Monday, November 18, 2013

My Three Favorite Easy Finishes - Part III: Wax

I think wax gets a bad wrap.

If you are learning all of your woodworking from reading magazines or the internet (I'll admit I am), then you will undoubtedly hear that wax is not very strong as a finish and tends to let the wood get dinged up.

Newsflash! If you abuse your furniture, it will get dinged up.

Plain old furniture wax is a fine finish, and has been used for hundreds of years.  Indeed our dining table, which we bought new, is finished only with wax.  We take good care of our furniture and this table has looked great for years.

There are some very good reasons why, in my opinion wax is one of my favorite finishes. In no particular order, here they are:
  1. Easy to apply.
  2. Looks (and feels) fabulous.
  3. Easy to maintain.
  4. Easy to repair.
  5. It is cheap and plentiful.
  6. Can be used on top of practically any other finish.
  7. It won't kill you.
 Let's go through these one by one.
  1. Ease of application
My wax of choice at the moment is Dick wax, from the company Dictum.  My second favorite is antique wax from PNZ, and if I was in the US I would use Johnson's paste wax.  These waxes are pretty much based on beeswax, probably with some kind of thinner in it to make it softer.

You'll also need a clean(ish) cloth.  Here I am using part of an old sheet.

Everything I use for applying wax.
I like to put the cloth over my hand, and grab a little scoop of wax out of the middle of the container.

I rarely use more than this.  When it runs out, get some more.  Using a bigger scoop of wax only tends to make things messy.
I wrap this ball of wax in the cloth so it looks like this:

A ball of wax wrapped in cloth.
Now I scrub the surface that needs to be finished with this little bit of wax wrapped in cloth.  This becomes a nice little applicator.  The friction of the applicator on the wood generates just enough heat to melt the wax and spread it thinly and evenly on the surface to be waxed.

Apply away.  Don't worry about being too perfect with everything, it will get buffed out later.
If you haven't burnished the surface yet, you can do it now.  Or both before and now, like I am doing here.  This little trick really makes the finish something special.  Of course, if you don't have one, do the best you can.

Ancient Chinese Secret.  I mean, French!
Once wax is slathered all over the project and you are happy, let it set for 10 to 15 minutes.  It is ready to buff when the wax turns to a hazy film.

Freshly applied.  Wait about 10 more minutes.
Buff away.  For this small piece I just wiped on it like crazy with a clean cloth.  A bigger piece I would use a wadded up cloth and buff in circles.  Every little while undo the cloth, re-wad it up to expose clean cloth and keep buffing.  It won't take long and you'll have wiped away everything that will wipe away.

Buffing Dick wax.
If you feel the need, you can repeat until you are happy.

Done.  I find I can't keep my hands off of it!
2.  Looks and feels fabulous.

I love this finish because it imparts a finish on the wood that people seem to want to touch all the time.  That's what it's all about.

3.  Easy to maintain.

My waxed furniture tends to get a bit dingy after a while.  So, once a year or so, I'll repeat the process.  The new wax will dissolve the old, so it doesn't really build up.  If it gets scratches on it, new wax will wipe them away.

4.  Easy to repair.

If the scratches go deeper than the finish, such as when the aforementioned abuse, the area can be fixed using any method you choose.  Wax can then be applied over the repair, and it will blend in with the rest.  The entire piece does not need to be stripped and refinished.

5.  It's cheap and plentiful.

You can get a fairly decent furniture paste wax at any big box store.  For years I used wax from the local borg, until Dictum opened a store nearby.  Who could resist Dick wax?  It turns out it is really nice stuff. One can of paste wax lasts a long, long time.

6.  It can be used on top of nearly any finish.

Even if you use another finish, I would recommend topping it off in this manner.  I did it to a bed that I painted with gray lacquer.  The wax gave it a little bit of a shine that it was missing, and feels much better when you touch it.

7.  It won't kill you.

I like to apply it in my shop, which is basically a 100 square foot closet.  There are no toxic fumes, and once I wipe it down I can bring it upstairs to our living space to cure.   Can't do that with very many other finishes.

I'm sure there are other benefits to wax, but these are the main ones that vault wax to my list of top three easy finishes.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of this series.  Next up on my list:  boiled linseed oil.


  1. I agree with you on the nice feel and warmth of a piece that has received a finish of wax. Also it is a very good point that the stuff isn't foul smelling or toxic.

    1. Thanks, Jonas. I found I was having a hard time describing this as pictures and words don't really do justice to what I was trying to describe. I finally figured that pretty much only woodworkers read this blog, and most of this audience will know what I was talking about.