WAX THE PERFECT PROTECTION
From a refinishing pro, a preservation expert, and Furniture manufacturers, the
answer seems to be "yes."
"Wax is the wear and tear, abrasion layer of fine wood furniture," says Ron
a professional woodworker, refinisher, lecturer, and owner of Liberon Supplies in
Mendocino, California. "superficial scratches, dings, and dents should happen to
the wax layer-not the finish you slaved over."
DON'T DABBLE IN DUST
Despite the multitude of furniture care products that promise to "feed" or "polish"
your fine furniture, Ashby believes high-quality furniture wax is the best choice.
"All the other care products available attract dust with the residue they leave
behind," he says. At Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg, Wallace Gusler, director of
conservation, oversees the preservation of authentic colonial furniture. "Our
primary concern with pieces that have an intact, original finish is conservation,"
he says. "For that, we use wax. And, Gusler believes, all wood furniture, not just
historic pieces, deserves wax protection. "Everyone collects furniture to some
extent, he notes, "But their collection happens to be their household furniture."
What about lemon oil, another popular wood-care product? Gusler says, "The
value of oil to wood is folklore. Of course, oil gives a wood finish a superficial
shine, but it isn't beneficial. In fact," he elaborates, "Commercial lemon oil has
nothing to do with lemons. It's essentially kerosene, and can be harmful to a
Then, there are aerosol spray cleaners and polishes that contain silicone. They
may not harm the present finish, say Ashby and Gusler, but they will cause
problems down the road if you contemplate refinishing. "Products with silicones
are cheap, quick, and easy, but they don't protect," comments Ashby. "Besides,
silicones make refinishing difficult because, even after stripping, a new finish
TOO MUCH WAX?
What about the infamous "Wax buildup" that advertising people say their
products avoid? Roy Frizell, Supervisor of Quality Control, Ethan Allen, Inc.,
Danbury, Connecticut, recommends wax only in small doses. "We tell customers
to dust with a damp cloth, then maybe every six months use wax. 0therwise," he
comments, "They'll put wax on every time they dust."
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Ed Finnety, customer service manager at Harden Furniture, McConnellsville,
New York, acknowledges that most people over-polish. "they're zealous," he
Ashby finds amusement in some companies' product claims denying wax
buildup. "if you avoid wax buildup, you don't have any protection for your
furniture," he muses. "it does build up, but it builds up clear."
According to Colonial Williamsburg's Gusler, wax should never create a buildup
problem when used in moderation. That's because all the wax you put on doesn't
remain there. "It gets huffed, worn off, and even oxidizes," he says.
Old wax can be removed with special products developed just for the purpose,
according to Ashby. "but, if the furniture is heavily soiled, too, you should use a
wood cleaning and wax-removing product, such as Liberon Wood Cleaner and
You can apply wax over any finish-penetrating oils, varnish, lacquer, or
polyurethane Ashby advises. But, only buy a high-quality, cabinetmaker's wax,
one designed specifically for wood furniture, at woodworking stores or through
mail order catalogs. Some notable brands include: Liberon's Black Bison,
Goddard's, Butcher's Wax, Antiquax, and Renaissance Wax.
Products such as these are traditionally formulated from a number of waxes-
carnauba, beeswax, synthetics, and vegetable. Expect to pay from $12 to $15 for
a one-pound tin of good quality cabinetmaker's paste wax. And, notes Ashby,
don't confuse floor wax with furniture wax. Floor wax won't hold up on furniture
because it's actually softer. He notes, too, that furniture wax comes as paste or
liquid. "Generally," says Ashby, "Less solid forms apply easier but have less
Liquid wax does have a place in the home, though. advises Ashby, "for highly
carved wood surfaces and the legs and stretchers of chairs, you can use liquid.
Also, it works as the initial wax coat on cabinets, much like a sealer."
Applying paste wax isn't complicated, and the method doesn't differ for newly
finished furniture or older furniture. All furniture to be waxed, though, must be
clean and free of oil and grease.
