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Postby flyfishwithme » Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:39 am

Leisenring devoted a whole chapter to this topic. Here it is:-

Chapter 3 - Wax

Waxes for fly tying are like hook - there are all kinds. The wax which I have found to be entirely satisfactory is made according to an old recipe of L. Harrington Keene's as follows:

Melt one half pound of the best white turpentine resin, add one ounce of pure white beeswax which should be paired off or chopped up into small pieces. Simmer for fifteen minutes, allowing it to melt and mix thoroughly with the resin. Now add one hal ounce of fresh lard and stir slowly while the mixture simmers just below the boiling point for another fifteen minutes. (Note: when stirring this simmering wax remember that it is extremely inflammable and therefore dangerous. The safest and best stirring implement is a stick about eighteen inches long and somewhat smaller in diameter than a lead pencil.) Pour this liquid into a basin of water. Do not touch it until it has had a chance to cool because your fingers will be badly burned. After it has cooled enough to permit handling, pull at it and work with it, as taffy pullers do with taffy, until it has a light colour and even texture. You will find it necessary to immerse it in warm water in order to make it pliable enough to work.

Remember that a batch of this wax will last for years, so make it right while you are making it. Roll it into pieces about the size of hickory nuts, wrap them in wax paper and store in a cool place.

When using this wax do not use a piece bigger than a BB shot because you will likely break the fly tying thread using it. Before waxing your thread, moisten your thumb and forefinger and work the piece of wax between them to soften it somewhat.

Drawing your thread against the wax between your fingers will give you a thread stiff enough to grip well against the hook, accepting the tension given and somehow sealing itself onto the hook, a most valuable aid to a fly's durability.

This wax on your thread will often leave a tiny speck of wax on the head of the fly after the whip finish is completed. This tight wrapping of the thread over itself and the pulling through necessitated by the whip finish causes this. I always remove this speck of wax with my dubbing needle with the satisfaction of knowing that, unlike the half hitches used by some, that whip finish is there to stay. And they do stay. THis is a perfect wax for tying durable wet flies"

1. Taffy relates to soft toffee
2. This wax is not the same as that used for North Country flies. That wax is a deep mahogany colour and contained different ingredients although the methods of producing it would be similar to that of Keene's.
3. Cobblers wax (as used in North Country flies is difficult to obtain in its correct form. What I do believe is similar is that used by bag pipe makers. THis is one recipe: .In a double boiler heat 2 parts violin rosen, one part beeswax and 1/8th part by volume of olive or almond oil mixing when melted.

If you have any recipes, why not add them to the thread.

Re: Wax

Postby flyfishwithme » Fri Apr 16, 2010 2:56 am

I have been in discussion with Mike over this and, as usual, he has freely provided lots of information. Thank you Mike.

The type of wax you use depends on the effect or properties you want,
either while dressing ( sticky for touch dubbing for instance), or in
the finished fly. Although many people refer to "Cobbler`s" wax, there
is really no such thing as an individual product, cobblers used various
recipes for waterproofing and strengthening various threads, leather
thongs etc. These were often made with various additives which people
tried over time. The basic mixture is always pine pitch ( pine resin)
"refined" to some extent by heating, and skimming the dross, and some
fat. Usually beef tallow (known as "Pomatum" in many old recipes)but any
wax, (usually beeswax) fat or oil will work to "soften" the pitch. For
fly-dressing there were, ( and still are), lots of recipes extant. As
long as the final product does what you want there is no perceptible
advantabe in using various recipes. The basic recipe is merely resin and
fat or wax in appropriate quantities.

This is simply a a mixture of pine resin ( also known as pine pitch)
obtained by heating raw resin and skimming the dross, also the same
substance used for dressing the horsehair on a violin bow, and then
known as "rosin" or "kolophonium") with various other additives like
beeswax, olive oil etc , which change the properties of the wax. You can
collect pine resin easily enough and make your own. The colour of the
final "wax" depends on the type and age of the pitch and wax (or fat)
you use. The wax may also be coloured with other substances like
lamp-black ( simply carbon soot from a candle or similar) or things like
small amounts of coal tar pitch ( black coal tar ), but although I have
done this I found no advantange in doing so. The mixture of "wax/resin"
also darkens in time after being applied. This explains why some older
flies look a lot darker than one might think based on the materials
used. To obtain "colourless" or "transparent" wax, you need to use more
or less colourless materials to begin with, and care must be taken not
to overheat them.

