Posted on

Lemon Oil and Carnauba Wax

Lemon Oil and Carnauba Wax

by Jimmie Van

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #97, 1978 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000

In a living tree the cell walls are saturated with water and pretty much keep their shape. After a tree is cut down and the wood is processed by air drying or kiln drying, most of the water is removed. The wood can shrink up to 20%. This wood is now like a sponge and even a finish like lacquer, varnish, or shellac only slows the rate of moisture absorption or loss. Thus, over time, the cells lose part of their ability to remain at or return to the size that you had originally intended. We see the results in swelling, shrinking, and cracking. Using pure lemon oil as a cleaner and carnauba wax as a sealer can further protect woods and slow down the changes on finished instruments.

It is important to start with lemon oil that you know is pure. Most products sold as lemon oil contain considerable amounts of petroleum distillates and synthetics. Avoid these. You may be able to locate lemon oil through an essential oils store or a store carrying natural products (if it’s food quality, it’s probably the right stuff). First I make sure that the surface of the guitar or other wood instrument is free of old wax by using a mild wax remover. (The lemon oil will dissolve previous coats of carnauba wax.) I keep a soft, oil-moistened cloth in a sealable glass jar to keep it from evaporating between instruments. With this cloth I spread a coat of lemon oil over the entire instrument, letting it stand for fifteen to forty-five minutes or until most of the oil has been absorbed. Wipe any remaining oil off after this time as the wood will only take in what it needs. Pure lemon oil will not harm acetate or celluloid, but it can damage styrene. This can be a problem on some cheap instruments. Although pure lemon oil does not harm most finishes, I recommend caution, especially around stains. Lemon oil is also good for removing rosin buildup on violins, cleaning strings, and bringing up the sheen of finished or unfinished mother-of-pearl.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.