"You can make only two mistakes applying wax," Ashby notes. "You can put too
much on, and you can try to buff it out too soon." Too thick of a coat won't dry
evenly, resulting in a spotty sheen. And, if you buff wax before it has dried, you
just redistribute the wax.
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Here are the most frequently asked questions and answers regarding the
application of wax:
* Do you have to apply wax with steel wool? Ashby recommends an oil-free,
wood finisher's 0000 steel wool (see where to buy at end of article) to avoid
streaks and blurs. A cloth will do, although it takes more effort.
* Does it matter how you spread the wax? "No," says Ashby, "But, on large
surfaces, such as a table-top, I use a circular motion, then even it out with the
* How can you tell if you have applied the right amount of wax? "If you see ridges
across the surface, there's too much," he says.
* Will one coat do? " On a new piece or one not previously waxed, put down
three light, successive coats at four- to eight-hour intervals."
* What do you need for buffing? Buff the dry wax with terry cloth, a cotton diaper,
or an old T-shirt. "The higher the gloss you want, the softer the material for
buffing you use," he says. "And, buffing with the grain or cross-grain doesn't
Following the initial three coats, Ashby suggests you reapply wax according to
the rate of "wear and tear" your furniture receives. "You might wax the arms of a
dining chair weekly, but the legs and stretchers only every 18 months."
To maintain a wax coat on your furniture, follow Ashby's tips:
* Dust weekly with a soft, dry, all-cotton cloth.
* Don't use polishes or oils over your coat of protective wax.
* Wipe up spills as soon as possible to prevent spotting
* Use coasters under glasses and vases, and pads or trivets under hot dishes.
* Reapply a coat of wax when you can no longer buff the coating to a shine.
"On the West Coast today, it costs between $650 and $1,000 to have a dining
tabletop custom refinished. If you have just finished one yourself, that's how
much it's worth," comments the waxing expert. "Wax can preserve that expensive
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How And When to Use Paste Wax
Contrary to popular belief, paste wax is not a good choice for a protective finish.
Even though you may still read articles or hear other woodworkers advocating
the use of paste wax as a protective finish for raw wood, the simple fact is that
when it comes to protection, paste wax is very inferior compared to oil finishes or
topcoat finishes like lacquer, varnish, polyurethane etc. It is true that wax was
used for centuries as a wood finish, but that was before the advent and discovery
of oil finishes and film finishes. Wax provides no significant protective barrier for
wood against heat, water, water vapor or chemical spills such as from an
alcoholic beverage. Wax is very soft and never dries to a hard finish. Its melting
point is approx. 140 degrees F, which is way too low to protect against any kind
of hot object. Even a cup of hot coffee placed on a tabletop that has been
finished with wax only will melt the wax right through to the wood. Because wax
is so soft, most of the excess applied needs to be wiped off in order to achieve a
clear and polished surface, therefore the film surface of a wax finish is way too
thin to protect wood against water or moisture (water vapor). Even milder
solvents like mineral spirits (paint thinner) and turpentine will dissolve wax almost
immediately, therefore it has no resistance to chemical spills.
Wax can be an effective barrier against water vapor when applied in a thick
coating to the end grain of boards or freshly cut wood. Because it is applied in
such a thick coating, it prevents the moisture from escaping too quickly, thus the
freshly cut boards or wood will not check.
About the only protection wax affords is against abrasion, and even that is not
significant. It's not the actual film of wax that protects wood against abrasion,
because the film is too thin for that. Wax makes the surface slippery, thus objects
slide across a waxed surface, rather than digging in and scraping. You must
remember that wood needs more than just abrasion protection. A piece of
furniture that has only wax to protect it will soon become dirty and will have no
water, water vapor or chemical protection. A wax finish will soon become filled
with dust and dirt that will stick to it and create a dull, dark ugly mess. The only
way to fix this is to remove all the wax, clean the wood and sand the surface to
prepare it for another finish, hopefully not just wax by itself.
