Adventures in waxing


No, I’m not that aero yet, I’m talking about chain wax. I’ve been meaning to ditch chain oil for a while now, because I’m really fed up with cleaning my drivetrain and un-gunking the jockey wheels all the time. Wax also doesn’t turn into abrasive paste when it meets road dust, which means the drivetrain should also last longer, so double win, yay.

Here are a couple of before photos. The drivetrain’s pretty clean, I know, but I want perfection!

I started by giving the chain a good wash with my Park Tool CM-5.3 and some household degreaser. The CM-5.3 does a good job, but as you can see in the third picture, it can’t really reach between the rollers and pins where it’s most needed.

I then dipped the chain in white spirit1, shook it really well for about a minute, then let it sit for about an hour. In the meantime I started work on the rest of the drivetrain. I took off the cassette, crankset and rear derailleur, and gave everything a good scrub with a rag and degreaser. Look at the gunk forming on those jockey wheels!

By the time I finished cleaning the parts, the chain had had time to soak in the white spirit, so I gave it and the rest of the components (but not the derailleur) a good bath in my ultrasonic cleaner with a couple of liters of water and just a cap of household degreaser. Here’s a photo of the water before and after ten minutes in the ultrasonic:

After the ultrasonic I rinsed everything off, then soaked the chain for half an hour in denatured alcohol2, but by this time it was squeaky clean, as were the rest of the components:

Finally it was time to move on to the main event. I warmed up 250 grams of paraffin wax3, mixed in 12.5 grams of PTFE4, and let the chain soak in this mixture for about an hour, swishing it around from time to time to make sure plenty of wax and PTFE particles make their way into the rollers.

All done! Well, not really, I still had to reinstall all the components and readjust the rear derailleur, but eventually it was all done. It remains to be seen how it performs in time, but I think I did everything correctly, so I’m optimistic. The first time was a lot of work because of the pre-wax cleanup, but from now on every reapplication (after around 250-300 km) should be as easy as re-heating the wax and soaking the chain for a bit.

In the end, here’s what my freshly-waxed chain looks like. The wax bits should drop off after the first ride or so:

  1. Mineral spirits in the US, Terpentinersatz in DACH↩︎

  2. Aka methylated spirits, or Brennspiritus in DACH. ↩︎

  3. I used a cheap wax heater meant for depilatory wax, because it has a low maximum temperature of about 100°, so there’s no risk of turning the paraffin wax into gas and igniting it, and it also keeps the temperature constant, so there’s no fiddling around with it. ↩︎

  4. If you haven’t heard of PTFE, you have heard of its most popular trade name: Teflon. ↩︎

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