LumberJocks

Danish Soap Finish

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Caleb James posted 581 days ago 7562 reads 7 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

One of the most mysterious things about Danish modern furniture to me when I started making it was this strange soap finish that is talked about so often. I wondered, “What is this all about”?

Well, the easy answer is that it is a soap that is simple washed onto the wood surface. You may wonder how that protects the surface, though. Basically, soaps traditionally where made of oils of some sort or another. Your grandma or great grandma would have used “ivory” soap flakes that where made from vegetable based sources, palm and coconut oils usually. Everything from cloths to who knows what was washed with it.

Why use soap to protect wood surfaces? Wood has pores and those pores will get clogged with dirt and oils from use if not protected. Soap clogs those pore and keeps the dirt and oils out. Also being soap it also releases dirt and oils easily thus keeping it off of the surface.

Wood also benefits by have a finish that slows the exchange of moisture from the wood to the surrounding atmosphere, thus keeping it more stable. Soap finishes aid in doing this like other finishes though to a lesser degree.

The biggest advantage, I believe, is that it leaves woods like white oak and ash looking as natural as the raw wood itself. As a woodworker I love the organic feel this gives a piece. The soap finish is also incredibly smooth to the touch and ages so beautifully.

Some suggest that soap finishes are a lot of maintenance. I have found that since they age nicely I really don’t do anything to maintain their appearance. If it does get soiled, simply wiping the surface with a damp cloth will usually remove whatever is unwanted. Wiping the surface with more of the same soap will freshen it up as well. In Denmark this is often used to finish floors even. I think that attests to its durability and effectiveness as a finish.

I purchase my soap flakes from a U.K. based producer. www.msodistributing.com currently can supply this in the US.

Here is how I prepare my soap finish. I mix boiling water and soap flakes in equal parts, 1/1 ratio. If I am making a large batch I will reduce the water a bit. I only want enough water to dissolve the flakes and it should create a whipped cream like consistency when mixed together but with a thicker body to it, not so airy.

First measure out your flakes and then pour the boiling water in equal parts over the flakes. Let that set long enough for the flakes to absorb the water and it will get a translucent appearance and will become sort of jelly like. Now mix in a bowl until you get the consistency I mentioned above. See photo below.

You can now place a small amount inside a lint free white cotton cloth that is folded over itself. Squeeze the soap through the fibers and to the outer surface. This will thoroughly saturate the cloth with soap. Now wipe it on the surface of your wood. Put on enough to fill the pores. Don’t let it cake on the surface, though. Once it is dry you can knock down any raised grain with 220-320 grit sand paper. Apply one more coat and that is usually sufficient. Finish by buffing with a soft cloth if desired.

To freshen up your finish follow the same steps. If you have a set in stain you can try pouring some boiling water on the spot. The soap will often force the stain loose. Let it dry and reapply a finish.

A note of caution; Do not wet end grain surfaces to heavily. These areas absorb more water than the face grain and can crack if continually saturated. Thus it is best to make your soap with less water and more like a paste. Also coat both sides of a panel, such as a table top, evenly so that it will reduce the potential to cup or warp.

-- http://www.calebjameschairmaker.com, http://www.kapeldesigns.com



17 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

4995 posts in 2317 days


#1 posted 581 days ago

What an interesting approach to a finish. Thank you for posting this.,

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

10603 posts in 1294 days


#2 posted 580 days ago

That’s a new one on me. Please post something that has been finished with this so we can see what it looks like.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Caleb James's profile

Caleb James

149 posts in 1534 days


#3 posted 580 days ago

This is in white oak. Basically it looks almost unfinished in a photo but with a sheen.

-- http://www.calebjameschairmaker.com, http://www.kapeldesigns.com

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

10603 posts in 1294 days


#4 posted 579 days ago

Thank you Caleb

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View exelectrician's profile

exelectrician

1488 posts in 1031 days


#5 posted 578 days ago

The more I know the more I realize that I know almost nothing! Thanks to you and LJ’s I learned one more thing.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2765 days


#6 posted 578 days ago

huh!! Fascinating.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Caleb James's profile

Caleb James

149 posts in 1534 days


#7 posted 577 days ago

I think if more traditional woodworkers here in the US knew about this finish, they would use it. I is really easy and so nice. I suggest it every time I can to my clients, and not just because it is simple.

-- http://www.calebjameschairmaker.com, http://www.kapeldesigns.com

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1719 days


#8 posted 575 days ago

didnĀ“t knew it was a danish thing to use soap as finisher
if you use it on floors be sure you tell the custommers to use the same soap when cleaning floors
everything ells will destroy the surface film

Dennis

View stefang's profile

stefang

12604 posts in 1938 days


#9 posted 559 days ago

New to me too. Sounds and looks good though. Here in Norway they use lye to treat floors with and sometimes furniture. It leaves a kind of bleached surface and smooth too. It kind of cures the wood. You Norwegians might be familiar with ‘Lutefisk’ which is Cod fish also treated with lye, but you EAT it! It is basically a strong sodium solution also used to cure green olives and hominy. I guess most of us have eaten some.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 2903 days


#10 posted 557 days ago

An interesting finish, I’ll have to try it sometime!

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4096 posts in 1460 days


#11 posted 557 days ago

James it is a good finish
I have a soap finish but it has beeswax and mineral turpentine.
If you cant get the flakes in the USA just buy laundry soap and
borrow the cheese grater and use the course cutter. Not glycerine based soaps.
A wee tip, don’t put the grater back in the kitchen without washing.
Don’t ask why I know this. LoL
If you want to try it I can send you the ratio if you want.
Jamie

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View stefang's profile

stefang

12604 posts in 1938 days


#12 posted 557 days ago

I did a little research on this. My wife tells me that Norwegian Green soap is sometimes used as a finish. But as I mentioned earlier, the main active ingredient is lye, a natural sodium solution which seems to have a chemical reaction with wood that helps preserve it. Historically soaps were made from animal fat, lye and water. Today they are mainly made from vegetable oils. Jamie seems to know all about this, but I thought some additional info might be interesting.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4096 posts in 1460 days


#13 posted 557 days ago

Mike all my polish recipes come from my Pop
he knew lots of wonderful things that he kept in his
wee notebook which I was left. Interesting to read
your grandparents at the turn of the 19th century.
Jamie

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View stefang's profile

stefang

12604 posts in 1938 days


#14 posted 557 days ago

Lucky you Jamie. There is a lot of good stuff from the past! and informative, especially if written by our own folks. I have often thought to write a few things down for my grandkids to read one day, but it all seems so mundane that I haven’t done it (yet).

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4096 posts in 1460 days


#15 posted 557 days ago

Mike I have lots of my own notebooks, my grandchildren may find
them amusing.

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

showing 1 through 15 of 17 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

HomeRefurbers.com

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

GardenTenders.com :: gardening showcase