For the majority of purposes nowadays, except for obtaining the
translucency in silk, and colour changes if desired ( dark waxes with
pitch ( black tar extract) or lampblack, ( soot, or fine carbon black as
the result of combustion), "wax" in its various forms is not really

One of the main reasons for using resinous wax was to "stick" the thread
to the shank of the blind hooks. Pine resin polymerises in time ( like
two component epoxy resin for instance, which is a condensate plastic
polymer, but the resin is basically a single component polymer of
course), and also ensures that the silk will not slip off the hook,
which would be a disaster when arming gut to blind hooks, This is no
longer of any real interest, as eyed hooks are now universally used.
Also, pine resin becomes even more translucent and solid in time. Amber
is "petrifed" pine resin.

Nowadays everybody uses bobbin holders, so "sticky" thread is no longer
required when fly-dressing. ( Stops the dressing unraveling at various

"Wax" is not necessary for dubbing, but one may use it if one wishes.
For "touch" dubbing I use a "paper glue stick" from Uhu or Pritt like this;



If you want colours you can touch the thread with a marker before you
use the wax.

There is a lot of discussion and controversy on the matter, and quite
apart from any basic considerations in regard to the use of wax, it is
mainly personal preference, knowledge, belief, and inclination. There
are hundreds of recipes for fly-dressing wax.

"Cobblers wax" which was made by the cobblers themselves and was used
for waxing the threads ( Waterproofs, and prevents fraying, resin is
also one of the few available natural waterproofing materials, used on
canoes, etc etc as is pitch) on various leatherwork is merely various
blends of resin and wax etc.

All silk has the same basic properties, basic silk is a single thread ,
although it may be twisted and prepared in various ways, so it doesn't
matter which brand you use. Dyes may vary though, and some modern dyed
silk is "too dense" in colour as a result. It does not turn translucent
in water or when treated with wax.( Or at least not as desired).

Some other observations;

At the last count, I had 127 recipes for fly-dressing "wax"! There are
doubtless also a great many more extant. Quite a few authors gave
recipes for various waxes. Often simply “Cobbler´s Wax” is stated. There
has been a very great deal of discussion and controversy over wax, how
to make it, how to use it, or whether to use it at all.

One of the main reasons for using it on nearly all patterns, has now
disappeared, as when one uses eyed hooks, one does not need to stick the
gut to the hook and silk!

Many of the authors of older books gave recipes using pine resin, and
pomatum. Pomatum is NOT hair gel or oil, as stated in a number of
dictionaries, it is tallow. Tallow is rendered animal fat, either from
mutton, beef, or other bovines, ( fat from pigs is called “lard”), and
was used for making candles among other things. You may simply
substitute ordinary white candle wax ( paraffin wax) for this.

The type of wax/tallow/fat/oil used affects the properties of the
resulting substance ( also known, and quite inaccurately of course!) as

If you want to make various waxes for fly-dressing, see here;


Somewhere I have a whole collection of various recipes in a file, but I
don't know exactly where it is at the moment.

Here is the recipe I now use;

An interesting and very scarce book with a lot of info on various hackle
flies. This was a local publication and is very hard to obtain. Some of
you might enjoy perusing it. You can download it, or read it online here;


A list of hackle flies from the book;

http://www.archive.org/stream/teesdalea ... 8/mode/2up

A wax recipe;
http://www.archive.org/stream/teesdalea ... 2/mode/2up

I also agree with his observations about "ordinary" shoemaker's wax here.

I have tried many more, but have never found much point in using more
than that on a regular basis.

Some further notes;

The problem here is mainly one of definitions, and nomenclature. Neither
"cobbler´s wax", nor "flydresser´s wax" are actually wax at all. They
are for the most part rosin, or pitch, although some recipes use very
little rosin and a lot of wax or fat etc.

