Tag Archives: boiled linseed oil

Linseed Oil As A Loom Finish

Linseed oil is important enough that it qualifies to receive its own attention.


One of the first known drying oils, linseed oil is obtained from the seed of the flax plant – Linum usitatissium.  Oil content varies from 32% – 43%, the quality and quantity depending on the variety of seed, where it is grown, and the climactic differences that vary year to year.  The plant is mostly grown in Canada, Burma, India, Russia, Uruguay, Argentina, and the USA.

Its oil makes an excellent natural wood finish in both raw and refined states.  Raw oil contains quantities of mucilaginous matter – waxes and grease.  These will tend to remain active…the mucilaginous matter will never dry. Since raw linseed oil will remain wet for long periods of time it is never used by experienced wood workers other than for very specialized purposes.

Old Picket FenceBoiled linseed oil is not actually boiled, but is heat treated.  It also contains added drying agents.  Properly prepared boiled linseed oil gives more protection against moisture than raw oil.  There is no other oil that imparts to wood such a beautiful finish as boiled linseed oil.  It is known world-over as the finishing oil without peer.  There is no contest that this item will give extremely fine finishes for indoor woods and should be seriously considered for fine wood work.

The case against using it is related to its relatively low moisture resistance.  It does pass moisture freely.  That makes it one of the reasons it is used both indoors (where the wood can swell and contract in response to internal humidity) and outdoors (where applications on new wood allow the wood to continue to freely expel moisture, instead of bubbling the finish).

Boiled linseed oil is superb as a weaving loom finish, intensifying the beauty and conditioning the wood all at the same time…easy to apply and dry in a couple of days.  Apply light coats only with a paper towel.  Yearly light applications will deepen the grain and further condition the wood.  Always wear protective gloves.  Dispose of towels outside only, preferably by burning or in an air-tight covered garbage container; saturated rags can spontaneously combust.


Leclerc Nilart – Dismantling, Cleaning, Polishing, & Refinishing

dsc00001I spent the day hauling in various parts of our Nilart loom.  I started with scouring the heddle support bars on the harnesses using 0000 super fine steel wool.  The loom is in great shape.  Nevertheless, these bars are steel and as such subject to corrosion.  Dust and grime also accumulate…in this case 42 years worth.  While it did not seem significant, once I did this, the heddles slid back-and-forth like they are now on ice skates!  I also lightly sanded the wood on the harnesses and wiped on a light coating of boiled linseed oil…my favourite natural finish.  While the finish on Leclerc looms is nice, it is far from being a fine-furniture grade.  Some of the wood’s roughness is from an incomplete sanding on the wood, and some is from roughness on the part of the varnish application.  Sanding with fine sandpaper and then rubbing with linseed oil makes for a smooth-as-glass finish.

The reed was likewise tarnished and grimy.  Steel wool worked off the worst.  Then with a new polishing wheel I worked in between the reeds.  It came out incredibly smooth.

Before scouring…


After polishing…


I went on to the larger pieces of the loom, sanding and finishing…


The canvas on the front take-up reel was dirty…


…and got washed; the rear one will be done tomorrow when I dismantle the rear beam apparatus.  And then the metal parts were scoured…


It’s coming out quite nicely.  There is no reason to not do this.  First of all an evaluation of all parts should be made…better now than when I load up my first warp and find out that there is a problem, that’s for sure!  But just the prospect of alleviating any unnecessary friction in a loom that works 12 shafts will surely prove to be a benefit in the end.  Better now than later.  Today the windchill was -35, so it seems to be a great time to do this.

And it is turning out beautifully.

A Word About Linseed Oil

Not everyone weaves equally well.  And in fact, the whole notion of weaving well is in and of itself nebulous.  Does weaving well mean producing a bolt of cloth that is indistinguishable in its technical perfection from that which can be woven on a machine?  Does weaving well mean to be able to choose patterns and colour combinations that elicit?  But what should these elicit?  Colours and patterns rarely draw the same same response from any two people.  And when they do, what does that mean?  Two people agreeing that some certain colour combination is superior may show nothing more than an agreed upon form of xenophobia, genocide, classism, oppression, or psychosis/psychopathy!  Does weaving well refer to the weaver’s physical dexterity…the manner in which their body interacts with the loom?  Are those who better-articulate what they do when they weave by nature better weavers because they can structure the weaving process in their minds in a more orderly fashion than those who do less well at this?

Howard Gardner‘s work, Frames of Mind was published in 1983.  It proposed that rather than possessing one overarching intelligence, humans have multiple intelligences.  At the time he proposed eight: musical–rhythmic, visual-spatial, venal-linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.  Each of these expresses itself in one way or another when we weave.  Everyone, says Gardner, has all of these intelligences, but in varying degrees, and no two people have these to the same degrees.  When it comes to weaving, most of us know people to whom we turn when we have a specific question regarding a specific aspect of weaving – design, colour, pattern, verbal explanations, how to situate your body, etc..

When it comes to the loom itself as a tool, weavers need some understanding of this aspect of their loom in order to be able to weave at all.  This understanding would involve a combination of these: visual-spatial, venal-linguistic, logical–mathematical, and bodily–kinaesthetic intelligences.  When looking to understand how best to restore the finish on the Leclerc Jano loom upon which I will work today I turn to an expert in primitive wood finishing, Donald Newell.  Newell’s book on finishing wood is classic, although not in the area of looms, his expertise is in pre-synthetic preservatives as applied to gun stocks.  But in spite of his book being about another tool, his insights into the nature of wood preservatives – and in this case linseed oils – is timeless.  I print it here for the interest of anyone working to restore an older loom and who wants to apply a natural finish and steer clear of vanishes and lacquers.

[*Gunstock Finishing And Care: A Textbook, covering the various Means and Methods by which modern Protective and Decorative Coatings may be applied in the correct and suitable Finishing of Guns and Rifle Stocks.  For Amateur and Professional Use, Donald A. Newell, 1949]