Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Wax coated combs to increase airtighteness
Wax coated combs to increase airtighteness
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synopsis
10 posts
Dec 01, 2017
2:14 AM
Hello everyone,

I would like to know if anyone has experience in coating combs with wax to increase airtighteness ?

I've seen that beewax is considered for sealing combs (not bee honey of course, otherwise your harp would be always sticky in your hands :-), but I was wondering if a slightly thicker wax may be effective to rectify combs irregularities (like a stock comb, and even plastic ones, why not), and bring benefits.

Does anyone have experience with this ?
LSB
306 posts
Dec 01, 2017
3:17 AM
Bad, bad idea. Fact: If the harmonica gets too warm that wax will flow off the comb and onto your reed plates/reeds, making the harp unplayable.
SuperBee
5097 posts
Dec 01, 2017
4:04 AM
I’ve used chapstick, which was probably wax-based. Just a smear.
I didn’t get any problem from it but I’m not sure there was any benefit either.
jbone
2396 posts
Dec 01, 2017
7:32 AM
Beeswax has been left behind for more than one reason, but chiefly because at molten temperatures it can flash and burn flesh when it's heated to use for sealing. I tried working with it some 10 years ago but let go of the idea. I don't know what other wax you'd use or how you'd make it soak in without heat.

I think more people use food grade oil of one kind or another these days. Also, it may be a better bet to flat sand comb and plates and less hassle.
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florida-trader
1241 posts
Dec 01, 2017
8:37 AM
I've never heard of anyone using wax to make a harp more airtight. Seal a wood comb, yes, but not to correct flaws in a comb. The assumption we make with this thinking (and I have been there) is that somehow the wax (or whatever substance we use) will magically know where to go - which spaces to fill in and which spaces to leave alone - resulting in a flat uniform surface. Sadly, I can tell you from experience that is not what happens. When I first started making wood combs 8 years ago, I mistakenly assumed that a nice thick coating of Salad Bowl Finish would gloss over any flaws in my workmanship. Nothing could be further from the truth. The exact opposite is true. Whatever finish you use does not hide the flaws. It magnifies them! So, I learned the hard way that the key (or secret, if you will) is to sand or polish the wood silky smooth BEFORE you apply any type of finish. When you do that, the finish will magnify the beauty of the wood and/or your work. I know were are talking about creating a pseudo-gasket with wax on this thread, but I can't help but beleive that the same principle holds true. Unless the wax is semi-liquid when you mount the reed plates, which would allow you to force the wax into cavities when you tighten down the reed plates, you can't expect the wax to automatically go where you want it to or where it needs to go. And, of course, the corollary is that if the wax is liquid enough to do that, it is also liquid enough to get into the reed slots.

For what it is worth, none other than Brendan Power has mentioned on occassion the use of vaseline to create a thin film that could help seal micro-leaks. Might be worth a try.
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Tom Halchak
www.BlueMoonHarmonicas.com
Blue Moon Harmonicas
dougharps
1629 posts
Dec 01, 2017
9:01 AM
Years ago I read Harp-L posts about coating wood combs with hot beeswax. One guy overheated the wax and had a fire with burns resulting. I don't think waxing is worth the risk. Sanding flat and sealing with other accepted sealants and not risking a fire seems a better way to go.

Being somewhat lazy (though I have sanded some combs), I would rather buy a flat comb from a reputable vendor.
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Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Dec 01, 2017 9:03 AM
dchurch
161 posts
Dec 01, 2017
11:34 AM
Yes, I have. I believe Branden used chapstick in one of his harmonica tips videos (but maybe it was Vaseline). Anyway, He simply dabbed it on the mating surfaces of the wood comb to fill in the saw marks…

I tried the chapstick trick and then used some backlight to prove to myself that it actually worked. The problem is that it was not a great permanent solution and it did not seal the entire comb. Plus as mentioned here it has a super low melting point and tends to migrate and collect dust…

I also tried the soaking oil and bees wax methods… which I wasn’t real happy with.

So, I developed my own process that permanently seals the comb and fills defects like saw marks no matter how bad they are.

My method uses 100% Carnauba wax. The melting point of Carnauba is 179.6F / 82C so it will not melt or migrate under normal conditions. If your harps get hot enough to melt 100% Carnauba you have other problems. Carnauba is a food safe palm tree wax. It is very likely that you will consume some this week.

I have experience mixing and applying waxes for furniture restorations. Common solvents can be used but I’m not a fan of using them on my harmonicas so I use a combination of heat and a food safe solvent. I use a temperature control pencil style heat gun used for electronics. Another safe melting tool would be a common heat-gun but you would have to carefully use distance to regulate the heat intensity.

Anyway, after saturating the wax into the wood I build up a generous coating to fill any surface defects. When the Carnuaba is at room temperature it is pretty hard but very easy to sand flat leaving the saw marks permanently filled and the comb well sealed.

