We've been toying around with some finishes for our hand wheels here lately and thought we'd post some of our results for those of you who'd like to give it a try.
We first read about "seasoning" cast iron here and thought it might work nicely for the hand wheels. Unfortunately flax oil is pricey so we started out by going the more rustic route and rubbing the iron down with a slab of salmon. That was messy, we ran into a few bones and it made the fish taste funny later. A small bottle of flax oil can be had for about $10 and will last a LONG time for these purposes. Raw linseed oil (the non-edible version of flax oil) can be used also but it's a bit harder to find, the boiled variant being more prevalent.
After a couple days we're pretty happy with the results. We ended up with a patina that's akin to years of use resulting in a warm look that's reminiscent of an old well used piece of iron. It also has the added benefit of adding a rather robust layer of corrosion resistance. The resulting finish is an extremely hard polymer that we assume will be very hard wearing. Those small enameled splatters on the outside of an old frying pan are a testament to this durability.
We also tried a cold gun bluing followed by Minwax Antique Oil Finish that resulted in a similarly nice finish, though noticeably darker and more akin to a powder coat. We're partial to the flax finish not only because of the look, but also since its natural (you can literally eat the flax oil) --the chemicals in the cold bluing are caustic and smelly. You can also apply the flax oil in your kitchen oven without spousal repercussion.
The flax oil process is simple but takes a while:
1. Clean the iron. You want all oil and finish removed. Depending on the item, plain soap and water will work, but you may need to wipe it down with mineral spirits if you've got some residual finsh on there.
2. Put it in a 200 degree oven for 10 mintes to make sure it's bone dry.
3. Lay on a coat of flax oil with a brush.
4. Rub it all off! The key here is to get an extremely thin coat, very even. Any thick or uneven areas will cook differently resulting in pooling and possibly a blotchy result. Watch areas where liquid tends to pool like corners.
Don't be afraid to get a thin coat on the threads. We were initially worried that a build up of oil on the threads would cause binding. Much to our surprise after a few spins on the screws, the polymerized oil actually made the already smooth Moxon wheels spin like greased lightinin'. We'd probably keep the thread coating light though, 2 coats or so.
5. Crank the oven to 500 and bake the iron for 1 hour.
6. Turn off the oven and leave the iron sit until cooled, about 2 hours.
7. Repeat five or more times (steps 3-6). These wheels have 5 treatments. I've done 6 on a skillet with great results. The more you do the darker it will get. The machined wheels seem to stop darkening after the 3rd treatment or so but it probably improves the durability.
Well there you have it. We're very pleased with the results. We won't be offering this as an option on our hardware (don't even ask!) but we think there are probably a few of you who'd like to give it a try. It makes for a more vintage look with the added bonus of protection.
If you'd like to see these wheels in person, come to WIA where our Moxon demo bench will have one Moxon vise with the cold-blued-and-oiled wheels, and one vise with the baked flax oil wheels. These vises are for sale at a special price at the show ($299), including the specially finished wheels at no extra charge. If you'd like a vise with one of the specially finished wheel sets, include that in your email ("flax oil finish" or "cold blued finish" when you order. )