Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Lore of Wax

In some things I am not too swift. What I mean is, catching on to this or that way of doing something is on occasion slow. Even though I understand the steps or procedures, my hands or fingers won’t move as they should, and I wind up repeating the process more times than should be necessary. This time the repetition and frustration is with a new wax seal.

For a long time I’ve wanted to use a wax seal on my letters, and two weeks ago I bought the Celtic seal and sealing wax from a place in Utah, a disappointing purchase I wrote about here on August 14. Both seal and wax from that purchase have continued to be completely useless; the pewter seal bad, the Ecclesiastical Red sealing wax worse.

So, I contacted Brian at and ordered a brass seal with my initial, and some J Herbin sealing wax. Two or threes days later the seal and wax arrived and with the excitement I always feel around pens, ink and other letter writing tools, I tore open the package and got to work. But something was wrong. Fifteen minutes and four wax seals later, my attempts all looked like kindergarten arts and crafts. Worse; it was all I could do to make out the initial pressed into the wax.

I sat down down at the iMac and watched several videos by Brian Goulet on how to make a good wax seal. Just to be sure, I watched the videos a second time, even took some notes. Back to my worktable and eager to knock out a few precise, well-done seals, I lined everything up exactly as Brian did and made another attempt… Failure! Total failure. Knowing how agreeable and helpful Brian is, I emailed him for help, attaching a photo of my latest mess. A short while later I got an answer that almost guaranteed improvement in my seal making efforts.

Here are some important points I learned from Brian:

1. Place your seal face down on a small ice pack during the few seconds you are melting the wax.

2. Use a butane lighter to melt the wax. I use one of those long-nosed grill lighters.

3. Once the melted wax is on the paper, waste no time applying the seal; no more than five seconds between melting the wax and impressing the seal.

4. Press down hard on the seal, no longer than three seconds.

My first attempt after reading Brian’s suggestions was an improvement, though not yet what I hoped for. That didn’t bother me because another of Brain’s comments was that it takes some practice to get the hang of. Well, I’ve practiced some (and wasted a lot of expensive wax) and things are definitely getting better. Might take a little more practice, but I’m confident it will come.

I’ve attached photos of the two best impressions (thought still feeble). The seal is in the shape of a scripted W, my first initial, and the two colors of sealing wax are forest green and silver. The third photo is of an earlier attempt where you can see the kind of mess I was making.


  1. You are getting it! Doing wax seals is not a brainless as it appears, it really does take some finesse. I think you should be proud of the progress you've made here! The good thing about it (even though you've used more wax than you care to for practice!) is that once you get it down, you'll then know how you do it from here on out. You'll learn the feel of the wax, the timing of the melting and pressing of the seal....part of the reason I am so 'general' in my explanations sometimes is that there really is a 'feel' to the whole process. Depending on how close you hold the flame to the wax will make it hotter or not, which will in turn affect how much wax goes on the page, how much/long you should touch the wax to the paper, etc. There's both science and artistry behind doing wax seals. You know the science, and you're learning the art ;)

    One suggestion I do have is to let the brass seal sit on the ice pack a good minute or two before you do your seal. Make sure the brass is nice and cold before you do your seal, that'll help a lot. You may have some condensation on the brass when the seal gets that cold, so just wipe it off on your shirt quickly before you press it into the wax. Another link in the chain, huh? ;)

  2. This is really cool! Just the fact that you got such a fast reply, and here he is again, has sold me. I love the look of wax seals, and when I can justify the expense, or just have the extra $, I know exactly where I'll be shopping!!


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America