Why Choose Waxed Canvas — History & Benefits

SKU: X-HT-300502



We’re proud to offer DuraWax™ Waxed Canvas Cotton Duck fabrics for projects such as bags, jackets, aprons, utility applications and much more. We highly recommend this fabric, but what exactly makes it so great? We’re here to provide a brief history of waxed canvas and break down the benefits of this durable fabric.

The story of waxed canvas dates all the way back to the 15th century. Much like the origins of Sailrite, it all began with sailors. These hardy seafarers noticed that their flax canvas sails were able to catch more wind if they were wet with seawater, but this also weighed down the canvas considerably. They began to slather fish oil and grease on the sails and found that this was a success. It allowed the sails to catch more wind without weighing them down. The grease also made the sails waterproof so they wouldn’t take on seawater. Noting the waterproof capabilities, the sailors also greased their caps so that rain and seawater would simply roll off. They would also take cuts of the used canvas sails to create waterproof clothing such as capes and smocks.

Eventually, linseed oil replaced the grease and fish oil used to waterproof flax canvas sails. However, linseed oil yellowed over time and cracked in cold weather, losing its water resistance. On top of that, the growing demand for lighter, more efficient sails lead to cotton canvas being utilized instead of flax. In response to the linseed problem, the cotton finishing company British Millerain developed a paraffin-based waxed cotton in the 1920s. This paraffin wax made the cotton water resistant and breathable without any yellowing or cracking over time. The cotton could also be dyed a black or dark olive green color. Voila! The basis of waxed canvas was born.

Much of this paraffin-waxed cotton canvas was exported to New Zealand and grew in popularity. In the United Kingdom, outdoor industries began using waxed canvas to create weatherproof jackets for gamekeepers and farmers. In the 1930s, waxed cotton was made into clothing items that demanded durability and water resistance, such as motorcycle jackets in both England and the United States. During World War II, the British Army utilized waxed cotton to make waterproof clothing for its troops. By the 1950s, waxed cotton was quite popular but had competition from other synthetic waterproof fabrics such as nylon and PVC. Doctors, outdoorsmen and farmers continued to wear waxed cotton jackets.

Today, waxed canvas is generally made from dyed heavy-duty cotton. It can be coated in waxes such as beeswax or paraffin. We recommend our DuraWax™ Light and Heavy Waxed Canvas for projects such as bags, jackets, duffle bags, utility projects, backpacks, briefcases, messenger bags, purses and much more. You’ll find certain types of waxed canvas on other applications as well, including hats, shoes, pants and camping gear.

Waxed canvas is a great economical and animal-friendly alternative to animal hides, often less expensive than a premium full grain leather. Waxed canvas doesn’t just look rugged — it is. Much like leather, the everlasting durability of this cotton canvas makes it a sustainable option for your next project. When cared for properly, it will last generations and still look fashionable. You won’t need to replace it year after year! Instead, you can simply reapply the wax coating yourself using products like our Otter Wax Heavy Duty Fabric Wax (#122673). This allows the canvas to last just as long as leather products and helps maintain its beauty and water resistance.

If you’d like to learn more about re-treating your waxed canvas, check out our blog “How to Take Care of Waxed Canvas Fabric” (#300503XHT). Waxed canvas is also similar to leather in that it looks better with age. This is largely due to its ability to create a patina effect, showcasing unique marks, scuffs and scratches for a craftsman-inspired appearance. If you’re interested in discovering other unique properties of waxed canvas, read our blog “What Is Waxed Canvas?” (#300501XHT).

  • Economical price point.
  • Versatile.
  • Available in a number of vibrant colors.
  • Natural, strong, sustainable and long-lasting.
  • Highly resistant to water and wind.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Looks fashionable next to leather and metal accessories.
  • Holds its shape while getting softer with each use.
  • Every item is unique thanks to the patina effect.
  • The use and production of waxed canvas is rooted in history, lending to its long-standing reputation as a rugged and beautiful alternative to leather. We recommend our DuraWax canvas for a number of hobby and utility projects, and we also offer many resources to help you keep your waxed canvas looking great year after year. What else would you like to know about waxed canvas? Let us know in the comments below!

    Resources supplied from BritishMillerain.com