Waxing Your Chain
Before we jump into the chain cooking process we want to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. If you’re planning to wax a training chain, scroll down to the bottom of the page for the “just throw the chain into the pot” instructions; if you’re planning to wax a race chain or if you’re waxing a cleaned chain for the first time, start reading here.
The extensive cleaning process you completed in Step 1 should have left your chain sparkling clean and oil free, now it’s time to flood the hundreds of friction points with wax. This technique not only lubricates the hidden parts but prevents oxidation as well.
Similar to the Cleaning Your Chain section, we’ll provide more detail than you can shake a stick at, but keep in mind that waxing really is a simple process. We guarantee that after only a couple of chains you’ll toss the instructions and watch cycling videos instead.
Enough waxing poetic, let’s get started waxing:
Items Needed To Wax A Race Chain
- Slow cooker (a.k.a. crock pot, 1.5 to 2 qt. best size for individual use, choose round instead of oval shape, bottom should have diameter no smaller than 4 1/4”). Note: from this point forward we will refer to the slow cooker as an “SC.”
- Candy thermometer (should read up to 400 degrees)
MSW Swisher Tool (easy to fashion from clothes hanger, click for instructions)
- Leather gloves and safety glasses
- 1/2 lb. of Molten Speed Wax
- Alarm or timer (not for power napping)
- Aluminum foil (to catch wax drips)
- Nail (with small enough head to fit through hole in bike chain link)
- Wall or overhang (to pound nail into for hanging chain to cool)
Note: if you don’t have a suitable wall or overhang for pounding nail, make S-hook from spoke to hang chain from practically anything.
Waxing Your Race Chain, A Quick Summary
- Pour wax into SC
- Thread chain onto Swisher Tool and place in SC
- Put lid on SC, set temperature to high
- After 65 minutes, take lid off SC and insert thermometer
- When temperature reaches 195 F., turn off SC and agitate chain for 45 seconds
- Hang chain to cool
- Break links (articulate to loosen wax bond) before installing chain on bike
Waxing Your Race Chain, Detailed Instructions
Safety first: review the caution statement on our package before beginning
- Pound nail into wall or overhang where bike chain can hang freely during cooling, nail should be perpendicular to wall (no angle up or down so chain hangs straight with minimal bending/twisting); alternatively, use S-Hook made from spoke to hang chain from bike stand, bike hook, expensive chandelier, etc.
- Position SC directly under spot where chain will hang to cool (put aluminum foil under and around SC to catch errant drips)
- Pour 1/2 pound of MSW into SC (note reusable zip tie included for resealing bag)
- Inspect chain for stiff links before continuing
Thread chain onto Swisher Tool (click for instructions)
- Place Swisher Tool and chain into SC on top of wax, cover with lid (there will be a crack between lid and SC because of tool, this is OK)
- Plug in SC, turn to high temperature setting, set alarm for 65 minutes
- After 65 minutes, remove lid and confirm that chain is submerged in molten wax (hey, that might be a good name for this stuff), insert thermometer, leave lid off and monitor temperature closely
- When temperature reaches 195 F., turn off and unplug SC, agitate chain rigorously for 45 seconds (using back and forth circular motion to simulate clothes washer). Note: agitate aggressively to homogenize PTFE and moly, but there’s no need to fling wax outside of SC.
- Remove chain (if tangled, undo tangle with gloved hand, submerse again and agitate for a few seconds, then remove), allow to drip above SC for three seconds, then place first link nearest open end of tool on nail, or alternatively, if not using nail, S-hook
- With first link on nail, unfurl chain from Swisher Tool by tipping open-end downward as chain sections slide off tool; if using S-hook, pull chain off Swisher Tool with S-hook and hang to cool on bike stand, bike hook, etc.
- After chain is hung to cool, stop chain from swinging by arresting movement with Swisher Tool (push against bottom of bike chain one direction until movement stops then relax to vertical). Important: chain will likely not hang with all links in straight line (some links or sections of links may be twisted left or right), adjust so that links are aligned by lightly touching chain in appropriate places with Swisher Tool or gloved finger, then allow chain to finish cooling (20 - 25 minutes) without further movement.
- While chain is cooling, thread master links (pin to pin to minimize contact area) onto tool and submerse in wax for one minute, then agitate for a few seconds and remove, spin above SC to remove excess wax, wait a few seconds, then spin again to remove as much excess wax from master links as possible, rest Swisher Tool on edge of counter with links hanging from tool for final cooling, verify links are separated so they don’t stick together.
