Tucked away in a small corner of Washington state is a tiny company creating a modest product aimed at making wood finishing simpler, safer, and sweet-smelling. ShadowWood Too, started in 1996, makes Kerf’s Wood Cream, a wax and mineral oil-based concoction designed to bring out the beauty of wood safely and pleasantly.
Situated in Bellingham, Washington, not far from the Canadian border, Kerf’s is the brainchild of Anne Collard, a former nurse and transplanted Pennsylvanian.
“We moved to Bellingham to get out of the big city and into the rural Pacific Northwest” Anne told me. Her husband, Clark, a carpenter with a degree in commercial photography, focuses mainly on woodturning these days. He and his peers provide the testing grounds for Anne’s mixtures. “We have a simple, modest lifestyle, and that’s why I make a straightforward product.”
As with many inventions, Kerf’s was created to fulfill a personal need, but soon found a much wider audience.
“Clark had made me some knotty pine cabinets for storage, and I didn’t want to use products that were either toxic or smelly. I wanted a natural finish, so I created one.”
That finish became Kerf’s Wood Cream, a creamy wax, and its pourable liquid version, Kerf’s Wood Lotion. Anne came up with the formula by trial and error, making batch after batch until she got what she wanted. To this day, all of it is still made in small batches.
“I passed it around to friends to try on cutting boards and other kitchen items. It is made from food grade ingredients so, of course, it is food-safe,” Anne said.
That’s a bit of an understatement. Kerf’s goes well beyond food-safe. It’s made with food grade mineral oil mixed with beeswax and edible plant resins. There are no hardeners or solvents, so the mixture even smells delightful, with none of the solvent odors associated with typical finish waxes. You really have to smell it to believe it.
Anne said, “I wanted to provide people an alternative to the typical chemical -based finishes, especially for children’s toys, cradles, and food contact items. I originally envisioned it selling primarily in kitchen stores.”
However, woodturners are the ones who embraced it first, using it as a friction polish to enhance their work. “The oil penetrates the wood to bring out its color, grain, and natural beauty. Waxes alone don’t do that” Anne explained. “The wax sits on top to add some protection from dirt, airborne grease, and handling, and also helps shed water.”
Nevertheless, Anne feels there is an untapped market among children doing woodworking, and her product would be great for school systems. Much of her marketing is focussed toward women. “I feel women are more likely to be working with children, and are more concerned with safety and odor.” Most of her customers come by word of mouth, though she does exhibit at some woodworking shows.
“At woodworking shows, women often come with men. They’ll stop by my booth, open a container, turn to their spouse and say ‘Honey, smell this.’ Some male woodworkers tell me ‘My wife doesn’t complain about my smelling up the house when I use this.’ But apparently, there is more than smell alone. Customers will often say ‘Ah, that feels good.’ They say it feels natural, whatever that means.”
What’s in store for Kerf’s? Probably more of the same. “I prefer to stay small,” Anne told me. Her company is so low-tech that it even lacks a web site, though that may change in the future. For now, she likes the idea that her products are simple, homemade, and hand crafted.
“It’s like the difference between a home-cooked meal and fast food.”