Unlike bees wax Carnuaba is not at all sticky. The surface wax can wear off the tips of the tines but the deep penetrated wax is permanent.

I think for most folks it would be quicker and simpler to just sand a comb flat then seal it (or buy a nice comb). But, I enjoy my time working on harps so quick and simple is not always better for me. Plus, sanding out very deep saw marks can result in a noticeably thinner comb. Most of these are old MB’s that I’m restoring/improving but want to keep the original comb.

*I have another process using shellac but that is steering away from the wax question.

I guess if there was enough interest I could do a Youtube on my flattening and finishing process, but it seems there are quite a few videos on the subject.

Dave

Edit: I should have added a caution about the dangers of using heat around waxes and solvents. It’s only safe if properly done. Read up on the subject: Minimal temperatures, small quantities, ventilation, double boilers… Never use an open flame… I feel better now.

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It's about time I got around to this.

Last Edited by dchurch on Dec 01, 2017 12:21 PM
STME58
2039 posts
Dec 01, 2017
5:53 PM
I picked up in China a lipstick tube labeled in english as Beeswax. It filled with a chapstick like substance that may or may not contain beeswax. I have used in on combs before assembly with mixed succcess. The comb and reed plate must come pretty close to matching before somehing like this will improve the seal. In my new job I have been studying gasketing, there is much more to getting two surfaces to seal than most people ever imagine.
indigo
418 posts
Dec 01, 2017
10:22 PM
Set up your comb so that the inner walls of the chambers don't get sprayed...tissue,tape or sumsuch.
Hang the comb on a hook through one of the screw holes.Spray with plastidip and you a have a very good gasket.
PRACTISE with the'dip' on something else before you commit to doing a comb.I do a few 'passes' over the comb.
Works.

Last Edited by indigo on Dec 01, 2017 10:31 PM
AppalachiaBlues
99 posts
Dec 02, 2017
5:32 AM
Once you've sanded a comb perfectly flat, I imagine that "wax" would risk making it less flat. A liquid sealant would work better to seal the wood, since it would flow into the pores, and hence not disrupted the "flatness".

Last Edited by AppalachiaBlues on Dec 02, 2017 11:08 AM
MP
3499 posts
Dec 02, 2017
3:18 PM
STME58

You are absolutely correct. Automobile engine parts have gaskets for a very good reason.

In the past...ages ago..I've used paper tape for gaskets and it works extremely well. The problem is that it works too damn well. You have hell to pay removing the reed plates from the comb later on.

I heard a rumour some time ago that certain customizers used a very small smear of mineral oil on Corian combs.
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synopsis
11 posts
Dec 03, 2017
2:14 AM
All, many thanks for all your answers and your active participation to my post.

Indeed, on a french forum I'm frequently participating, there is an advert for harmonica gaskets, where all the customers are reporting an increase of tighteness, and I'm definitely convinced to give a try on some harmonica of my selection.

I was discussing with the manufacturer (https://www.facebook.com/Seal2Leak/ if anyone is insterested), and to my surprise, the gaskets for MB Crossover and MB Deluxe are a different thickness:
Actually, the gaskets for the MB Deluxe are twice thinier (0.13mm) than the ones of the MB Crossover (0.30mm).

This makes me believe the bamboo comb of the Crossover has by the nature of the wood (correct me if I'm wrong) more flaws than the pearwood comb of the Deluxe.
sydeman
199 posts
Dec 03, 2017
7:08 AM
I don't use em' but gaskets available from

https://www.deesfti.com/harmonica-gaskets
WinslowYerxa
1491 posts
Dec 03, 2017
12:31 PM
Some years back Tim Moyer was using beeswax to seal combs. He makes a brief reference to it in this old harp-l post, but I remember him posting a good deal more about it around that time:

https://harp-l.org/pipermail/harp-l/2009-February/msg00009.html

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indigo
420 posts
Dec 03, 2017
1:22 PM
Tim Moyer also used to use Micropore tape as a gasket.
I had a couple of his harps and they worked very well.
I think he stopped using it for some reason that i can't recall.
SuperBee
5103 posts
Dec 03, 2017
2:03 PM
I know I’ve read about it, I think it was just that it created problems with maintenance tasks.
dougharps
1631 posts
Dec 03, 2017
3:36 PM
Here is what "G", a previously frequent poster on Harp-L, wrote in September 2003 in response to a question about using beeswax to seal combs. I found it via Google, so it is in the public domain:
*******************
"Yes, the method of sealing marine band wood combs in beeswax involves dipping them in hot melted beeswax. I have an ugly large skin graft on my right hand because of this very technique. It is 18 months since I did it and it is still healing and a daily cause of discomfort and annoyance, and it looks bloody awful. Wax has a flash point of around 85 degrees centigrade, or well under the boiling point of water. Once its alight if you try to move the container it will provide the fire with more fuel, as in oxygen which will cause it to flare up and spew out of the container. It sticks to anything it touches and burning fiercely, just like a wick. Throwing water on it makes a great fireball which throws flaming wax to everything within the radius of the fireball. Do not throw water into a container or puddle of burning liquid wax. I know all this from first hand experience. Thankfully my flat wasn't too badly damaged and it was winter so I was mostly covered in thick clothing which I managed to put out before it burnt right through to my skin. If it had been Summer I would've been burnt from chest to foot and all of my right arm as well.

