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  Restoring Tools and Furniture - The Recipe by John Kramer     

Linseed is a good choice in the restoration of old tools, gunstocks and other old wood items . . . IF you DO NOT use modern commercial "Boiled" Linseed Oil.

The problem is in the way the material is now processed.  Linseed is in a category called fixed or non-drying oils.  Boiling is a method traditionally involving heat and litharge to speed the oxidizing qualities of the oil (drying).  Today "boiled" linseed is processed by the introduction of a heavy slug of petrochemical driers which simulates the oxidation but changes the properties of the oil in the process.  Hence it darkens too much with age, pulls back to the surface and gets gummy, etc.

However, raw linseed oil will never dry. What is a fellow to do?

Boiling your own is not an impossible task.

To boil linseed oil: First buy raw linseed oil. Sneak the crock pot out of the kitchen. Set it outdoors (there is a stink and considerable fire hazard). Fill the pot with the raw linseed oil, place the lid on top, turn temperature to high, let cook at least 24 hours. Cool. Decant to a tightly stoppered container.

It will be slower oxidizing than litharge-boiled oil, but far superior to commercial boiled. Litharge can no longer be used as it is a liquid form of lead and unavailable.

And, once you have your private supply of home-boiled linseed oil, you might want to try this recipe. It travels under many names – I call it Alburnum's Elixir.


Alburnum's Elixir

  • 1 part home-boiled linseed oil.
  • 1 part genuine turpentine (mineral spirits is NOT a substitute).
  • 1 part ordinary household vinegar (either distilled or cider from the grocery store).

All three of these ingredients are plant or tree derivatives – things natural to wood – that's why they work well on wood. Our ancestors figured out that when you keep things compatible it all works together – and works well. Wood stuff on wood works!

Too often these days when I mention Turpentine, someone of the younger generation will answer, "Yes, I use that, I use Mineral Spirits".  These are two are totally different materials – Mineral Spirits is a petroleum derivative and is of no benefit to, nor is it compatible with wood. 

Though there may seem to be temporary improvement, since petrochemicals have nothing the wood can use, results are temporary.  Turpentine comes from trees – it is natural to wood – its benefits are many and long lasting. You will see the wood get better and better over time.

Though the inexpensive vinegars (distilled and apple cider) that you find in grocery stores today are far removed from the natural apple cider vinegar with the "mother" in it that Grandma used to make, any of them accomplish what is needed for this recipe.

After you have combined the three ingredients, shake well.  You will probably need to shake occasionally while using.  For long term storage I prefer glass because I know glass works. (I don't trust solutions that have twisted their plastic container out of shape – how has the plastic altered the solution?)

I think that once you begin using your Alburnum's Elixir you will have a lot more room on your workbench.  It will take the place of many of the modern concoctions that you’ve accumulated but don’t really work as well.

I have spent years studying the old ways of working with wood. Based on what I found there I have formulated my product, Kramer’s Best Antique Improver.  My product works like the Alburnum’s, but, due to the 14 ingredients I use, it covers a broader spectrum, has even more uses and is more effective over the long term.

Some of my customers refer to my product as “magic”.  But there’s no sorcery to it.  Our ancestors, after hundreds of years of trial and error, working with the simple ingredients available to them, and observing results over the long term, figured out what works. 

For various reasons – some of which may be valid and necessary – our generation is abandoning that knowledge.  That may be OK in some areas of our our modern fast-paced, plastic-coated way of life; but when we put our hearts, time and effort into restoring beauty and function back into those valued old tools and other possessions of our ancestors, we would do well to listen to that knowledge they passed to us, preserve it, and pass it on to future generations.

Whether you use Alburnum’s Elixir, my Antique Improver, or some other recipe that has traveled to us from the past, not only will you find that you achieve superior results in a simpler way, but you will contribute to the passing of that knowledge so hard-learned by our ancestors.

The old ways worked then – and they still do.


September, 2006
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