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Make your own dubbing wax
When I recently reached the bottom of my last tube of Overton's Wonder Wax, I decided to try making my own instead of buying one of the newer commercial dubbing waxes. Like a lot of other tyers I had made my own dubbing wax years ago, but I didn't do it with a critical frame of mind.
More On The Subject
When I recently reached the bottom of my last tube of Overton's Wonder Wax, I decided to try making my own instead of buying one of the newer commercial dubbing waxes. Like a lot of other tyers I had made my own dubbing wax years ago, but I didn't do it with a critical frame of mind. This time I decided to experiment with making dubbing wax and learn some of the possibilities. The result was several small batches of dubbing wax, put up in twist tubes, which I sent to some of my flytying friends for them to try and to
comment on. The reviews were good and some of my friends asked for the "recipe". My response to the requests is that I'd gladly provide a recipe if I had one, but I don't.
While making the batches of wax I learned that there's quite a bit of variation between the ingredients that may be available in any given location, and that not everyone's tastes or tying needs are the same. So
I decided to provide instructions for making one's own wax rather than a specific recipe. Knowing the properties of each ingredient is the key to making a dubbing wax that suits any given tyer's needs. The process is very simple and inexpensive and only a little tricky.
- Bow Rosin
- Refined Bee's Wax
- Olive Oil
- Twist Tubes or other suitable container
- Small Sauce Pan
- Stirring Sticks
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
The ingredients are simple. The first and most important is bow rosin. It's the ingredient that gives dubbing wax it's tackiness. It's refined, natural rosin from various tree species that musicians use to make the bows for their stringed instruments tacky. I learned that it comes in a variety of tackiness levels to accommodate the needs of different instruments and the climate conditions under which they're used.
Bow Rosin Color Scale
The rosins range in color from dark reddish brown to light honey color. They're sold in small, hard, crystalline cakes which, when hit lightly with a hammer, will shatter. Wrap the cake of rosin in a paper towel before breaking it to prevent scattering the pieces. The price ranges from $3.50 to $12.00 each. There's no reason to use the expensive rosins for dubbing wax. For dubbing purposes, I suggest using a light colored rosin. If a dark wax is needed to color silk thread (as is recommended for some Yorkshire wet flies) I suggest using a dark rosin.
The second ingredient is refined bee's wax, which I have found in both hardware and craft supply stores. It's the ingredient that makes rosin less hard, while maintaining a level of firmness that makes dubbing wax easy to handle. It comes in small cakes and costs about $2.50 per cake. Raw bee's wax is also available, but it's much harder, denser, and heavier. I didn't try to use it, but I assume it would be quite different than using refined bee's wax.
The third ingredient is ordinary olive oil, available at any grocery store. It's the ingredient that adds softness to dubbing wax and makes it easy to apply to tying thread.
You'll also need a small saucepan. I recommend getting a cheap one, since the pan won't be usable for cooking after using it for making wax. Wooden popsicle sticks or bamboo skewers can be used to stir the melting ingredients and discarded when finished.
Mixing and heating
Dubbing Wax Proportion Guidelines
- 2 parts rosin
- 1 part bee's wax
- a touch of olive oil (don't over-do it). Approx. 1/8th by volume.
The rosin and bee's wax both melt at very low heat and over-heating them causes the mix to darken a little. Heat the ingredients enough to thoroughly mix them, but no more. The basic mix isn't precise because of the differences between various rosins and bee's waxes, but should be about 2 parts rosin to 1 part, or slightly less, of bee's wax, by volume. When melted together these ingredients will, after cooling, form a hard, "waxy"-feeling wax. It's very sticky when in liquid form, but quite hard after it cools. At this point it's similar to the old style "Cobbler's Wax" that is valued by some strict traditionalists. It's certainly a useful wax, but in this form it needs to be warmed in order to soften it so that it can be used. To make the wax usable at normal room temperature (65-75 degrees) it's necessary to add a small amount of olive oil. Again, because of the variation in materials, there isn't a precise amount to add. I suggest starting with about 1/8 (by volume) oil of the amount of wax used. A little more can be added at a time to bring the wax to the handling quality that suits you. Use caution when adding the oil, because just a few drops too much will cause the wax to become greasy feeling and less tacky. If you mistakenly add too much oil, you can correct the mix by adding a few more crystals of rosin to bring the tackiness level back up. If you've added quite a bit too much oil, it will be necessary to add small amounts of both rosin and bee's wax to correct it.
How to test your home-made dubbing wax
While it's still in liquid form, it's difficult to tell how tacky your wax will be after the mix cools. To get an idea of the finished product, drop a small amount into a bowl of water. It'll cool instantly and you can test it with your fingers. If the batch of wax doesn't satisfy your needs, adjust the proportions of ingredients accordingly.
Filling the dubbing wax tubes
Finding twist tubes to put the wax in proved more difficult than making the wax. It's necessary to use a tube that has it's screw mechanism in the base of the tube rather than in the sides in order to be usable. Most lipstick tubes aren't suitable. The tubes I found most satisfactory are from Clinique. They're used for a retractable face powder brush and are about 3" long by 3/4" in diameter. I simply pulled the brush out of the tube, plugged the small hole in the bottom with a piece of paper towel and poured the wax in. Before pouring the wax into the tube, it's best to wipe the inside of the tube with a drop of olive oil on your finger to prevent the wax from sticking to the sides. The wax, before pouring, should be allowed to cool from a very liquid state to the consistency of syrup, so that it doesn't run between the base of the twist-up portion of the tube and into the bottom of the tube. Once in the tube, allow the wax to cool and harden. After a couple of hours the hardened wax column can be twisted up out of the tube. If it twists hard, go ahead and twist the wax all the way up out of the tube, then wipe the sides of the hardened wax column with another drop of olive oil and it should retract easily and be easy to twist up and down from then on.
Wrapping it all up
The process of making your own dubbing wax is far easier than the lengthy instructions above might indicate at first glance. By using the little tricks that I learned, and have included, you'll be able to do it with very little time and effort. You'll have the benefit of being able to make a wax that suits your specific needs rather than one that's made and sold to meet more general flytying requirements.