Wax as a Finish
Wax, the perfect protection for furniture?
Original article from: Wood Magazine JUNE 1989
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 Ashby,
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 finish.”
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 won’t adhere.”
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.”
Ed Finnety, customer service manager at Harden Furniture, McConnellsville, New York, acknowledges that most people over-polish. “they’re zealous,” he says.
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 Wax Remover.”
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 wax.”
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.
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 grain.”
* 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 matter.”
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
* 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 finish.”
* Oil-free steel wool,
Black Bison wax, wax remover.
P.O. Box 86, Mendocino, CA 9546.
Other waxes available from woodworking supply stores.
Written with Amy Elbert Original article from: Wood Magazine JUNE 1989