Substances generally referred to as "Cobblers wax" are various types of
pitch mixed withn other susbstances. These may be pitch ( rosin ) from
pine trees, or derived from coal tar. Coal tar pitch is usually a very
dark colour, almost black. It is brittle with a low melting point and
generally useless for fly-dressing on its own. Pine pitch varies from
almost glass clear to dark translucent brown. Yellow to amber
translucence is common. Very clear and very dark resins are less common.

The majority of "cobblers wax" available, either in earlier times, or
now, is completely unsuitable for fly-dressing. I have no idea why this
expression became so universal. Not only is it factually incorrect to
begin with, the substance described is completely useless for fly-dressing.

This is the substance ( or one of them at least, commonly referred to as
"cobbler´s wax";


This is a dark "wax" used ( in this case) for fixing and waterproofing
various bindings on bagpipes. Of course, it is not wax at all, but coal tar.

One might rub this up and down a length of silk until hell freezes.
Nothing will happen! The stuff has to be melted before it is usable. In
warm weather, it turns into a sloppy mess, which is equally unusable.
Even if one manages to apply this to the silk in a semi-molten state, it
will turn any silk black! This substance also does not "set-up"
(polymerise) like resin. It is merely a waterproof "glue" and protection
for the hemp, sisal, or similar stuff which is coated with it.

This is also "cobbler´s wax";

This stuff is absolutely useless for North Country Spiders or indeed any
other flies. It will darken the silk beyond recognition, and will
certainly not make it translucent. It is also extremely difficult to
use, even for its intended purpose, and if you get it on your hands in
the molten state, you will wish you hadn´t!

"Cobbler´s wax" is also defined thus;

* A gooey, sticky mixture of wax and tar. It is rubbed into the hemp.
Then the hemp is wrapped around the tenon in neat rows. The wax helps
the hemp stick to the tenon, and also protects the hemp against rotting
by moisture.

One may add stuff like this to various recipes with resin, but the
results will vary widely and some desirable properties ( that the
substance polymerises for instance) may be lost by mixing these things

Further confusion has arisen as a result of people actually using
beeswax and similar to wax silk in order to make it translucent. This is
absolutely useless for anything else. If you try to use silk waxed with
beeswax to attach gut to a hook, it will pull out almost immediately. It
possesses no adhesive qualities at all, and is indeed often used as a
solid lubricant, especially on sticking drawers etc in various cupboards
and other furniture. It is commonly used to line sweet moulds and other
things where sticky substances should not adhere. It is also used as a
mould separator in the plastics industry. Of course it is also quite
useless for "touch dubbing". One may however use ti to wax silk thread
for the translucent, waterproofing effects, and then dub using glue stick.

One may modify the properties of rosin ( which is cooked pine resin) by
adding fat, oil, wax, and other things. The exact nature of such
modifications, and their effect on the finished product is more or less
impossible to determine, except by trial and error. One might use a
recipe provided by someone else, or one must experiment until one finds
what one wants.

Without exact chemical analysis, and/or practical trial of many
substances which are incorrectly referred to as "wax", there is no way
of knowing what they are, or what they will or will not do.

Various Notes I;

Recipes for Summer Wax 621 (Harder) and Winter Wax 722 (Softer) The
numbers are the proportions of the material used. The proportions are in
ounces, but one may of course use any measurement as long as the
proportions are the same.

Summer Wax 6 ounces Pine Rosin 2 ounces Bee's Wax 1 ounce Castor Oil.
Put all these ingredients in a small pan (which will be forever a wax
pan once used) melt them over a low heat and stir gently until all the
ingredients have combined. Leave to cool slightly until all the bubbles
rise to the surface and the mix is clear. Reheat gently (Do not let it
boil or burn) Pour it into small silicone muffin moulds and leave to
cool. Do not use metal moulds! Ther wax will be inpossible to remove
from them. Methylated spirits will clean up any small spills. This is a
standard mix.