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However, when applied properly and for the right reason, paste wax can be very
effective and add beauty and color back to an old piece of furniture. A wax finish
can be very effective on a carved or turned object that receives very little
handling, especially when you want a low sheen and don't want to change the
natural color of the wood too much.
Paste wax is best used as a polish over an existing finish such as lacquer,
varnish, shellac, polyurethane or even oil finishes. As mentioned, it will give you
a little extra protection against scratches, but most modern finishes like
polyurethane and newer lacquers and varnishes are very hard to begin with and
usually the finish alone is abrasion resistant enough. Thus, using paste wax to
maintain and regularly care for your furniture is by far the best reason to use
paste wax today. A paste wax will add shine to a surface by filling in small
scratches or voids in a finish. The finish will appear shiner and deeper because
the light that was getting trapped in those scratches and voids before the wax
was applied, is now reflecting off the surface. On darker pieces of furniture it's
best to use a dark colored paste wax. This will not only polish the piece but also
hide some minor scuffs and scratches.
Many people believe that pure beeswax is the best choice for use among paste
waxes. This is not true. True, in the past beeswax was often used, but that was
because it was the only wax available. Today, paste wax manufactures blend
natural waxes like beeswax and harder carbuna wax with synthetic waxes. The
waxes are selected for cost, color, slip resistance and hardness. This blend of
waxes makes a paste wax that is harder and in many other ways superior to pure
beeswax, which is also very expensive in pure form. Waxes like carnuba are
much harder than bees wax, but are too hard to be used alone without blending
with other softer waxes.
All waxes are originally solid. They are made into a paste by being dissolved into
a solvent. Years ago, turpentine was used as the solvent, but today petroleum
distillate solvents such as mineral spirits,and toluene are generally used to
dissolve the waxes.
Most commercially made paste waxes are very similar in their quality and the
sheen they produce. In fact, you can take the ten top brand waxes, apply them
side by side to a finished surface and not see any significant difference in gloss
or sheen. About the most significant difference in these waxes is in the amount of
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time you need to wait before wiping off the excess and buffing out the wax.
Certain waxes like Briwax use a quicker evaporating solvent like toluene.
Because these solvents evaporate quicker, the wax turns back to solid quicker,
(becoming hazy) and once the wax hazes over, it's time to wipe off the excess
and buff it out. Other waxes with slower evaporating solvents like mineral spirits
will take longer to turn back to solid and haze over.
Applying Paste Wax
Many manufactures of furniture polishes and furniture care products always talk
about wax build up. Some have even produced special products that eliminate
wax build up. This is ridiculous because there is no such thing as wax build up.
When you apply wax, you must remove approx. 99 percent of it when you buff it
out. If not, you will never attain a shine. You must only leave a very thin layer on
the surface. Therefore, there can be no such thing as wax build up.
Make sure that the surface of your finish is clean and free of any dirt. If not, clean
it with a mild soap like Murphy's Oil Soap and water. Take a piece of lint free soft
cotton cloth and put a lump of paste wax in the center of the cloth. This will limit
the amount of wax you apply to the surface and you need not have to continue to
dip into the can. Twist the cloth into a ball and kneed it in your hand to soften the
wax a little. Apply the cloth over the surface of the finish letting the wax seep
through the cloth onto the surface. You can apply the wax in any direction, using
any motion, straight, circular, with grain, against grain etc. When the wax is first
applied, it glossy because of the amount of solvent in it. as the solvent
evaporates, it will start to turn back to solid and the surface will become hazy. If
you wait too long the wax will be difficult to remove. If this happens, don't worry,
just take some fresh wax apply it over the hardened wax and wipe it
off right away. The solvent in the fresh wax will re soften the hard wax again and
you can remove it. If you don't wait long enough, you will still be removing all the
wax and you will have no sheen at all. Work on small areas at a time until you get
used to how long you need to wait until the wax has hazed and the excess needs
to be removed. Wipe off the excess with a clean piece of lint free soft cotton
cloth. Buff the surface with the cloth until you achieve a even sheen.
