A Follow Up: Sourcing Wax

Waxed Drivetrain

I’ve received a number of e-mails regarding the brand/type of wax I use for chain waxing and where I buy it. I should have covered this in greater detail in the original post. Here’s the deal.

I buy 4 lb. blocks of clear Yaley Premium Candle Wax from JoAnn’s. It usually runs around $15 depending upon what kind of sales they have going. I also buy 1 lb. blocks of natural Yaley 100% Beeswax. It normally runs around $11. For those who missed it in the OP, I cut the candle wax into 4 pieces (16 oz. each), and I cut the beeswax into 8 pieces (2 oz. each), then use one of each per batch for an 8-to-1 ratio.

The particular wax you use can make a significant difference in the results you’ll get. So far, Yaley Premium has worked the best for me. It flakes less than some of the other waxes I’ve used. The addition of pure beeswax in an 8-to-1 ratio as described above reduces flaking even further while doing very little to compromise cleanliness.

Yaley Candle Wax
Yaley Beeswax

These waxes can sometimes be purchased from Amazon at lower prices, but their availability from that source has been inconsistent.

25 Responses to “A Follow Up: Sourcing Wax”

  • John Kelso says:

    Can you reuse the wax, or does it get too gunked up from the dirty chain?

    I have an almost endless supply of candle stubs; how do you think they would work instead of candle wax?

    What is the effect of using more beeswax, as this seems to be what keeps the wax from flaking off?

    Thanks!

  • Alan says:

    John,

    Yes, you can definitely reuse the wax; most of the dirt settles to the bottom before it dries. For subsequent waxings you can either use a coat hanger to keep the chain off of the bottom, or you can shave the bottom off when the wax is cooled and hardened. I usually get about 4 re-waxings between wax changes.

    It’s hard to say regarding the candle stubs. It might be a matter of purchasing one block, then comparing the results to using your candle stubs.

    As you add more beeswax, the wax clings better but it also picks up more dirt. I’ve settled on an 8-to-1 ratio for the conditions in which I ride, but certainly it’s worth experimenting with higher beeswax content. Some people also add a tablespoon of Slick 50, but again, it makes the mixture a little less dirt-proof.

    Alan

  • Andy says:

    Can you explain how wax lubricates? I picture the hot wax filling in the rollers, but that as soon as it cools, it no longer sticks to the metal and just floats around in the rollers. I guess this is hydrophobic, so it at least pushes some water out, but how does it lubricate if it’s dry and not staying in between the tight spots?

  • Logan says:

    Great follow up! For those interested there are also some promotional discount codes that can be found at “retail me not”. I just put in an order to see if there is a noticeable difference between this stuff and the food grade canning paraffin wax I’ve been using. :) I’m looking forward to trying it out and converting more folks to this method in Portland. :)

    Cheers!

  • Alan says:

    @Andy

    Here’s a long discussion on the topic from earlier this week:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2011/01/08/for-the-non-believers-in-the-crowd-chain-waxing-re-visited/#comments

    As you probably know, a number of the most popular chain lubes on the market rely upon paraffin as their primary lube (Boeshield, White Lightning, and Pedro’s Ice Wax). The main difference between those lubes and what I’m doing is delivery method; over-the-counter lubes carry paraffin to the inner workings of the chain in a solvent base that evaporates after delivery, whereas the traditional waxing method uses heat. The commercial products require less of an initial investment, but arguably, require more of a time investment due to the need for periodic cleaning, which is not necessary with the hot wax method (after the initial cleaning).

    Here’s an interesting study that suggests the main role of chain lube (on bicycles, not necessarily motorcycles) is to fill the gaps and keep dirt out of the inner workings of the chain:

    http://www.jhu.edu/news_info/news/home99/aug99/bike.html

    From the report:

    “The Johns Hopkins engineers made another interesting discovery when they looked at the role of lubricants. The team purchased three popular products used to “grease” a bicycle chain: a wax-based lubricant, a synthetic oil and a “dry” lithium-based spray lubricant. In lab tests comparing the three products, there was no significant difference in energy efficiency. ‘Then we removed any lubricant from the chain and ran the test again,’ Spicer recalls. ‘We were surprised to find that the efficiency was essentially the same as when it was lubricated.’

