While coming up with the general concept of my Moxon Vise, I knew that the hardware was going to be the biggest challenge. It had to be strong, simple, and inexpensive. It also had to be easy to maintain. Metal corrodes. Any woodworker knows all too well the daily struggle to keep our metal tools rust free. This left me with a few options for my vise screws. I could paint them, but paint chips easily, and can look out of place on some wooden projects. I could leave it bare, but in my hot Texas garage, sweat is common and rust would pop up with tenacity after the first turn of the screw. I could oil or wax the metal, but this was liable to leave residue on my hands through use, which could then transfer to the material I was working with. Then I remembered a blog post by Jameel Abraham detailing the process of baking flax oil onto metal for a corrosion resistant polymer finish. It's all natural qualities appealed to my inner hippie and the chocolate bronze-ish color worked really well with the walnut i had set aside for this project. I tried it, and I loved it. Here are the steps I took. You can read the original blog post from Jameel here, http://benchcrafted.blogspot.com/2011/09/omega-3-fatty-acid-for-your-cast-iron.html?m=1
Like any finishing job, whether it's on wood, steel, or some exotic material, the prep work is the most important step. The finished product won't live up to its fullest potential if the surface to be covered is dirty or has a coarse finish. The ends of my Moxon Vise screws are finished rather crudely at first. Using some files and a sanding block, I prefer using a Mill Bastard and Smooth followed by 320 grit, I clean up the ends of the rods. The Mill Bastard file does quick work removing a bulk of the material. I've found that anything above 400 grit paper really doesn't make a noticeable difference.
After the metal has been prepped, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned. From this point on, I wear disposable gloves while handling the hardware. I don't want to run the risk of baking a fingerprint or smudge into my hardware! I use Denatured Alcohol to clean the metal. Mineral spirits work as well, DNA is just what I had on hand. I pay close attention to the hard to get places. Make sure there isn't any fuzz or fibers stuck on the metal, once they get oil on them they are near impossible to remove.
Once everything is clean, it's time to apply the oil. I use a cotton cloth, liberally soaked in Flax oil. I make a good point to saturate every single surface. It's ok at this point if you have runs and drips. The goal right now is coverage. Once you are convinced everything is coated, use a clean cloth to wipe everything down with the same attention to detail. It's important that the thinnest layer of flax oil is on the metal while baking. If it collects or pools, it will cure and look unpleasant.
Now it's time to bake. I use our old toaster oven, it works just fine. The great thing about using flax oil is that is it a food grade oil. Completely safe to use. If you need to use your kitchen oven, it won't hurt a thing! My toaster oven only goes up to 450 degrees, so I crank it all the way up and set the timer for an hour.
After the hour is up, the hardware needs to cool. You can speed it up by taking it out of the oven and setting it in front of a fan. The color of the flax oil finish will darken with each successive coat. It's up to you when to stop. Once you get past 7 or 8 coats, it does start to get a little thick. You don't want the coating so thick that thread clearance is compromised.
Once you get to your desired color, you're done. Just let it cool then put it to work! I've been using my hardware for a few months now. The threads on the rods are starting to show some signs of use, but nothing smtertible at this point. With the amount if force applied to these threads, I'm actually impressed with how well the baked oil finish has held up.
Get creative with this process. I ready have a box of parts that need treating. Everything from more vise hardware, to dovetail markers, to the body of an old Miller Falls hand drill. Just be mindful as you prep, and the results will speak for themselves.