DO NOT USE SOLVENT BASED WAXES ON WATER BASED FINISHES OR
ON ANY FINISH THAT HAS NOT CURED FULLY. THE SOLVENT IN THE WAX
MAY HARM THE FINISH.
There are a number of methods used to apply paste wax, the method I just
described is the most basic, but not the only. If you would like additional info on
applying paste wax, please feel free to e-mail me.
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One of the nicest finishes for your projects is beeswax. This finish is ideal for any
indoor project and has the great advantage of allowing the wood to nicely darken
Waxing should not be used for any project that requires a degree of water
resistance, such as for kitchen or bathroom related projects. Instead, varnishing
should be used here.
Beeswax is available at almost any hardware store and is simple to apply.
However, it is often a good idea to seal the wood prior to waxing, especially on
softer woods such as pine.
To seal the wood correctly you should use a pre-wax sealant. Again, this should
be sold in most hardware stores. Once you have rubbed a coating of sealer onto
the wood, allow it to dry for 30 minutes. Then, use wire wool to lightly work over
the entire surface to roughen it slightly.
Once this is done, you may add the wax. Apply the wax to the wood using a lint-
free cloth, and leave to dry for at least 15 minutes. Then buff the wood, using a
clean cloth, until a suitable shine is achieved. It is recommended that at least two
applications of wax are used, even though many waxes claim that only one is
required. The result will be a far better finish that will last far longer.
Note: Waxed surfaces will need to be re-waxed every now and then (typically
once every six months), in order to maintain the true finish.
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Wood Finish Supply
Wood Cleaner & Wax Remover
(NEW V99 Low Odor Formula)
Wood Cleaner & Wax Remover dissolves and cleans old layers of dirt, grime,
grease, smoke, old wax & polish buildup, fingermarks and other impurities. Wood
Cleaner contains No water and will not raise the grain, harm veneers or remove
the natural patina of the wood. You Will Be Surprised At The Number Of Pieces
That Don't Need Stripping.
Wood Cleaner & Wax Remover will gently clean and prepare old & antique
furniture and other wood surfaces for refinishing or polishing. If the finish is intact
try WFS Wood Cleaner first to clean all furniture and wood surfaces. Wood
Cleaner will not remove the original lacquer, varnish, shellac, or French polish
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE
Use & Dry In Well Ventilated Area.
Keep Out Of Eyes. Gloves And Eye Protection Suggested.
o It Is important to TEST the surface to be cleaned !!
o Use an area in an inconspicuous place to test and make sure the
cleaner will not remove your finish. Proceed With Caution until you
get a feel for the cleaning process & the proper amount of cleaner
to use. Make sure the finish you are cleaning is a legitimate Finish.
If The Finish to be cleaned does not have a proper bond with the
wood below, The Cleaner Might Remove The Finish. Also Finishes
that are completely oil or wax will certainly be removed, after all this
is a Cleaner & Wax Remover !!!
1. Apply generously to the surface being cleaned using LIBERON #00, and on
finer surfaces, #0000 Steel Wool.
Use steel wool with Care (or use a cloth) on delicate surfaces such as
inlays & veneers.
(ON VERY FINE AND GLOSSY FINISHES USE LIBERON #0000/000 STEEL
WOOL FOR CLEANING, and ON EXTREMELY DIRTY SURFACES, FLOORS,
OODWORK and on COUNTRY or ROUGHER FURNITURE STYLES USE
LIBERON #0 STEEL WOOL FOR CLEANING.)
2. Allow to stand for a few minutes.
3. Rub gently with the grain using LIBERON #00 Steel Wool to dislodge the dirt.
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4. Wipe with a clean cloth.
5. Repeat until the surface wipes clean.
6. ALLOW THE CLEANED OBJECT TO DRY overnight or 24 hours and longer
on soft or porous woods or surfaces that were soaked with the Wax Remover in
cleaning. Any trapped solvents that donÕt not show on the surface after a short
drying time will have a harmful effect on the proper drying of any subsequent
surface treatment, even oils or waxes,- Let The Surface Dry ! - a rushed job will
always show it.
