The essence of "Li" in a wooden Dao

There is something special about the beauty we see in the grain of a piece of wood. It speaks to us on a different level to the kind of artistic beauty that can be created by a human being. The Chinese have a word for this — "Li". There is no simple translation for the word "Li". It is deeply connected to the ancient tradition of Taoism, which celebrates nature and emphasises the natural flow of things. 

Alan Watts, who did an excellent job of untangling the mysteries of Eastern philosophy for western minds, explains thus: “The tao is a certain kind of order, and this kind of order is not quite what we call order when we arrange everything geometrically in boxes, or in rows... In the Chinese language this is called li, and the character for li means the markings in jade. It also means the grain in wood and the fiber in muscle. We could say, too, that clouds have li, marble has li, the human body has li. We all recognize it, and the artist copies it whether he is a landscape painter, a portrait painter, an abstract painter, or a non-objective painter. They all are trying to express the essence of li. The interesting thing is, that although we all know what it is, there is no way of defining it. Because tao is the course, we can also call li the watercourse, and the patterns of li are also the patterns of flowing water. We see those patterns of flow memorialized, as it were, as sculpture in the grain in wood, which is the flow of sap, in marble, in bones, in muscles. All these things are patterned according to the basic principles of flow. In the patterns of flowing water you will see all kind of motifs from Chinese art, immediately recognizable, including the S-curve in the circle of yang-yin…”  Taoism by Alan Watts

This is a wooden Dao, or Chinese sabre, used for Tai Chi practice. It is a nice piece of red oak and I have been polishing it occasionally over the last 20 years with our Traditional Beeswax Furniture polish. The pattern in the grain is amazing and it just gets better with more applications.

Here at Cambridge Traditional Products we are proud to be creating products that enhance the natural beauty of wood. We use only pure gum Turpentine as a solvent. Gum Turpentine is made by distilling sap which is tapped from pine trees in a sustainable fashion. Along with the beeswax, it feeds the wood, rather than drying it out as man made solvents such as white spirit can do. This is why our products are the best of their kind available today  we use the best quality natural ingredients. When the aim is to enhance the appearance of something so naturally beautiful as wood, its the only way to go...

Reduce the need for zip repair with zip lubricant — the story of Zip-Slip and why we make it

Zip-Slip sits apart from all the other products in the Cambridge Traditional Products range. It is a zip lubricant that conditions and protects the elements of a zip, reducing the likelihood of expensive zip repair costs in the future. Unlike the rest of our range it is not a woodcare product and it is deliberately not made from natural ingredients. So, what is it, and why do we make it? This blog retraces the steps of how the zip lubricant Zip-Slip came to be as a direct result of a phone call from a diver.

Beeswax sticks as a zip lubricant

We sell a lot of natural pure beeswax sticks, and as we know, beeswax has a phenomenal number of uses, many of these are listed here.

A large number of the sticks we sell go to the sub-aqua industry. Traditionally divers would use a beeswax stick as a zip lubricant. They rub it into the teeth of a zip of a dry suit to protect the zip, ensure its smooth running and avoid zip repair jobs. 

How Zip-Slip came to be

Some ten years, CTP founder Adrian had an enquiry from a diver who said that he had experimented with using our traditional beeswax polish as a zip lubricant. It was, he said, extremely effective. The problem was that the Turpentine in the polish was softening and damaging the rubber over time — obviously not recommended on a dry suit! The diver asked if we could come up with a similar product that would be safe for use on rubber. Adrian gave this some thought. The obvious alternative was to replace Turpentine with a Turpentine substitute — White Spirit. Before long Zip-Slip was born.

 Zip-Slip in its original zip lubricant packaging

Zip-Slip in its original zip lubricant packaging

 Traditionally, divers lubricated and conditioned zips with a stick of beeswax

Traditionally, divers lubricated and conditioned zips with a stick of beeswax

White Spirit versus Turpentine

Turpentine is a natural ingredient. White Spirit is a man made Turpentine substitute. It was developed in the 1920's and first used in the dry-cleaning industry. It is what most people use to thin paint, clean brushes, etc. Most importantly, it does not detrimentally affect rubber in any way. So, White Spirit does have its uses. (It does NOT, however, make good furniture polish! See our FAQ's to understand why).