    The researcher speculates that a bicycle lubricant does not play a critical role under clean lab conditions, using a brand new chain. But it may contribute to energy efficiency in the rugged outdoors. ‘The role of the lubricant, as far as we can tell, is to take up space so that dirt doesn’t get into the chain,’ Spicer says. ‘The lubricant is essentially a clean substance that fills up the spaces so that dirt doesn’t get into the critical portions of the chain where the parts are very tightly meshed. But in lab conditions, where there is no dirt, it makes no difference. On the road, we believe the lubricant mostly assumes the role of keeping out dirt, which could very well affect friction in the drive train.’”

    Sheldon Brown and Jobst Brandt also warned against letting dirt get into the inner workings of a chain, and suggested cleaning chains before each application of lube:

    “Only when a dirty chain is oiled, or has excessive oil on it, can this grit move inside to causes damage. Commercial abrasive grinding paste is made of oil and silicon dioxide (sand) and silicon carbide (sand). You couldn’t do it better if you tried to destroy a chain, than to oil it when dirty.

    “This means the chain should be cleaned of grit before oiling, and because this is practically impossible without submerging the chain in solvent (kerosene, commercial solvent, or paint thinner), it must be taken off the bicycle. Devices with rotating brushes, that can be clamped on the chain while on the bicycle, do a fair job but are messy and do not prevent fine grit from becoming suspended in the solvent. External brushing or wiping moves grit out of sight, but mainly into the openings in the chain where subsequent oiling will carry it inside.”

    In the same article, they recommended against using wax though.

    My experience with wax has been good, with extended chain life, less fussing and cleaning between applications, less contact with toxic substances such as solvents, degreasers, etc., and no more greasy pant legs.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    Logan,

    I want a full report! :-)

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Andy says:

    @Alan, that helps explain why using wax can be beneficial, but I’m still lost on the lubrication aspect. I get it that having as little water as possible is one goal, which either oily or waxy substances do a good job at. But I assumed that wet lubricant also allows the metal pieces to move more smoothly along each other as the chain bends around the gears and derailleur pulleys. I don’t think that your waxing method would do the same. Or does it? Or is the difference just marginal? I’ve just been using Finish Line Wet, and the label doesn’t indicate what the contents are.

  • Roland Smith says:

    Recently I came across a blog post about using an ultrasound bath to clean and lubricate chains. The original article is in Dutch, so here is a Google translation.

    The blog’s author got a cheap ultrasound machine (€22) from a local supermarket. The bowl was large enough to hold the chain from an Alleweder trike.

    After a cleaning the chain with lamp oil in the machine, he filled the machine with lubricant oil and used it to help the oil penetrate into the links.

    It sounds like a good idea.

  • Bob E. says:

    Thanks for your postings on chain waxing; I was so intrigued by the process — not to mention the results — that just last weekend I tried it for the very first time on the chain from one of my road bikes, using Gulf Wax purchased from Amazon. I haven’t ridden the bike yet, as we just received yet another dump of snow — heck, with the chain looking this clean, I may wait until spring before I take this one out!

    Thanks for a great website — I check it daily for new material.

    Bob E.

  • Alan says:

    Andy,

    I don’t have the technical background to answer your question definitively, so I have to rely upon the anecdotal evidence and my personal experience of using the method on and off for many years. As I mentioned, it’s worked well for me, extending chain life while requiring less cleaning and maintenance overall.

    Alan

    PS – The John Hopkins researchers essentially say lube is unnecessary on a bike chain other than to take up the space between the inner workings so as to keep out dirt (see the text I added to my above comment).

  • Richard says:

    Had to add my two cents about waxing chains.