I was lucky that I got my hand under cold water within a fraction of a second upon being covered in burning wax or I would've lost both my index finger and thumb to it. I am right handed so I'm grateful for small mercies. I have a very tolerant land lord and most of the damage has been repaired or painted over now.

I strongly recommend avoiding this technique as it's potentially dangerous if you are incautious as I was, and from my experience it does not work successfully anyway, the comb swells regardless of the beeswax. If your goal is to seal the wood from moisture to avoid swelling and warping then you are better off to find a water based non-toxic polyurethane and apply 4 coats with appropriate drying time in between. Make sure your first two coats are applied very thinly otherwise the comb just soaks it in and swells and warps anyway.

If you absolutely insist on using beeswax then use a double boiler, or at the very least two pots, a bigger pot with water and a smaller pot floating in it with the wax in that. You can buy beeswax at wood supplies cheap, and at healthfood supplies, its about US$1.50 a pound. Use a controlled heat source and keep it low. Keep the lid to the boiler and a fire extinguisher on hand well within reach. Stay watching it while heat is applied. Do it sober and alert. And be bloody careful. If the melted wax fizzles or smokes in any way remove it from heat and put a lid on it immediately, and keep a watch until you are sure its cool enough.

The technique I learnt was to warm the comb(s) in a preheated oven for 10 minutes or so to open up the pours. Then immerse the combs in liquid wax for a minute or so, lift out and give the holding utensil (be it plyers, chopsticks or tongs) a rap or two against the side of the pot to shake off excess. Then thread a wire through one of the cover bolt holes and hang to dry. Turn off the head. The customer I was doing this for insists that the beeswax gives the instrument a wonderful tone, but then he believes wood gives the harmonica a warm tone so I just gave him some blocks of wax with careful instructions and refuse to use wax anymore. I was a bloody idiot by not keeping watch over it, I've paid the price and learnt my lesson the hard way."
*******************
After reading his story I decided I would never try it.
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Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Dec 03, 2017 3:44 PM
LSB
307 posts
Dec 03, 2017
5:03 PM
Better to learn from those who know what they are doing, rather than learn from experience. As the saying goes:

“Experience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

As a former professional woodwind maker, these threads make me cringe. Waxes, oils, injuries..... but people just love to feel like they are pioneering I guess.

Last Edited by LSB on Dec 03, 2017 5:04 PM
MP
3504 posts
Dec 04, 2017
5:55 PM
LSB,

For almost a decade I repaired Brass, Reed, and Woodwind instruments. Luckily, I spent most of my time driving. I feel your pain.
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Reasonably priced Reed Replacement and tech support on Hand Made Series Hohner Diatonic Harmonicas.

'Making the world a better place, one harmonica at a time.
Click MP for more info. Aloha Mark
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MP
3505 posts
Dec 04, 2017
6:01 PM
Like I said and others chimed in...tape creates a GREAT seal but it is hell to get the reed plates off the comb.

If you use beeswax like a crayon and very light heat you can have a wonderful seal. I've done it to MB 1896 combs. Of course everything was flat sanded. It is difficult.
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Reasonably priced Reed Replacement and tech support on Hand Made Series Hohner Diatonic Harmonicas.

'Making the world a better place, one harmonica at a time.
Click MP for more info. Aloha Mark
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FastFourier
4 posts
Dec 16, 2017
9:33 PM
This is probably a dumb question, but why doesn't Hohner (or whoever the manufacturer is) seal them in production?
nacoran
9684 posts
Dec 16, 2017
10:57 PM
Fast Fourier, they do now. (Not sure about the Blues Harps, but the MBs are, although that's just the last couple years that they started doing that.)

It takes more time and space to seal a comb, make sure it dries, doesn't have a build up, rinse, repeat.

But actually, what I think the original OP is talking about isn't to seal the wood. It's about sealing the gap between the reed plate and the comb. The wax lets you sort of push the reed plate down into it for a really good seal. Other people have tried various other gasket type things. I think right now the preferred method is flat sanding the comb and the bottom of the reed plate (get the rivets so they don't stick out) and just putting them together smooth.

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Nate
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hot4blues
86 posts
Dec 18, 2017
6:59 PM
Instead of using anything that can have drawbacks, why not just buy a wood composite, or a resin comb? They're actually more logical in both durability as well as money spent only once. But even so, my Blues Harp has a decent wooden comb and I never had any issues whatsoever. The harp is at least five years old, & it's the original comb.


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