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Dying and Waxing Traps: A Refresher Course
Most people who have ever seen a real trap outside of a movie or TV show will tell you they look black and may wonder how they get that way. After all, they are made of steel and steel just rusts unless painted or otherwise protected. Dying and waxing your traps will seal the pores of the steel and protect the trap from rust.
Now any trapper knows before the season rolls around you have 2 kinds of traps. You have brand new out of the box traps, still shiny and greasy from the factory, and your old traps, with mud and dirt caked onto them. Now the best way to get them ready to dye and wax is to take them to a car wash and blast the devil out of them with a power washer. For the new traps use engine degreaser to get the grease off, and use deep clean for the old dirty traps.
When you get home, just hang the old traps up till you are ready to dye and wax, but throw the new traps outside and give them a good dose of water. You want to do this so that the new traps will obtain a thin coat of rust (just till they turn red-brown). This will take 1-2 weeks, but for faster results spray your traps with white vinegar.
If you use snares they will need to be treated as well. (I make my own snares to cut down on costs and wait time.) I coil the snares so they fit in the bottom of a large soup pot. I put in 3-4 dozen snares then 1-2 cups of baking soda and put the pot on to boil for an hour or so. When you pull the snares out of the water they will be a dull gray color. (You can use them just as they are now if you like, but beware as the oils cook out of the cable and if you do not wax them they will rust from the inside out!)
For my traps I prefer to dye and wax the old fashioned way. I use a 3/4 55-gallon drum heated with a turkey fryer but you can use a large soup pot on a Coleman stove if need be.
I recommend using one of the commercial log wood dye powders, which is available from any trapping supply dealer. They are brown but when added to water they turn black as night. Or, if you’re cheap or poor (like me) you can use natural dyes. As a child my brother and I would gather black walnuts for the dye pot, often shooting them from the branches with our BB guns. You can also use the tops or sumac trees, oak bark, or maple bark. If you use natural items such as these for your dye, put them in a burlap bag to keep the little pieces from sticking to the traps. If you are using log wood dye powder, place the dye in the water and stir until dissolved then add your traps to the water.
Don't remove till the traps have boiled for at least 2 hours (new traps that were not rusted will not be black but a very dull gray). Some people are afraid that boiling the traps will weaken the springs; I say boiling water is only 212 degrees, and if that hurts the springs they need to be replaced. You may notice a scum on the surface of the water. This is a mix of grease, dirt and old wax. You need to either skim this scum off the top or put more water into the pot to overflow it and wash off the scum. Remove the traps from the pot and hang to dry. I recommend building a wooden rack with nails on it to hang traps. The traps should be black as night with no brown showing
Now you'll need to wax the traps. This does two things, it speeds up the trap, and it also helps to protect the trap from rust. Use a large pot to heat the wax till it almost smokes.
USE EXTREME CAUTION. WAX CAN BURST INTO FLAMES AND EVEN EXPLODE IF YOU PUT A WET TRAP INTO IT. Keep a flat piece of plywood close to the pot to smother the flames if it does catch fire. NEVER EVER USE WATER! This will make a quick seal on the pot, but the wax underneath is still boiling and will blow the lid off and throw boiling wax all over anything close to it.
Once it almost smokes place a DRY trap into the wax until completely submerged. Putting a wet trap into hot wax will cause it to boil over, and thereby resulting in the above condition. Leave the trap in till the wax stops crackling and making noise. Remove the trap carefully, shake off the excess wax, and place on a wooden rack to dry. The trap should just look “wet.” There should not be any heavy coat of wax on it anywhere.
I always judge my wax job when I remove the traps from the rack. If the chains stick out straight when I remove the trap the job was a good one. As Pop used to say, “A properly dyed and waxed trap looks smart.”