For a fabric with its heyday in the distant past, waxed canvas is enjoying a remarkable resurgence. Your nearest hip boutique probably stocks a few bags and jackets made from the stuff. But how does it stand up to use on the boat and in the workshop? I purchased a few yards of DuraWax Heavy Waxed 12-oz duck from Sailrite and found it useful, attractive, and easy to work.
DuraWax comes in two grades: light, which is treated with paraffin wax, and heavy, treated with beeswax. Both have the same underlying 12-oz cotton-duck fabric and, in both, the added wax is an integral part of the product, not a superficial coating. According to Sailrite, the light grade is 50 percent paraffin by weight—there’s just as much as cotton. The heavy grade is 54 percent beeswax. Wax contributes water resistance, windproofing, stiffness, and shape memory to the fabric. Both grades are available in ten traditional-looking colors.
The Heavy Waxed duck arrives as a 57″-wide roll of remarkably stiff fabric with uniform color and texture. It’s a pleasure to work. Cut it with scissors or a rotary cutter; make marks with a scratch awl, which will leave a fine pale line in the waxy surface. The fabric will fold cleanly along these scored lines and will stay folded while you sew it down. My home-duty sewing machine stitches it beautifully with a size-18 denim needle and V-69 polyester thread. The machine punches comfortably through up to six layers of the fabric; anything thicker requires occasional hand cranking. Sewing a lot of waxed canvas will leave an accumulation of wax in the machine’s lower unit, requiring periodic cleaning. One source reported a minor clean-out was needed after making four backpacks. After a few medium-sized projects I haven’t noticed any wax in my machine.
Waxed canvas is thick, tough, and feels durable. In use, it develops a patina—a faint spiderweb of whitened regions where it has been folded or crumpled; these marks are part of its appeal. When new, the waxed canvas has good water resistance, and rain and spray will bead up and run off. As use and time wear on the wax, the fabric becomes less waterproof but re-waxing is straightforward: simply rub wax on the fabric and apply gentle heat with a hair dryer. Sailrite sells bars of wax, as do other sources for the fabric, formulated for re-waxing canvas.
I can’t imagine a better material for tool rolls than waxed canvas. Easily made in an evening, rolls like those pictured here offer a lifetime of organization and satisfaction. The thick fabric provides some protection for contents, and the memory of the material makes unfolding, unrolling, and then returning to the desired shape almost automatic. I learned to make these rolls from a Sailrite video. Once you’ve got the basic idea, they’re easily adapted to your needs. I’ve also enjoyed using waxed canvas to make covers, like the one I made to store my rowing machine outdoors. The canvas makes it stiff enough to stand up just fine even without the machine underneath it, leaving ample room for ventilation.
Try your hand at making something from it. Durable and easily worked, waxed canvas makes the maker and the user look good.
James Kealey lives and teaches in Richmond, California. When he’s not chasing his two young sons, he can usually be found banging away on some project in his garage workshop. In high school, he rowed in racing shells. He still gets away most summers for sail-camping trips on mountain lakes.
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