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How to waterproof canvas in 3 easy steps

Just to be forward about weatherproofing fabric. If you want your gear to look new, like something you just bought from a big box sporting goods store, you are on the wrong trail. This guide is for men who build things and need their gear to work in the toughest conditions. Weatherproofing fabric is a skill passed down by sailors and explorers over hundreds of years. This style of weatherproofing has evolved and been honed into the formulations we see today from Hawk Tools. Your gear will look weathered and tough and smell a bit like pine tar, so prepare for adventure.


Step 1: Fabric Wax History

Water proof cloth is found in ancient Egyptian tomb’s and early Greek Settlements dating back thousands of years. Modern waxed canvas first became common in the golden age of discovery. English and Scottish sailors noticed their sails worked better when they were wet, but this added weight. So they developed a system of curing sails with fish oil, this caused water to bead and prevent absorption. It wasn’t long before old sails were used as makeshift hats and clothing. In the 19th century, rotting fish oil would be replaced by Linseed oil, known to yellow fabric and gave us the classic yellow rain slicker. Paraffin wax gained popularity soon after, and prevented this yellowing with the additional benefit of increased durability. Whalers, mountaineers and arctic explorers made extensive use of waxed canvas. The first men to discover the poles and climb Everest used this technology to great effect. The 1920s saw paraffin wax garments explode in popularity. No longer was waxed fabric reserved for sailors and arctic explorers. Loggers, tradesmen and motorcyclists chose waxed canvas as their weather proofing of choice. If you appreciate the sailors, explorers, innovators and motor-heads that came before, you might be ready to experience the heritage first hand.

Arctic expedition with waxed fabric outerwear

Step 2: Preparation

First, choose your bag or garment wisely. You can wax just about any fabric, but remember that whatever you wax will darken and require unique cleaning and care. Waxing is perfect for outerwear, backpacks, or anything similar, but once you wax, you cant go back. Next is the right wax. There are home brew recipes available online but these formulations wont last and are not well suited for longevity. Hawk Tools Fabric Wax is proudly made in Pennsylvania U.S.A of quality local materials that don’t contain any animal fats, mineral oils, or other byproducts. Check out their Quality Guarantee.

Tools for waxing canvas

We suggest that you use a heat gun and lint roller to keep everything quick and clean.

Step 3: Process of Waxing Your Bag

Heat is your friend, if the ambient air temperature is low, use the hair dryer to bring the garment and wax up to at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmth softens both the fabric and wax bar, ensuring easy application and proper penetration.

Heating fabric wax with a heat gun

Step 4: Test on a Small Area

Test the wax in an inconspicuous place, so you know if you like the resulting color and texture. If not, no harm done.

Step 5: Spread Fabric Wax

Spread the wax in broad, even strokes, moving back and forth to create friction on the bar. It’ll warm up, getting progressively easier to spread. Make sure to create a completely even application. You’ll notice that it can be tough to get into crevices using these broad strokes. To get close to seams or zipper, use the bar’s edge and knead extra wax deep into these areas. Any missed seams will allow water through.

Rubbing fabric wax into a bag

Step 6: Proof Those Seams

The wax will apply differently at any underlying raised area or seam, and leave a darker mark in its outline. Although tough looking, you can prevent this by placing your article on a soft pad or support it with your hand to separate the layers. Use your hand and fingertips to work the wax into the fabric, rub back and forth in a circular pattern.

Testing fabric wax on a bag

Step 7: Use a Hair Dryer

Use a hair dryer to slowly and evenly heat the waxed fabric. This helps the wax saturate the fabric, making consistent in appearance and fully water proof. If you see uneven spots, repeat the process or scrape extra wax off with a heavy bristle brush.

Heating fabric wax with a heat gun

Step 8: Time to Dry

Once you’ve repeated these steps for all the sections of your piece, hang it up to cure in a warm, dry place for 24-48 hours. The slightly pine tar smell of Hawk Tools Fabric Wax, manly as it is, will dissipate over time. Hawk Tools Fabric Wax is formulated to last for years unlike other weatherproofing products on the market. Additionally, touch up seams and high wear areas if you notice water starting to penetrate or discolor.
Waxed bag hanging to cure

Step 9: Ultimate Durability

Hawk Tools Fabric Wax is formulated to last for years unlike the current crop of lifestyle brands. Eventually you will start to stretch seams and scuff up your bag. Touch up seams and high wear areas if you notice water starting to penetrate or the material discolor.

Water pooling on top of a waxed bag

Step 10: Care for Your Gear

Hawk Tools recommends that you wash your waxed articles as infrequently as possible, opting instead for a good scrub with a Palm Brush. But if you do have to wash whatever you waxed, do so separately in a bucket of cold water so that you don’t inadvertently soften and remove any wax. If you place your article in a sealed canvas bag you can use a dryer set on no heat. You don’t want the high heat of the spin cycle to melt the wax and wax your laundry. Hawk Tools sells specialized canvas cleaner if your hobby involves rolling around in mud and gravel. Regardless, a brush and bucket of cold water should suffice, and reapply wax as needed after letting it air dry. That’s it folks. You are part of the waxed canvas resurgence. You carry the torch of explorers, sailors and motorcyclists in the fine art of waxing fabric. Your proofed gear should now repel all that nature can muster. History is yours to create and adventure is calling.