Various substances may be added to give colour, chiefly other coloured


Pine Rosin may be obtained in 5.5kg Buckets from Smith and Rodger,
Elliot Street, Glasgow http://www.frenchpolishes.com They also have 500gm
blocks of bee's wax. You can buy castor oil at lots of places and olive
oil also works well but you may have to modify the proportions to get
waht you want. These complex substances like waxes, resins, and oils,
all have widely varying properties. Great care must be taken when
heating as they will give off inflammable and explosive gases.

Various notes II;

Make your own tying wax? It is not difficult or expensive. And there is
a big advantage: just as with tying your own flies, you can make exactly
what you need and what you like. Most tying waxes contain beeswax,
rosin, and a softening agent in varying proportions. The amount of rosin
determines the adhesiveness of the final product. I use as little as 10
percent rosin in a wax designed to be applied to your fingers instead of
the thread, to as much as 70 percent in my favorite thread wax. Pure
rosin is too hard to use alone. Beeswax provides some flexibility as
well as tackiness of its own. As softening agents I have used lard, beef
tallow, castor oil, and sperm oil. Lard or beef tallow were commonly
called for in traditional recipes. I use castor oil in most of my
current concoctions. Sperm oil makes some superb wax (with a catchy
name, folks sit up when I say I am using sperm wax) but, as no one is
rendering sperm whales anymore, supplies are limited.

Making tying wax is a matter of melting and mixing the ingredients. I
start by melting the beeswax then adding the rosin and the softening
agent. Use a low heat (number two out of seven on my hot plate) and mix
thoroughly. A long wooden stick makes a good mixing tool. CAUTION! This
stuff is hot and sticky; spill any on yourself and it will adhere and
burn. The mixture is also highly flammable. If the mixing pot begins to
smoke reduce the heat. Some instructions say to use a double boiler to
melt the ingredients. Much safer, yes, but much slower. I have never had
a fire using a saucepan directly on my hot plate. Use a saucepan you do
not mind dedicating to wax production. Cleaning the wax out of a pan is
possible but not easy (he said, understating the case).

I have seen recipes for extra-tacky tying wax, which contain little or
no wax. They are made of turpentine and rosin. The liquid waxes you
occasionally see advertised are made this way. The rosin is melted and
the turpentine added until the desired consistency is reached (talk
about flammable, what we have here is crude napalm). This makes a
substance that is truly adhesive, but has at least one shortcoming. The
turpentine eventually evaporates leaving a powdery residue. This is not
a problem if you do not care how long the fly remains intact. Waxes made
with beeswax and a stable softening agent stay flexible a long time.
Decades in my experience.

There are different waxes for a variety of uses: general purpose,
traditional (old recipes), finger wax, even wax to polish surgical gut
so it resembles silkworm gut. Beeswax is cheapest from a beekeeper raw
wax is easily cleaned by heating and skimming. Someone who wants to
make a little for themselves can find cakes of beeswax at craft and
leather stores. My last purchase of rosin was two-and-one-half kilos.
Rosin can be had for the picking off of wounded pine trees. The dried
pitch that has dribbled down the bark makes superior, and wonderful
smelling, tying wax.

Here are the recipes for my two favorite waxes. The first is designed to
be used on your fingers rather then your thread. Many tiers have
discovered that their fingers are too dry to dub fur easily. If they
could just make their fingers slightly tacky, dubbing would be easier.
This wax is designed to solve that problem. Just rub a little on your
thumb and forefinger then dub as you normally would. Rub and dub--sounds
like a sexual perversion.

Rosin: 15 parts
Beeswax: 30 parts
Castor oil: 5 parts
Paste fly floatant: 50 parts

Melt the beeswax, then add the other ingredients. Mix well. Pour the
melted mixture into any container you wish.

The second wax is designed to be used on your thread. Rubbed rapidly
over the thread it leaves a fine coating that is very sticky.

Rosin: 70 parts
Beeswax: 20 parts
Castor oil: 10 parts

After melting and mixing, the wax is poured into a small mold. I use
non-stick muffin pans for molds. After cooling, the mold is inverted and
struck lightly. If the wax cake does not fall out, put the mold into
your freezer. Leave it in there for a half hour or so. The wax should
pop out of the mold after this treatment. Note that the formula number
is actually the proportion of ingredients (C is for castor oil). I have
made so many different formulas over the years I had to start numbering

I asked him a direct question about colour:
If, as you say, these waxes were used to bind thread onto the hook and to retain tension on gut, then what in your opinion would you do to change yellow silk to a 'olive/green' hues as in the Waterhen Bloa and Greenwell's.