Zip-Slip becomes a popular zip lubricant

Zip-Slip soon became popular with divers as a zip lubricant that helped to waterproof and protect zips in a way that minimised the likelihood of zip repair or replacement jobs. Over the last decade we have supplied major dry-suit manufacturers, who often give a bottle away with a suit sale, as well as other sub-aqua accessory suppliers. 

Zip-Slip is extremely versatile. It can be used as zip lubricant and conditioner, to protect a zip, and potentially save the need for expensive zip repair later. It can also be used to free-up a zip that has already become stuck. 

How to apply the zip lubricant Zip-Slip

You simply coat the zip elements inside and out. For ease of application, Zip-Slip may be warmed slightly by placing in a container of hot water or rubbing between the hands. This is especially beneficial during a zip repair job when you want to penetrate the teeth of a stuck zip.

Zip-Slip rebrands — educating people about how versatile Zi-Slip is as zip lubricant and zip repair product

Recently we decided it was time to look at re-packaging the product to make it more appealing to the general outdoor market. Zip-Slip is an extremely useful treatment for any kind of zips that are exposed to the elements. For example, zips on outdoor clothing, tent bags, fishing tackle, and in the boating sector. Both Adrian and myself have previously lived on boats, and have observed that one thing that always happens when people 'lay up' their boats for winter, or just don't visit them regularly enough, is that the canopy zips get well and truly stuck. Then people turn up at the marina in spring, and the first thing they have to deal with is a jammed and very stuck zip. A thorough application of Zip-Slip at the end of the summer season will prevent this from happening.

 The new Zip-Slip bottle label

The new Zip-Slip bottle label

New Zip-Slip packaging

We decided to obtain a new, more retail-friendly display carton which holds just 12 bottles. Several shop keepers had said they were interested in the product, but were put off by it previously only being available in a carton of 36.

When I sat down to design the labels for the new cartons, I realised that we needed to look at a complete make-over. The original bottle label was, frankly, poorly designed. It was jumbled and completely lacking in impact. Fortunately, re-designing the label was not very hard.The main thing was to have a logo that was as visible as possible. This involved turning it from a horizontal position that meant it wasn't all visible to the new vertical position. It seemed obvious that impact and simplicity were the main criteria. With a limited area of label visible on the bottle, once the logo position was decided upon, it was a case of fitting the other required words into the space that was left. 

New Zip-Slip labels

I then set about designing labels for the new counter display cartons. The idea was to have four different labels aimed at four distinct types of retailer:

  1. Hardware and general outdoor retailers
  2. Sub-aqua supplies
  3. Boat chandlers
  4. Fishing tackle shops
 Zip-Slip - zip lubricant and zip repair for outdoor clothing and equipment
  Zip-Slip - zip lubricant and zip repair for outdoor clothing and equipment
  Zip-Slip - zip lubricant and zip repair for dry suits
  Zip-Slip - zip lubricant and zip repair for fishing tackle
 The newly packaged Zip-Slip in counter-ready a display carton for retailers wanting to sell a zip lubricant and zip repair product

The newly packaged Zip-Slip in counter-ready a display carton for retailers wanting to sell a zip lubricant and zip repair product

So, Zip-Slip is now available in a counter-ready display carton containing 12 bottles, with one of the four carton labels shown above. It is also still available in the original carton of 36 bottles. 

Furniture restoration — using beeswax polish to renovate sun bleached and water damaged wood.

 The box before any work

The box before any work

 A small brush is useful in detailed furniture restoration projects

A small brush is useful in detailed furniture restoration projects

Ok, so its not exactly "furniture", but this little Indian hardwood box is an ideal piece to demonstrate how useful our brown beeswax polish is for furniture restoration and treating this kind of damage.

It had been left unattended on a windowsill where it suffered from both sun-bleaching and water damage from condensation.