    My philosophy on bike maintenance is to avoid it unless absolutely necessary (and then I postpone it for another month or two). I have been waxing my chain for over ten years on my commuter bike – 20 mile round trip daily commute in the SF Bay Area. I use canning wax and reuse it and reuse it over and over again (I am also cheap and what do you do with the old wax?). I probably only wax the chain 3 maybe 4 times a year, so I definitely go well over 1000 miles between waxings. I do wash the chain in simple green before I wax – just put the chain in a jar with simple green and shake it up and down for a few minutes, rinse.

    As suggested by some other emails, the wax is probably not serving as a lubricant. The first ride after waxing the chain, I can feel improved smoothness (??) in the drivetrain, but that smoothness disappears quickly after one or two rides. So I would agree that the wax is really just protecting the chain from dirt and grit. My current commute is relatively flat, so I don’t shift gears often, but my previous commute was very hilly. I don’t really notice any significant squeaking from the chain even after 1000 miles, but maybe I just subconsciously ignore it. I usually don’t ride in heavy rain, but I rode last month without fenders in some moderate rain and haven’t bother to rewax yet (or install my fenders).

    Your mileage may vary – but maybe next time you think it is time to rewax the chain, go find something more fun to do.

  • Roland Smith says:

    The report summary from John Hopkins University was interesting because it runs against my personal experience and intuition. (And those of others as well, I guess.)

    My cleaning routine consists of wiping down the outside of the chain with a rag with some terpentine on it. Then I lube the chain with an oil/solvent mixture from a spray can. After the solvent has evaporated I wipe off any excess oil.

    A dry chain starts squeeking. After cleaning and lubing the chain it feels like I’m spending less energy to get the same speed (haven’t done any measurements, though).

    I’ve used those chain cleaning devices that guide the chain through a bath of solvent over some rotating brushes, and you can indeed get lots of gunk out of the chain. But it gives the chain a “gritty” feel. So I think that the experts are right and that these devices carry grit into the chain as well. I haven’t had this feeling when wiping down the outside of the chain with a rag, I might add.

  • Mark says:

    Unless someone starts giving advice about chains from a reasonably messy climate I won’t try anything different than just keeping the troublesome thing from freezing up. Every day that snowy, slushy, salty crud gets on it, by the next day it has trouble, so just wipe it off and drip some more Tri-Flow on it. The best solution for us in the snow belt is probably internal gears with fully encased chain, but that is an expensive outlay for a winter bike.

  • Alan says:

    @Mark

    Like I said in the OP, Mark, “…assuming you’re not riding through snowbanks and mud, in which case you’re on your own.” :-)

    Back when I was riding through ankle deep mud on a regular basis, I found Phil’s Tenacious Oil (essentially bar & chain oil for chainsaws) worked much better than Tri-Flow…

    Alan

  • dwainedibbly says:

    @Alan: In Florida i used Gulf Wax from the grocery store, the stuff for home canning. Not sure what’s available here in Portland. I still have some that i bought before the move, so that’s what I’ll be using as I get back into waxing chains again.

    @john Kelso: I used to reuse a pot of wax 5 or 6 times, probably. It does get a little dirty. I will probably start tossing it out sooner now.

  • Tom Adams says:

    Wally World has Gulf paraffin wax in 1lb blocks for about $2.50. Look in the grocery section near pectin and other canning supplies. Michaels has beeswax.

    I used an old 2Q crock pot to melt the wax. The ceramic pot cracked, probably due to the heat of the wax, and all the hot wax ran out all over the table and floor. Next time I’ll try a double boiler on a hot plate.

  • CedarWood says:

    @ Tom Adams

    $5 at a thrift shop might get you an old rice cooker with aluminum pot and glass lid.

    Maybe the canning paraffin I’m using is the cause of the black grunge on my drivetrain. I’ll try to find Yaley locally. Thanks for the info.

  • Ron says:

    Howdy–

    I love the part in the report about running the chain dry. That answers the question of “how does wax lubricate?” The answer is, it doesn’t need to. From an engineering perspective, a bicycle chain is operating in a friendly environment, with very little load or heat. Its biggest enemies are dirt and rust, so it needs to resist both.