- Confirm that SC is turned off and unplugged, put lid on SC to store wax dust free until next use
- Once chain is cold to touch (“rigormortis” state), remove hardened wax drip on bottom most link with fingernail, inspect link to remove all extra wax from drip area on roller.
- With gloved hand, break free (articulate to loosen wax bond) each link in chain. Links can also be articulated by pulling chain over sturdy wooden dowel secured to workbench or vise . Take time to make sure each link in chain is loosened before installing on bike.
- Install chain on bike with master link or pin; if using master link, follow manufacturer’s instructions concerning direction of travel (if required) so chain doesn’t skip
- Chain will be stiff initially, break in for 30 minutes before racing in temperatures above 20 F.; 60 minutes in temperatures below 20 F. If it’s a warm summer day a break in period of 20 minutes is adequate. Do not adjust derailleurs during break in period.
Notes (read these in case there’s a quiz):
- A quick way to inspect a clean, dry chain before waxing is to pull it over your index finger. Stiff links will not rotate over your finger smoothly so it’s easy to detect them with this technique. BTW, some chains will squeak if you pull the chain fast enough over your finger. If you hear this sound while riding your chain needs wax!
- Another note concerning link inspection before waxing: If you’re preparing a chain for your most important race during the year, articulate each link individually without load to confirm complete freedom of movement of each link.
- We recommend using 1/2 bag of MSW at a time so after waxing a number of chains the wax can be refreshed (old wax discarded, SC cleaned, new wax added). Wax lifts contaminants from chains during dipping and agitation - even thoroughly cleaned race chains - so over time contaminants build up in wax. Suggestion: buy two SC's so you can designate one for race chains and one for training chains.
1/2 pound of MSW will create a melted wax depth of approximately 1” in a small SC (1.5 to 2 qt. size with 4 1/2” diameter bottom). A minimum depth of 5/8” is required to wax with our Swisher Tool. Larger SC’s will require more wax to attain minimum depth, for example, a 5 qt. SC will require a pound of MSW to attain minimum melted wax depth.
- A pound of MSW will wax 16 race chains if used for race chains alone. See "Waxing Your Training Chain" section below for number of training chains per pound and additional info concerning waxing both types of chains.
- When installing a waxed master link, push pin on the master link through chain link hole a time or two to clean wax out of hole. Note how wax can collect in groove on end of pin; remove with fingernail. It is also important to rotate each master link halve back and forth against chain inner links a few times (use some force here) to smoothen and flatten wax layers between two links. Doing so will make it easier to lock master link into place.
- Suggestion for tool-free Connex master link users: practice installing Connex link without wax before attempting with wax. The key is to squeeze master links together with your fingers while simultaneously pulling chain apart to lock master link into place. Please note that it doesn't require a lot of force to lock link into place. If link isn't locking, resist temptation to pull harder or your hand will slip and hit front chainrings. Ouch! Better to start over, align link halves properly and then squeeze with more force as you pull chain apart. You'll know you're successful when link slides into place with moderate amount of force.
- Two more notes concerning master links: 1) Confirm visually that they are locked into place and articulate to confirm freedom of movement; 2) Follow manufacturers' instructions concerning direction of travel; if installed incorrectly chain will skip, usually in 11 tooth cog.
- Our waxing process leaves very little wax on chain (5 grams or less), so only a small amount of wax is transferred to cassette from chain during normal riding. Because some wax build-up can occur in valley between two smallest cassette cogs (for example, between 11 and 12 tooth cogs on 10 speed drivetrain), we suggest inspecting this area each time you install new chain. If you see wax beginning to accumulate here, simply scrape off with toothpick (toothpick won’t scratch surface minimizing potential for rust). Over time wax build-up can cause chain to skip if left unchecked.
- We do not recommend wiping chain with rag after pulling from SC. The wax on the exterior of link rollers reduces friction when contacting teeth on cassette, chainrings and derailleur pulleys; we also theorize that wax coating on outer plates reduces friction when shifting. One final point, wax covering chain reduces chance of oxidation.
- If waxing multiple bicycle chains, make sure chain and wax in SC attain temperature of 195 F. before agitating and removing chain from SC to cool. For example, a cold chain placed into 195 F. wax in small SC will lower wax temperature approximately 20 degrees F. Keep temperature setting on high and wait until wax temperature returns to 195 F. before agitating and removing chain to cool. Remember that there is no reason to exceed wax temperature of 195 F.
