Wax Seal



Being both a woodworker and a bit of a loon for pens, paper, letters and so forth, I finally endeavored to make myself an old fashioned wax seal.

Normally these are brass, but I don't know how to work with brass, doubt I have any appropriate tools, and know for sure I don't have the shop for it. I also have a powerful aversion to using something generic — say, a chancery style letter 'K' I could just buy — for something so categorically personal.

The seal inscription itself is the Japanese kanji "kei" or "uyama" which translates more or less as "respect" (with the sense of honor). I've always (since my early teens anyway) thought respect to be the cornerstone of decency, and many years ago adopted this glyph as kind of a personal mark. It's inscribed on my Aikido training weapons, several works of my own, and I've used many pages practicing writing it with a brush (though I am still an atrocious brush calligrapher).

I just love how alive this particular wood is… it shimmers in the light even before sanding and finishing. It's impossible to really capture in stills, especially without a real camera and lighting, but in person it's quite lovely.


The seal is carved from a small scrap end of Figured Maple. This is what it looks like both before and after finishing:
seal wood comparison

I did the main shaping with my initial saw cuts, using a fine-toothed Japanese dovetailing saw. The surface and sides were prepared with extra-fine sandpaper to ensure a flat surface.

The outline of the kanji was lightly scribed through a paper printout on the surface — flipped of course, so the wax impression comes out properly oriented. Then I carved the detail by hand with my trusty single-bevel Japanese knife.

It's finished with tung oil to seal and protect the wood and, hopefully, eliminate the chances for the wax to seep into or discolor the wood itself.

The final dimensions are almost exactly 1 inch square, which is somewhat large for a wax seal, but not totally outlandish.

I'll update this soon with a picture of the wax seal itself, once I get some wax from the lovely folks at The Goulet Pen Company.

Since I think it's at least as important to acknowledge our failures as celebrate our successes, I'm forced to admit that this one didn't work. As smooth as the wood was, the wax stuck to it like glue. I believe it's salvageable, and I'll be able to remove the wax, but as a seal, it's never gonna work. Perhaps I can use it as a very tiny stamp for making a negative image of the kanji like an old woodblock hanko (albeit a very large one). C'est la vie.