How to
Waterproof canvas

Weatherproof your gear fast in 3 easy steps

[Definitive Edition]

How to | Max Moon

Just to be forward about waterproof canvas & fabric wax. 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.

Waterproof canvas and fabric waxing is a skill passed down by sailors and explorers over centuries. Lessons learned in crucible of mother natures harshest environments. 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.



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Waterproof Canvas History

Waterproof cloth is found in ancient Egyptian tomb’s and early Greek Settlements from a time before proper written  records. Remarkably, archeologists have discovered shards of clothing dating back millennia which contain beeswax and tree pitch, indicating that our ancestors understood the benefits of wax fabric treatments. So, fast forward a few centuries and we find sailors figuring out how to prolong the life of their sails and making them catch more air. Consequently, they noticed that sails work better when wet, but at the cost of increased weight. So, they developed a system of dunking them in whale oil then curing them in the sun, solidifying the oil into a putrid smelling water repellent crust.

It wasn’t long before discarded sails became makeshift hats and clothing. If we fast forward to the 19th century, rotting fish oil would be replaced by Linseed oil. Interestingly, this treatment yellows fabric, inadvertently making the classic yellow rain slicker a trend setting item.  Before long, paraffin wax gained popularity and prevented this yellowing with the additional benefit of increased durability.

Old man with Waxed Yellow Rain Slicker

Whalers, mountaineers and arctic explorers made extensive use of waxed canvas. Most notably, the first men to conquer our arctic regions such as the poles and Everest used this technology to great effect. Worry not,  history class is only in session another paragraph, if you finish your homework, we can get down to the brass tacks of this storied waterproofing process.

 The 1920s saw paraffin wax garments explode in popularity. No longer was waxed fabric reserved for sailors and the odd arctic explorer. Loggers, tradesmen, motorcyclists and even royalty could be seen sporting their waxed outerwear of choice. If you appreciate the sailors, explorers, innovators and motor-heads that came before, you might be ready to experience the heritage in our time.

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Wax Canvas




What you Need to Waterproof Canvas

With Fabric Weatherproofer
What you need to succeed at waxing your gear (21st Century Edition).

Fabric Weatherproofing proofs fabric against rain and weather. One 5oz bar is perfect for proofing and maintaining medium to large articles. For Thicker fabrics, we suggest Hawk Tools Fabric dressing.

The Hawk Tools Palm Brush Dauber is perfect for cleaning lint and dirt off your gear before wax application. It also works wonders as a wax applicator. Use with our leather care products as well.

For heavy gear or large areas, fabric dressing is required to completely penetrate the material and create a proper base layer.

This helps speed up the process and allows deep penetration of thick materials.

Great for cleaning your gear before wax application. Whatever is on your gear will be permanent after wax application.

Process to Properly Waterproof Canvas

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 Hawk Tools Waterproof Canvas Wax. Our Fabric Weatherproofer 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 our Quality Guarantee.

A Hair Dryer and Lint Roller helps the process along.


Use the Dauber Palm Brush and Lint roller to remove any dirt or debris clinging to your fabric. The wax will permanently seal in any imperfections left on your garment.

Toiletries bag before wax application

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

Fabric Waterproofing application to waterproof canvas

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

Spread Hawk Tools Weatherproofing Bar

Spread Hawk Tools Fabric Wax Bar


Spread the canvas waterproofing in broad, even strokes, moving back and forth to create friction between the bar and fabric. 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 this technique. Not to fear, if you need to get close to seams or a zipper, use the bar’s edge and knead extra wax into gaps. Any missed seams will allow water through.

Wax application at seam

The Fabric Weatherproofing bar 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 waterproof canvas on a soft pad or support it with your hand to separate the layers.

Use your hand and fingertips to work the wax in, rub back and forth in a circular pattern to ensure even distribution.

Hair dryer wax application

Use a hair dryer to slowly and evenly heat the waxed fabric. This helps the wax saturate the fibers, creating a consistent appearance and waterproof layer. If you see uneven spots, repeat the process and scrape off extra canvas wax with a heavy bristle brush.

Time to Dry Your Waterproof Canvas

Once you’ve repeated these steps for all the sections of your waterproof canvas, hang it up to cure in a warm, dry place for 24-48 hours. The slight pine tar smell of Fabric Weatherproofing Wax, manly as it is, will dissipate over time.

Drying Toiletries bag after wax application

Hawk Tools Canvas Wax is formulated to last for years unlike most waterproof canvas brands on the market. That being said, wear and tear is a reality for the adventurous type. After conquering the Andes, you might need to touch up a seam or zipper in heavy use areas.

Water beading off of waterproof canvas bag

We recommend that you wash your waterproof canvas infrequently if possible, opting instead for a good scrub with a Palm Brush and Spot Cleaner. But if you do have to wash your canvas wax article, do so separately in a bucket of cold water so that you don’t inadvertently soften and remove any waterproofer. 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 coat your laundry.

We sell 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.

You are part of the waxed canvas resurgence. You carry the torch of explorers, sailors, and motorcyclists in the fine art of proofing fabric. Your waxed gear should now repel all that nature can muster. History is yours to create and adventure is calling. But what is the best way to use fabric wax today? Comment 

Finished waxed toiletries bag with tools

For Larger Waterproofing Jobs

Canvas Waterproofer Tools Gif
What You Need to Succeed
Read Instructions
Plug It In
Canvas Waterproofer Melting GIF
Wait 25 Minutes
Canvas Waterproofer Hot Surace Do Not Touch GIF
HOT! No Touch
Canvas Waterproofer Heat Gun GIF
Smooth It Out

Awesome Resource

Blended Fabric

If you want to explore like Shackleton, check out Grahm Avrill and his article about quality hikers.

For more about the waxing a bag or backpack check out this article by Ken on Instructables.

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12 thoughts on “How to Waterproof Canvas in [3 Easy Steps]”

  1. Great article, I never knew that fabric wax had such a rich history. I use Scotchgard and have never been happy with the performance, it wears out far to quickly and leaves much to be desired. I will be leaving a more in depth review after my order arrives.

  2. My motorcycle gear wouldn’t keep the rain out so I picked up a bar of your fabric wax. It rubbed on easy and my jacket looks tough and weathered like it should. I can vouch for its water resistance after a 250 mile ride to Ontario with what felt like a constant barrage of thunderstorms. I threw out my can of Nikwax and will only use this from now on.

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