offensive odor, and was very forgiving. I could pick up and put down the waxing as I was available without worrying about the finish ending up uneven or splotchy. The wax gave me the opportunity to finish the wood at my own pace, though you certainly can wax and polish the pieces in one sitting. Moreover, I could complete the project in the comfort of my dining room without making a huge mess or exposing my family to dangerous chemicals.
Best of all, though, the wood is both beautiful and protected now. I wouldn’t use anything else to finish my loom, but to be fair, I haven’t tried anything else. With the beautiful results Ashford’s wax produced, however, I have no reason to!