Waxing a basket

by Pamela Zimmerman

My wax set-up, in an old electric frying pan, set on the stove.

I use an electric frying pan, which came from a thrift shop, and is dedicated exclusively to melting wax. (Other applications are: making fire starters, batik, waxing your own thread, other art projects. You would be surprised.) This way I can do it outdoors, if I want/need. You could use the stove, but need to be very careful - do only this, don't be cooking at the same time. Use a built-in fan or hood vent, wax has fumes which can be dangerous. Wax in the can, inside a container of water I generally put my electric frying pan on top of the range, under the hood vent, plus open the windows.

Wax needs to be melted in a double boiler type setup. In the electric frying pan, I put the water in the frying pan, and then the wax in a tin can. On a stove, use an old saucepan, with water, and a tin can inside it, altogether on top of a burner. Use a bigger can than you need for the amount of wax.

wax covering cattail cordage basket

  1. Put only an inch or so of water in the bottom of the outer container - not too much.
  2. Put the wax in the inner container, all by itself (no water).
  3. Don't turn the water up too high- use moderate to low heat. Once the water is simmering, it doesn't help to use more energy, anyway. Boiling is as hot as water can get!
  4. Watch carefully to see the wax melts. It can "flash", or catch fire without being in contact with the burner, so be ready.
  5. When it is melted, turn it off.
  6. Use your brush to apply wax all over your basket. This will make it ugly - really ugly. Sometimes I just put it on the outside.
  7. Put the basket on an old cookie sheet, if you want put wax paper down first.
  8. Put the basket on the cookie sheet in the oven (low - 170 degrees or as low as possible.)
  9. Set the timer so you don't forget it. Check it every 10 to 15 minutes, and when the wax is all melted, and the basket looks "wet" instead of "ugly", it is ready. Usually takes 30 minutes for me.
basket of dandelion stems, covered in wax before absorbtionDon't forget to leave the fan running all this time - you are still making fumes. If you have asthma, or other sensitivities, you should take appropriate precautions.

I am used to handling wax, so I sometimes "mold" my hot basket. At first, it will be too wet to do any good, so I check it every couple of minutes. It can be molded like clay. If you let it sit too long, try heating it again in the oven, or for 30 seconds at a time in the microwave (provided there is no metal in the basket. THINK about this - forms for teneriffe, wire for support, beads, etc.).

the same dandelion stem basket, after waxing, hard as a candle If you want to make the basket waterproof, the method is shown in the video by Orbit crafts, which is currently off the market (to the best of my knowledge). The wax is shown being ladled into the basket as it is in progress - when the sides are formed, the basket is filled with wax & then tipped so the wax forms a visible coating all around the inside. This is repeated as the sides go up. So it is multiple coatings of wax, and when finished, there is a solid sheet of wax on the interior of the basket. I have never done this, it looks like it would work, but I am not sure why I would want to do it.

You can use beeswax, paraffin (like canning wax), a combination of the these two...you could use old candles, but they would color your basket. I have even used "sticky wax", which is made for batik, but this has a lower melting point, and might get me in trouble one day. If you want them to smell like pine instead of beeswax, try using paraffin. I know, it melts at a higher temp, but does not add the disctinctive "sweet" smell of beeswax to mask the natural pine.

I have waxed pine needle baskets with cotton binder, sinew, nylon upholstery thread, waxed linen, and raffia binders. I have also waxed horsehair, dandelion stem, cattail and iris leaf baskets. They all have come through just beautifully. Wire in the basket, such as a teneriffe ring, or in-coil, does just fine.Polymer clays come through the process just fine, as they are fired at higher temperatures. Take care, however, with other embellishments, such as wood, or bone...and I do not advise waxing a basket with plastic or glass components.

Pine Needle Group Logo, created by Carol Antrim