- One final note concerning race chains: we recommend homogenizing the PTFE and moly powder in the hot wax by mixing with a high speed frother immediately before agitating with our Swisher Tool. This technique further assures the lubricative particles are broken down to their smallest size and evenly distributed in the wax.
Waxing Your Training Chain
Unlike race chains that are cleaned thoroughly before each waxing, a training chain jumps into the proverbial pool without a shower. This is acceptable, however, because we aren't expecting maximum efficiency from a training chain, we simply want a well lubricated, quiet chain for logging miles. Amazingly, a hot wax bath cleans a dirty chain quite well, similar to the way a cross country skier uses a “hot scrape” to clean a ski base.
Because the fundamentals of waxing racing and training chains are similar, we’ve focused on the differences and condensed the detail below. If you haven’t read our race chain directions yet, it would make sense to peruse them before reading further. As mentioned earlier, we recommend separating your chains into racing and training categories to make the waxing process efficient.
If chain was ridden in dry conditions, no cleaning required, just throw chain in pot:
- Thread chain onto Swisher tool, put on top of wax in slow cooker (SC), heat to 195 F.
- When 195 F. is reached, turn SC off and agitate chain for 60 seconds, remove and hang to cool
- Wax master link and allow to cool, break links free in chain, install on bike, nothing to it!
If chain was ridden in wet conditions, cleaning not required, but some cleaning will keep wax cleaner in SC for subsequent chains:
- After wet ride rinse off chain and other drivetrain components with water and wipe with rag to remove dirt and dry chain. Note: recommend re-waxing chain after no more than two consecutive wet rides to prevent oxidation. If chain is extremely dirty, clean with mineral spirits to remove majority of grime before waxing.
- Thread chain onto Swisher tool, put on top of wax in SC, heat to 195 F.
- When 195 F. is reached, turn SC off and agitate chain for 60 seconds, lift chain out of pot to check for cleanliness and stiff links (articulate any stiff links with gloved hand), agitate final time
- Remove chain and hang to cool, inspect master link, clean with mineral spirits if necessary before waxing, especially if grime is caked on master link
- Break free links in chain and install on bike
- After wet ride chain can also be removed, rinsed under faucet and wiped dry with rag before waxing
- Remember that dirt from training chains remains in SC. Consequently, number of chains that can be waxed per pound depends on how clean chains are before being waxed. As general guideline, one pound MSW will wax eight training chains.
- Use 1/2 bag of MSW at a time so that after four chains SC can be emptied and cleaned before adding fresh wax. Clean inside of SC with paper towels after pouring out used wax. Pour used wax into paper cups to cool before discarding.
- If planning to wax race chains and training chains at same time (recommended to save time), wax race chains first with fresh wax followed by training chains. Always use clean, new wax for race chains. Several race chains and four training chains can be waxed with 1/2 pound of MSW if race chains are cleaned thoroughly before waxing.
- Training chains frequently ridden in extreme conditions (mud, wet sand, slushy, dirty snow, road salt, etc.) can develop stiff links due to grit lodging between links and rollers. If chain skipping occurred during last ride, recommend cleaning chain with mineral spirits before waxing.
- Master links ridden in extreme conditions like above can rust if not re-waxed on a regular basis. If rust appears, remove with minimally abrasive Fibertex.
- Consider using separate SC's for training chains and race chains. Additional SC allows for most efficient wax rotation and ability to double dip race chains if necessary. “Double dipping” refers to cleaning race chains with wax using successive baths of clean wax instead of cleaning with solvent. Technique is quick and effective, but solvent is still preferred alternative for cleanest and fastest race chain.
- Large debris can be filtered from wax by pouring molten wax into paper cups and allowing wax to cool. As wax cools heavy debris descends to bottom. Once wax has hardened bottom third can be cut off with large toothed wood saw. Keep in mind technique only removes large particles from wax. Best option: replace wax frequently for best chain performance and longevity.
Consider transferring race chain to training status after 1,000 miles of racing. Race chains maintain peak efficiency for 1,000 miles on average, gradually losing one half watt from break-in until mile 1,000 (thanks Jason at friction-facts.com for info.).
- In normal riding conditions training chains will last approximately 400 miles. If riding in extreme wet or muddy conditions, re-wax after each ride. It’s not possible to wax too much!