His reply:

Any wax, including beeswax or paraffin wax,( white candle wax ), along
with a host of other substances like various oils, fats, etc, will cause
silk to become translucent, and the translucence is what causes the
apparent colour change. Wax has the advantage of not washing off quite
so easily as oils or fats, especially if the thread is well waxed.
Resinous wax lasts even longer and also makes the bodies of flies
intrinsically stronger once wrapped. It is also fairly easy to use and
tends to penetrate the silk better, although this depends heavily not
only on the type of wax, but on how it is used. Applying wax properly
can be quite difficult, especially pure beeswax to silk for instance,
and these techniques must be learned. The resinous wax is still
definitely the best type of wax for most applications. but primarily for

Independently of type and application, and for instance, in the cases of
the flies you mention, any yellow shade of silk changes to a shade of
olive when waxed. The apparent olive shade which results depends on the
yellow shade of the silk and the wax used. Ordinary beeswax on primrose
yellow thread gives an excellent medium olive shade. This apparent
colour change also applies to any other colour or shade of silk of
course, but the colour changes as such may not then be at all obvious.
The amount and type of wax applied also affects the eventual shade.
Resinous wax tends to give darker shades which also darken even more in
time, although this may take a very long time in some cases. Wax with at
least some resin in it is also about the easiest to use, and most
versatile for things like dubbing etc. Nowadays people use all sorts of
dedicated chemicals, lacquers, varnishes and other substances for
various purposes. Quite a few also use various types of wax for various

At one time, and for a very long time, the resinous wax which a dresser
either concocted himself or obtained from somewhere was the only
alternative available for all the things it was required to do. Although
primarily a basic glue for arming hooks, it also provided more final
strength and durability, waterproofing, anti-rot properties, better grip
while dressing, and made various dressing operations easier because of
its "sticky" qualities. Many of these things are now redundant due to
the use of eyed hooks, fly-dressing vices, bobbin holders, and the
resulting massive changes in techniques and requirements. Even just the
fact that varnish or "head cement" is used by many to finish flies.

Dressing flies on eyed hooks using a vice and bobbin holder differs very
considerably from dressing flies in hand using lengths of silk. For hand
dressing a good recipe of resinous and relatively tacky wax is still the
best choice. It is however imperative that one use a good recipe and
apply it properly.

If you just want the colour change in silk, more or less any wax will
suffice. I knew a couple of dressers who only used pure beeswax, and
one who used pure lard. The resinous wax recipes now often propagated
are really just the result of tradition, and the widespread perception
that various waxes are in fact required. It was originally used mainly
for sticking the gut, ( or horsehair etc), which procedure was known as
"arming", to the hook shanks. There is now no need to use it at all for
this reason, and most "reasons" currently given for doing so are
spurious at best. The effect of translucence, which was originally
merely a side effect of using resinous wax as a "glue", is however still
of considerable importance on quite a few flies. Many flies dressed
without it are considerably less effective. Using olive coloured silk on
a Greenwell for instance, instead of waxed yellow silk,often makes the
fly very much less effective, in many cases quite useless. This also
depends on what the fly is imitating and how it is used.

Quite a few older authors complained that "Cobbler's Wax" with various
additives and possibly even dark coloured, merely soiled the silk. In
some places ( notably Scotland in the case of the Greenwell and some
other flies), tradition is so strong that dark wax is still used
although nobody can give a valid reason for doing it. Fly-dressing
itself is heavily laced with, and influenced by, very many traditions,
quite a few of which will not bear scrutiny from a practical point of
view and in respect of current equipment and facts. People believe them
nevertheless, and many will simply not believe that they are no longer
necessary regardless of any facts involved.


So I hope you all get something out of it.


Re: Wax

Postby GlassJet » Fri Apr 16, 2010 4:09 am

Great post, thanks, very interesting, from a historical point of view as much as anything.

