Waxing Lyrical

Winters in Australia aren’t nearly as severe as those back in Ireland and England, but the recent daytime highs of 12° to 16° (54°F to 61°F) provide near optimal conditions for waxing furniture.

Of course, waxing can be undertaken at any time of the year, but even the quick flash-off wax polish I make doesn’t completely harden in the warmer months, making it more awkward to obtain a good lustre during summer.

At this time of year I can use a much slower (and heavier) wax polish which, though more difficult to apply can, with a degree of effort, be pulled and manipulated to give a very convincing aged appearance. The wax hardens fairly rapidly in the cool temperatures enabling it to be buffed to the type of glorious lustre that fine British antiques are renowned for.
It can be quite the workout doing this heavy waxing; a benefit of which is, it keeps one warm in a cold shop.

Unlike varnishes, wax polish is not a one-time apply-and-forget finish: Wax needs to be replenished at least annually and, in its various forms, can make a significant contribution to the patina on an antique or the aged appearance of a reproduction. The proverb “you can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear” holds just as true for waxing furniture: A beautiful waxy finish is only as good as the surface it’s applied over.

As part of the regular upkeep of my furniture, I have been waxing several items and just finished giving the recently completed walnut serpentine chest its second waxing. The results are subtle, but gratifying.

Jack Plane

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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4 Responses to Waxing Lyrical

  1. Jack, what are you using for your polish/wax?

    Thanks,

    –William

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I use a number of different wax preparations, some commercial and some I blend myself depending on the task at hand and the desired result.

      On more highly polished surfaces such as mid to late eighteenth-century mahogany, I use a shellite (naphtha/lighter fluid) based formulae as the solvent flashes-off quickly. Heavier build waxes based on mineral turpentine are useful for more open grained timbers such as ash, elm and oak.

      I apply some hard wax recipes warm to hot as they are difficult to manipulate in their cooled state and some I add colours and/or pigments to, again, depending on what’s required from them.

      Some commercial furniture waxes are perfectly acceptable, but avoid any claiming to be pure beeswax. Pure beeswax alone is far too soft and sticky and will remain so for a long period, attracting dust and grime in the process.

      Waxing is an art all on its own and can take time to understand and perfect.

      JP

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the reply Jack. I typically use ‘Renaissance Wax’ which is high in carnauba and hence quite hard. I often combine my wax with my final rub out by using pumice and 6-naught steel wool to apply the wax.

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  2. Eric R says:

    The waxing you’ve done to your recent chest came out very nice Jack.
    I built an oak chest and have used Briwax on it with great results.
    I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us Jack.
    Thank you.

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