The look and functionality of a waxed cotton jacket - like those made by Filson, Belfast, and Barbour - is hard to beat. Water resistant, easily repairable and timeless these coats look good new but look even better with age, like raw denim or a great leather bag - unfortunately like heavy raw denim or fine leather waxed cotton can be pricey and take some additional work to maintain compared to more modern synthetic fabrics. You can, however, take almost any cotton, canvas, or denim gear - from jackets to tarps and bags to boots - and give them them that special look and feel that only wax can provide.
I transformed my warm and reliable, but waterproof as a sponge, thermal lined rigid duck jacket from Dickies and turned it into my go-to stay dry and stay warm jacket. The coating is starting to wear to a leather like shine and looks better every day.
There is a great 'ible for tincloth - a similar coating made with Linseed Oil and Beeswax - and commercially available Otter Wax and 'ible for using commercially available wax to waterproof a Carhartt coat. This recipe and technique gives the best of both recipes and can be used not only on new fabric items but to refresh old ones, condition and protect leather, repair squeaking drawers, and help lubricate screws. It is, however, terrible on toast and too thick to use as a mustache wax.
Step 1: What You Need
I promised to keep it cheep - this recipe makes 8 oz by weight for about half the price of Otter Wax and doesn't require any special equipment and will provide a very heavy initial coating for a single jacket with enough left over for later touch ups. You can also do a thinner coat for less dramatic effects, I had decent water resistance over the whole jacket with about one ounce rubbed on from a solid block instead of brushing on while melted.
4 oz. Paraffin Wax (aka Household Wax, aka Canning Wax) (1 lb Gulfwax $7.25 on Amazon Prime)
4 oz Beeswax Pellets (1 lb Organic $12.39, or 4 oz for $6.87)
(3) 3 oz Paper Cups - Optional (100 White Paper Water Water Cups $6.66)
Containers and Equipment
Double Boiler ('ible) - You can also attempt to use your microwave, crock pot, or candle wax heater
Disposable Paintbrush - 1/2" - 1 1/2" (only needed for Heavy Duty coating)
Heat Gun - You can use a propane torch (like I did), or a blow drier (takes FOREVER) in a pinch.
Funnel - Optional
Cupcake Tin - Optional
Step 2: Measure Twice - Cut Once
Step 3: It's Getting Hot in Here
For Initial and Heavy Duty Coating skip to Step 5, for making bars for light coating or to store for later proceed to Step 4
Step 4: Save for a Rainy Day
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If you aren't applying a heavy duty/initial coating - and want something more like the Otter Wax bars that you can save for later all you need to do is pour the melted wax into a mold. You can use a nonstick cupcake pan - or one with liners, but I found a funnel and Dixie Cups worked well.
When you are ready to apply just peel away the bottom and rub on your material in a thin, even coat. Once the wax is applied go over with a heat gun or torch on a low setting, or your blow drier on high. You can finish everything off with an iron covered in foil.
Step 5: Thick and Heavy
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If you wear it regularly and rely on this gear to keep you dry you will want to recoat the seams a few times a year. With proper maintenance though you can turn a department store work wear jacket, or cheap messenger back into an heirloom that will keep you grand kids (or their stuff) dry.