I bought an awesome Mission Workshop Rummy Messenger bag made from waxed canvas last year. Rode through many rainstorms with it strapped to my back with all my important papers, electronics and a 17 inch Macbook pro inside of it. The contents inside never got wet. In the last downpour I rode through, I discovered that it started to leak a little bit on the inside with the inner lining getting a bit damp. Some of my papers were damp as well. This was due to water penetration on the outside, through the cotton fabric. But this wasn’t any type of cotton, this was a nice 10 oz. wax cotton from Mission Workshop. This means that the cotton is impregnated with a type of parrafin/linseed oil wax that creates a water resistant barrier. I didn’t quite know what to think of it but soon realized that the wax from the factory was starting to deteriorate and dry out over time. This was probably due to the fact that the wax cotton fabric was sitting in the factory for a while before it was purchased and turned into a bag, or maybe because I tend to beat up my gear from heavy use. Either way, I needed to remedy the situation fast because when it rains in the South…it really comes down hard.
Mission Workshop itself does not sell any prodcut for you to rewax their cotton bags so I had to do a little bit of research on the internet. I came down to 3 choices. Otter Wax, Barbour Wax or Filson’s Oil Wax. From what I’ve read about Otter Wax, it comes in a bar and doesn’t go on very well even if you use a blow dryer. I wasn’t so sure how well things would work by just rubbing a dry bar of wax onto a bag. I didn’t want my bag to have a light coat of wax, I wanted that stuff to soak through the fabric and really get in there. Barbour was an excellent choice, but it’s made in Britain, would take a long time to get here because multiple vendors didn’t have it and I just wanted to go with American made. Filson’s was a bit of an anomaly. I’ve never heard of Filson’s and the name “Oil Finish Wax” made me a bit reluctant because I was afraid their wax would give my bag a permanent oily touch, you know, like those old school wind jackets that sailors would cover themselves with back in the day that constantly looked wet even when dry. After more research, I decided to give Filson’s a try just because they’ve been in the business for so long and they’ve been making all sorts of waxed cotton/ water resistant items since the 19th century. I’m glad I did, Filson’s Oil Finish Wax worked like a charm on my messenger bag. I would say that it went beyond “water resisting” the fabric, it waterproofed it.
That water stayed there for hours upon hours. It did not seep through the fabric, that’s how great Filson’s Oil Finish Wax is!
I’m going to run through how you can reproof your waxed cotton once the existing wax has worn off. It’s a very simple process but a bit time consuming because there are certain steps you must take in order to get the process right.
Here is the bag, a can of wax and a cotton rag. If you can, take the strap off the bag in order to make it easier to work with and get into the nooks and crannies of the bag with the wax. Give yourself a nice flat area to work with either on a floor or a nice big table.
First, you’re going to want to use some cold water to wipe the bag down and clean off any dirt or caked on gunk from your adventures. You don’t want any abrasives on the bag while reproof it, the surface needs to be completely free of debris before you start. Think of it like waxing a car, you always clean your car before you wax it!
Next you’re going to want to heat the wax in really hot water until it is completely melted. What I did was place the tin of wax in a plastic bag and placed the entire thing in a pot of boiled water for about 20 minutes. You want the wax to be completely liquid so that it can absorb itself into the fabric. Preferably, the fabric should be heated to in order to really open up the pores and microscopic spaces within the cotton for even better absorption. The pros at Barbour and Belstaff use a heated table heated but who has one of those at home? I simply used a hair dryer at semi close range and went over the messenger bag a few times to get it warm and toasty.
Now, dip your rag into the wax and start rubbing the wax into the messenger bag, a small section at a time in a circular motion. Be sure to overlap because wax can’t really be spread easily once it’s in the fabric, you’ll have to overlap your sections in order to get every part of the messenger bag to absorb the wax. This is the most time consuming because you’ll have to get the wax on and then also use a hair dryer to insure that the area you’re around is warm. Liquid wax begins to harden very quickly. Even after a few minutes of taking it out of its tin, the wax starts to become a bit creamy. Even after I took the wax tin out of the bag, I kept it in a shallow bowl with hot water. If you do this, be sure the water doesn’t get into the wax. Keeping everything hot and liquid might be overkill, but I wanted the wax to really get in so that I didn’t have re-wax my bag every few months. The fabric will become significantly darker and look almost oily because of all the wax that it is absorbing. This is completely normal and that dark wet finish will eventually go away after a few days of drying.
I was a little shocked at first by how oily the thing looked. At this point I was thinking…man, maybe I should have gone with Otter Wax, ha! When you’re done waxing, hang the bag up in a warm room and let the bag naturally air dry over 24 hours. Immediately after waxing, the bag will be sticky to the touch and just overall, a bit gross but like I said, that is completely natural. Don’t attempt to take it out immediately into the rain or drag it through the mud.
This was 24 hours after the bag has dried. It still has a little bit of sheen to it, but it’s well on its way to drying completely and looking like how I got it from Mission Workshop…only a little better. Filson’s wax will give your bags a slightly darker look to with a bit of sheen, like leather.
After a couple days, the bag will basically be back in brand new condition and fully weatherproof as before.
This is how good Filson’s wax is! The wax is so strong that if this cotton material were larger, I could use it as a rain tarp for camping. Before waxing, water soaked into the fabric after a few minutes, but now it just sits there. These are 2 truly great products used with each other. Keep in mind that for ultimate water protection, I don’t think anything beats Gore-tex or Cordura, these are just simply fabrics made with newer technology. But if you have an appreciation for how things were done during days gone by, wax canvas bags and jackets can offer equally good protection as long as it is maintained properly.
Leave any comments if you have any questions about the re-proofing process. Thanks for reading!