    When I was wrenching at a shop in the desert, we advised running chains as dry as possible. Like Allen, we found White Lightning-type lubes built up too much. Our solution was thin lube (Prolink was a top choice), and special attention to wiping off the excess. If it’s not squeaking or rusting, it’s not too dry. Still, we had rental customers who would take it upon themselves to buy some other lube and slather the chains of our rental fleet, worried that we’d forgotten. They’d return the bikes with the drivetrain chewing on a slurry of sand and oil, and proudly announce that they’d lubed the chain for us.

    Anyway, now that I live in the opposite extreme environment, I find myself leaving more lube on my chain to defend against the constant onslaught of water. It’s a sloppy mess half the time, and now I understand why the folks from this area who used to visit me in the desert would show up with chains that looked like they’d been dipped in motor oil.

    So thanks for the reminder about waxing, Allen. I haven’t tried it in decades, since I was living in Salt Lake, when I gave up on waxing because my chain grew stiff in the cold–but looking back I probably hadn’t removed enough of the excess. I’m also excited about the bee’s wax addition–I’ve been looking for uses for that. I’ve just gotten some, and I’d been planning to use it on the spoke threads for my next wheel build. Now I’m going to have to get some more.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg
    Corvallis

  • Fergie348 says:

    Right, so now we’re finally down to brass tacks. Why do bicycle chains need anything on them at all?

    Well, for starters they’re made of ferrous metal and will rust if left unprotected. I would imagine that wax, if it stays put, will do as good a job as anything at preventing steel from rusting. Once we solve the oxidation problem, the next issue (at least for me) is how to minimize drivetrain wear. I think everyone agrees that picking up dirt is counterproductive in this, as the dirt becomes an abrasive that accelerates wear. Wax succeeds here as well, as it sheds dirt.

    @Alan keeps referencing a study that looked at energy efficiency and transfer rates, but I doubt that in practice there’s much difference except as compared to letting your chain rust which I think we can all agree is probably a bad thing.

    Where the real question lies for me is in lubrication. I would argue that a bicycle drivetrain is a moderately complex set of interconnected bushings. Wax is a poor lubricant, and by itself will not lubricate bearings for very long. What you need for that purpose is grease or oil, with the problems mostly coming from the fact that oil and grease both attract dirt.

    I don’t ride my bike in very wet or very cold conditions, but I find the most effective solution to drivetrain protection to be impregnating a very clean chain with a very sticky oil and making sure that any oil that escapes the interior of the chain is wiped off.

    I use a lube called chain-l, which is a bit thicker than motor oil. I heat up the bottle to about 130 degrees (which thins it out a bit) and drip it into the rollers of an unmounted chain. I flip it over a couple of times in about 2 hours, then I wipe the excess off and reattach the chain. After the first couple of rides I wipe the chain off with a clean cloth. After that, the outside of the chain is clean and I don’t have to do much of anything else for about 1000 miles. I can usually get about 3000-4000 miles from a chain and about double that from a cassette before they wear out. It’s working for me.

  • clever-title says:

    If the main job of oil/wax is to protect from rust, how about a rust-free stainless chain for people not concerned about weight?

    Would brass be too ductile?

  • Ron says:

    Howdy, Alan–

    How do you lube your derailleur pulleys? They’re usually the source of the first squeaks in a lube-thirsty drivetrain.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron

  • Alan says:

    Hi Ron,

    For the past few years I’ve been mostly running XT derailleurs which have sealed bearings. So far, they’ve required no maintenance.

    In the past, on pulleys that either had exposed bearings or bushings, I’ve used a light, waterproof grease such as Phil’s.

    Alan

  • The seduction of bike geekdom « 42 Bikes says:

    [...] a whole series of posts on the wonders of clean chains achieved through a waxing process, all accompanied by stunning [...]

  • Daus says:

    I used a magnetic parts catcher to fish out my chain. I discovered by accident that it attracts all the metals filings left in the bottom of the melted wax. So if you want to clean the melted wax of metal bits, swish a strong magnet in the pot after removing your chain from the pot.

  • Phil says:

    Has anyone found a good Canadian supplier of Beeswax and Paraffin? Preferably somewhere in Toronto, ON? Thanks!

 
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