Would agree with wax only really being needed to colour silk - (if soft / liquid enough) but regarding tackiness, thought that might add to the security of the whip finish?

I wax the silk with my own mix (with the coconut oil in it ;) ) but use a 'tackier' wax I bought in a tube to wax the thread just before I whip finish.

I don't know if it makes it any more secure, but it makes me feel good that I have thought about it and am doing something... ;) :lol:

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Re: Wax

Postby flyfishwithme » Fri Apr 16, 2010 4:18 am

I am going to try Lanolin as an additive. Have you thought of using it?

Re: Wax

Postby flyfishwithme » Fri Apr 16, 2010 10:07 am

And further information from Mike...

There are infinite possibilities for recipes, and many possible
additives, including various fly-floatants, silicone polish, coconut
(palm) oil, Lanolin ( mainly sheep wool fat), and a lot of others. I
have not tried all these of course, but basically anything that will mix
with the molten resin can be added to it. What the properties of such
mixtures will be is anybody's guess.

Many things will not combine properly with resin or fat, and may
"curdle" or otherwise affect the mixtures. If you experiment with stuff
like this, then use small amounts, take extreme care near open flames
etc, and preferably do it outside!

Coconut oil, sold as cooking fat in the supermarket is also one of the
best fly-floatants ( waterproofing) available, and is easy to use. It
comes in solid white ( semi-translucent) blocks. Used as a solid, it
melts at finger temperature, so you just rub some on your finger and
apply it to the fly. As a liquid floatant, dissolve some in naptha
(lighter fluid or "petrol", such as is used for "Zippo" lighters )or
similar. You just need to dip the fly in this and shake it about or
false cast it. The coconut oil is of course deposited on the fly and
waterproofs it.

Re: Wax

Postby wsbailey » Fri Apr 16, 2010 11:21 am

In his book "Floating Flies" F.M. Halford writes: “The numerous recipes given in general angling books for preparing transparent wax, are, without exception, unsuccessful: the wax so prepared is either brittle hence difficult to get to adhere to the silk or too soft and rapidly becomes greasy in use.” He goes on to recommend purchasing rod maker's wax. After consuming pounds of materials trying every wax recipe in angling literature I have found this to be basically true. In order to produce an effective wax I had to think outside the box and come up with my own recipe. This is tying wax which sticks the thread tightly to the hook and makes a very durable fly. It also adds friction which helps materials stay put. It isn't what we think of as a dubbing wax which is sticky at room temperature and doesn't harden significantly.
In the days of hand sewn shoes with hemp and linen threads a material had to be used to preserve the thread from moisture and hold everything together. Pitch is what they used. Because it is both liquid and solid it could plug the needle holes and yet allow the shoe to flex. It is also very sticky so it also acted somewhat in the role of a glue.The other ingredients in cobbler's wax are added to make the pitch handier to use. Bill
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Re: Wax

Postby GlassJet » Tue Apr 20, 2010 3:23 am

flyfishwithme wrote:Andrew,
I am going to try Lanolin as an additive. Have you thought of using it?

No I haven't, but where I have come across it is making a soft hackle body from sheep's wool pulled straight off the fence. The natural lanolin in it keeps the fly in the film, so it must be a good floatant, at least! Such a fly, tied with a partridge hackle and silver rib is a traditional fly for my river, all the old local guys who fish here have told me that.

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Re: Wax

Postby narcodog » Tue Apr 20, 2010 9:40 am

Great post and I'm glad to hear that Mike responded in such a positive manor. So here is an off subject question. Coconut oil Mike states that it is one of the best fly floatants. I wonder how it would work on silk fly lines instead of Muclin? Any thoughts?
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Re: Wax

Postby flyfishwithme » Tue Apr 20, 2010 12:35 pm

Well, what a question. I think it would be okay as it is a natural material. Be interested to hear what anyones else has to say.

Re: Wax

Postby GlassJet » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:44 pm

I wonder if it might be a bit too 'solid' at water surface temperature, ie affect the pliability of the line? Dunno though, just a consideration.... :?
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