When it comes to wood furniture restoration, the kind of results you get are going to depend on the type of wood. In this case, the Indian hardwood is nothing special, so it's not going to get the kind of glow that can be gained on a quality piece of red oak, for example. But it shouldn't be hard to make it look respectable again.

My preferred method for dealing with a small decorative furniture restoration project like this is simply to apply a small amount of polish two or three times a day for about three days. If you apply the polish sparingly, a bit at a time, you don't end up with too much vigorous buffing to do. Also when using brown beeswax polish in furniture restoration, using a little bit at a time allows you to judge the level of staining you want to achieve, so you can stop when you have the desired effect.

I did not sand or even scrub the box before I started this mini furniture restoration project. I just started to apply the beeswax polish. The pierced lid was the only fiddly bit on this piece. A useful tip with this kind of detailed decorative furniture restoration is to use a small brush to work the polish into the cut-outs.

So, here are some before and after shots. I was really impressed with the results and I think the pictures speak for themselves... NB. I shot all these pics under natural sunlight, just inside the roller door of our unit.

Would love to know what you think, or if you had tried anything similar, so let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

 Water damage stains before I started restoring the box with brown beeswax polish

Water damage stains before I started restoring the box with brown beeswax polish

 Water damage stains had completely gone by the time I'd finished applying layers of brown beeswax polish

Water damage stains had completely gone by the time I'd finished applying layers of brown beeswax polish

 The results of a very satisfying mini furniture restoration project

The results of a very satisfying mini furniture restoration project

Beeswax in kilt making

 Great Kilt or Belted plaid

Great Kilt or Belted plaid

Beeswax has a phenomenal number of uses. We list some interesting beeswax uses here. Sometimes, however, we are still surprised by the inquiries that come our way!

Earlier this year, we had a call from Todd of R&I MacDonald Kiltmakers, who were looking to purchase some beeswax. It turns out beeswax is used in traditional kilt making and this was an application we had not come across before! Todd explained that this was a traditional method whereby the beeswax was heated and applied to secure the ends of the plaids. In other words, to stop the fabric from unraveling.

At this point I realised I knew very little about kilts so I did a quick bit of research. I discovered that the word "plaid" comes from the Gaelic "plaide" (pronounced "pladjer"), which means blanket. The early Highland "Great Kilt" was a blanket like garment, wrapped around the torso, over the shoulder and secured with a belt. The skirt-like garment which we tend to refer to as a kilt these days has probably only been common for two to three hundred years.

There's lots of interesting stuff about the history of Highland dress here. And now we know that beeswax is used in traditional kilt making!

Ancient beeswax writing tablets

A few years ago, we were contacted by a teacher who wanted to purchase beeswax for a school project to make replica wax writing tablets. I had not heard of beeswax being used in this form before, and was fascinated to learn how wax was a commonly used medium for writing.

The wax tablet is a wooden frame, like a shallow tray, which is filled with beeswax a few mm deep. This beeswax is then written upon by scraping the surface with a stylus made from iron, bronze or bone and flattened at one end to make an eraser (or literally a scraper). The beeswax can then be warmed, and the surface smoothed over to be re-used. This was ideal in a time when early paper, or papyrus was very expensive.

 A reproduction Roman wax tablet and stylii (image - Wikimedia commons)

A reproduction Roman wax tablet and stylii (image - Wikimedia commons)

It is thought that the Greeks first started using a folded pair of tablets bound together with leather around the 8th century. Beeswax writing tablets were common throughout ancient Greece and Rome and the middle ages. They are thought to have been used widely by many cultures and in many contexts, from students to secretaries and business account keepers. They were also bound together to form books (ancient filofax)!

The earliest beeswax writing tablets that have been found are from a 14th century shipwreck near Turkey. They were still being used at a fish market at Rouen in the 1860's.

Interestingly, the Latin "tabula rasa" is said to mean "clean slate", which due to to the historical familiarity we have of writing on slate with chalk, creates a metaphor we can relate to. However, the literal translation is "a scraped tablet".