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This traditional finish from Denmark is simple, safe and tactile.

When I tell fellow woodworkers and customers that I use soap as a finish on some of my tables and chairs, they think I’m joking. Then, when I pull out a Mason jar filled with soap finish to show them how it works, they laugh because it looks a lot like, well, snot.

After seeing the results on finished pieces, however, they know it’s no joke.

Using soap as a finish on furniture and floors is common in Denmark and other northern European countries. It produces a low-sheen finish that is remarkably soft to the touch. It looks best on light-colored woods – from white maple to woods about as dark as white oak.

And, as you can imagine, it is a safe finish. It might be the only finish where your hands and clothes are cleaner after using it. It is best used on bare wood or wood that has a soap finish on it already. It doesn’t do much over an existing film finish.

There are downsides to the finish – it’s not durable and requires regular but simple maintenance.

For the last year, I have been experimenting with different recipes for soap finish made using a variety of products you can get through the mail, at health food stores and at your grocery. After finishing, and living with, about a dozen pieces using soap, I am a convert. It might not the best finish for every situation, but if you are curious it is definitely easy to try and master.

The Right Soap

Flat white. This maple tabletop is finished with two coats of soap finish that was mixed to produce a particularly flat sheen.

You can’t just rub a bar of Irish Spring on a chair and call it done. (Wait, maybe you can. Try it for yourself.)

A Danish soap finish uses natural soap flakes that are mixed with hot water. Soap flakes are a pure form of soap that doesn’t include additional detergents, fragrances or other modern…

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