After the Wood Cleaner treatment, make any necessary repairs and protect the
surface with 3 light coats of BLACK BISON WAX & buff to a warm glowing shine.
Clean & prepare finish for repairs or respraying.
Neutralize wood after stripping or bleaching operations
to provide a proper surface for stain or applying a finish.
Clean surfaces prior to using LIBERON Burnish Cream.
Clean and condition brushes after varnishing, painting, waxing, or stripping.
As a solvent for Black Bison Wax & for LIBERON wax filler sticks
when used as a grain filler.
DANGER! HARMFUL OR FATAL IF SWALLOWED
VAPOR HARMFUL, COMBUSTIBLE
Contains Petroleum distillates, Xylene and Methyl Alcohol.
Use only in a well ventilated area. Keep away from heat or flame.
Avoid contact with eyes or prolonged contact with skin.
If swallowed, Do NOT induce vomiting. Call a physician immediately.
KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN.
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Oil finishes are growing in popularity as people ask for furniture that looks and
feels like wood. When we mention oil finishes many people think of the old oil
finishes, involving the application of boiled linseed oil. That’s one type, to be
sure, and we’ll cover that, too, but what todays home owner is more interested in
is a good looking clear finish that lets the grain of the wood actually be felt. The
finish resulting from either Danish or Tung oil is just that. In addition, it’s almost
fool proof in application, and it’s durable. Tung oil finishes (of which Danish oil is
one) form a polymerized barrier against spills when they dry, and they dry fairly
quickly. A small piece, such as a coffee or end table can easily be done in one
day. Application for all the Tung oils is similar; wipe it on, let it stand for 15
minutes or so (check the label of the product you use) and then wipe it off. In 1 -
2 hours (after it dries) you’re ready for a rub down with steel wool, and then
another application. You can repeat this process as many times as you want.
Typically three or four coats gets the job done.
Aside from ease of application an durability, modern oil finishes are easy to
maintain. Any finished wood surface that is used will show wear after a time,
including oil finishes. The fix is to simply apply another coat (after you‘ve cleaned
the piece, of course) exactly as you did the first time...instant rejuvenation!
A possible down side of oil finishes is they don’t produce a dead smooth surface.
You can feel the grain even after 4 or more applications. Many people use oil
finishes exactly for that reason, they want to feel the grain. It is possible to get a
smooth surface, but it requires a lot more time and patience than most people
are willing to expend. Tung oil finishes laid on that thick also tend to look
"plastic". If you’re looking for a smooth finish, varnish, lacquer, and polyurethane
are all better choices.
The old style oil finish was simply boiled linseed oil rubbed onto the furniture. No,
you don’t have to boil it, it comes that way. If this is the look you want, you can
follow this formula for application, which is not a joke, by the way. Apply once a
day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year, and once a
year for the rest of your life! Following this method (which can’t be rushed) it
takes about 6 months to get a piece looking good. The original oil finish was used
as much for a wood preservative as it was for enhancing the looks of the piece.
Proper application usually involved all the wooden parts of the furniture, not just
those parts that showed.
As a side note, you should be aware that boiled linseed oil lends itself readily to
spontaneous combustion. A rag used to apply boiled linseed oil and then
carelessly thrown into a trash can, can easily result in a fire. This is not hearsay -
I’ve seen it happen. When I was working out West I made up a furniture
cleaner/polish that contained boiled linseed oil. I knew of the hazards, and told
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the people using it in a furniture store to dispose of the rags in a fire proof trash
can. They didn’t, and about 45 minutes after a clerk had thrown the rag into a
regular trash can with paper and other debris, it caught on fire. Luckily, no
damage or injuries, but believe me when I say boiled linseed oil is a fire hazard.
In my own shop I make almost all my own stains, using boiled linseed oil as an
ingredient. I am always very careful how I dispose of the rags I use in staining.
I’ve got insurance on the shop, but it would sure be a pain to replace everything!
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