Woodworking wax has been used to complete projects for centuries. You can purchase wax in paste, liquid and solid stick forms and there are even a wide range of colors to choose from. Yet despite its popularity, you shouldn’t immediately reach for a wax finish for a variety of reasons.
It is rather soft and will never dry to a hard finish, it has a melting point of approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit and it doesn’t provide adequate protection against chemical spills or heat. However, there is certainly a place for a wax finish on wood and I will show you when it is a good option and how to apply it.
When Should I Use a Wax Finish on Wood?
There are few better finishes when it comes to adding beauty to a piece of antique furniture. As it happens, a significant number of these old pieces originally used wax so finishing wax would be ideal in for these specific items.
Woodworking wax is also a good option if you want to polish over shellac, oil, varnish or lacquer finish. While wax doesn’t provide a great deal of protection against scratches and abrasions, modern finishes do. As a result, if you have a piece of furniture with polyurethane or varnish finish for example, you can apply a finishing wax to beautify it.
The modern finish lying underneath will provide the wood with plenty of protection. In addition, the wax can fill in existing scratches and voids and give off a shinier and deeper finish.
Which Woodworking Wax Should I Use?
Beeswax used to be the wax of choice but in the modern era, beeswax and another natural wax called carbuna are mixed with synthetic wax to provide an end result that is harder and more durable. In the past, turpentine was used as the solvent to dissolve the wax but now, manufacturers favor mineral spirits.
The top rated products are all of a similar standard. The main difference is the length of time it takes to dry. Brands that use a solvent such as toluene will evaporate quicker which means the wax returns to its solid form faster. Brands that use mineral spirits as a solvent will take longer to dry.
Applying the Wax Finish
First and foremost, don’t waste your money on so-called ‘wax build up’ products! When you apply wax, you need to remove the vast majority of it when buffing it out as you want an extremely thin surface layer.
When choosing the finish, pick the color that’s closest to the color of the wood. Then you need to thoroughly clean the surface with a mild soap and water. Wrap a clean cotton cloth around your fingers and apply some wax to the cloth. It is best if you polish in a circular motion in much the same way as you would polish a pair of shoes and always work with the grain.
Remember, wax never really hardens so you can add a number of coats in a relatively short period of time. However, you’ll get the best results by allowing the first coat to dry overnight before applying another. Wipe off the excess wax with clean cotton cloth and buff until an even sheen has been achieved.
There are various ways to apply a wax finish to wood but the above is one of the most basic and is the one I would use. If you want a finish that keeps your wood protected and safe, wax isn’t necessarily the best choice unless it is added on top of a varnish, shellac, polyurethane or lacquer finish. However, it does ensure your wood retains its timeless beauty which makes it ideal for older wooden furniture.