I've been experimenting with finishes on basswood; not an easy task.
Pretty much every oil based stain I've tried leaves the wood blotchy, even with
careful prestaining treatment. Minwax's wipe on poly gives a nice but somewhat
plain look to the wood. Zinser's amber shellac produces a deep yellow tone,
but again, fairly plain.
This afternoon, I was experimenting with wax only over bare wood. Johnson's
paste wax darkens the wood a bit, but not much. Howard's Feed-n-Wax actually
gives the wood a very nice, honey-pine tone, and brings out the grain in the
wood without blotching. By fair, the nicest finish I've been able to get.
I'll leave it overnight after a few coats, to see how much it lightens.
My question: Is using wax only as a finish commonly done? This is for a
display cabinet that will bed handled often. Will the wax finish need to be
reapplied too often to make such a finish practical?
Thanks in advance for experience and thoughts.
For centuries, wax and linseed were the only finishes! You can certainly
build up a good shine with wax, and a tinted wax will deepen the colour.
However, wax attracts dust and grubby handprints, so it will get dirty in
time. Not a problem if you can live with stripping off the old wax every
couple of years or so with white spirit (mineral spirit) and rewaxing. If I
were you I'd experiment with plain teak, tung or danish oil on scrap. Give
it a few coats, then try your tinted wax. At least the oil will give a
protective barrier and prevent the dirt becoming ingrained.
If you do opt to keep the wax, then, after you've given it the two or 3
initial coats that it will probably need, don't wax it too often. A dust
over is all it should need, with a another waxing once or twice a year.
Now or a couple of centuries ago?
With very little effort a glance at just about any piece of woodworking
literature would reveal the fact that wax provides only a tad more
protection for wood then no finish at all would would. Hence it is used as a
finish only in special cases. Turnings come to mind. Wax will, however,
serve nicely to protect other finishes from minor day to day damage.
Interestingly enough the properties of many available finishes can also be
found with the same ease.
Wax on a finish, especially a surface finish, lubricates the finish which
slows the development of dulling micro scratches cause by dust and grit
being scraped across the surface as an object is moved around on it. It will
also, for a short period of time, isolate the surface from spills and keep
sticky things from sticking to the surface. Say, grape jelly for instance.
I might add that I find it extremely hard to believe that any comprehensive
book on woodworking does not contain some form of comparisons for common
Of course they do. But that wasn't the question. None of them specifically
address wax directly on the wood as a finish. And there is very little info on
finishing basswood. Hence, the original post and the details I provided.
And, we also have the specifics of Howard's Feed-N-Wax, which is a combination
of beeswax, carnuba, and orange oil. I offered that info because I was hoping
someone would give me feedback on that product applied to directly to basswood,
or any wood. Longshot, but certainly more likely here than in a woodworking
There isn't a huge base of knowledge on finishing basswood beyond shellac.
Many folks seem to stay away from basswood (carvers aside), because of how
poorly it stains. The standard answer from carvers who work in basswood is
shellac. And that's fine. But I'm experimenting, and the Howard's Feed-N-Wax
produced a respectable looking finish on a test piece. I am wanting to know
the ups and downs of going this route.
FWIW, from looking at endgrain of my test piece, there is no question that the
Howard's product is penetrating the wood. Perhaps that's the orange oil, or
whatever petroleum distilate they use to make this stuff. I may just go this
route on this product, in order to report back to the group in a year or two
whether the finish is holding up. It may be a viable technique for those who
like to work in basswood.
Thanks again for the additional info your provided.
Well, yeah. But those same books also do not provide any information on the use
of bacon grease as a finish. It is almost as suitable as wax.
"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is
Ah yes, good old bacon grease. Back on the farm of my youth, a big coffee
can of same was kept in the kitchen by the stove, strained and ready for
use. Good for everything from frying eggs, to making a roux, as a down and
dirty lubricant, and mixing with sulfur, and other home made remedies, and
applying to human or animal wounds.
Even had a cousin who tried bacon grease to get that "Conway Twitty curl"
over his forehead, only the girls wouldn't have anything to do with him
because of the dogs always following him around.
OK, basic finishing.
1 - Get Bob Flexner's "understanding wood finishes"
2 - The purpose of finishing wood is to protect it. That it looks nice is a
3 - First choice of selecting a finish is one that will provide a reasonable
amount of protection for the pieces expected use. (it doesn't matter what
kind of wood)
4 - Second choice is the finish that gives you the "look" you want.
5 - There is frequently compromises that have to be made for to meet
criteria 3 & 4. Err on the side of protection.
6 - Rough order of protection for wood finishes on all woods.
Linseed oil (including boiled linseed oil)
Varnish (polyurethane is a varnish and tops the varnish list for
Final note so ODeen doesn't jump on me for my placement of shellac ;-)
The above list is an approximation of overall protection. Each has
individual attributes that may change how it fits into the list depending on
specific expected conditions. None of those reasons include the species of
Because it does not protect from abrasion. Wax protects from moisture,
primarily, and provides a sheen, so that it serves as a polish. The actual
finish protects, at least minimally, from abrasion, and the wax then protects
it from damp and dust, while it provides a nice glow to the overall piece of
"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is
Beeswax was commonly rubbed into carvings way back when to give them some
luster. That's about the limit of the process, however. It gives minimal
protection from liquid, and reapplications - which aren't, really, as the
old layer is dissolved in the new- can keep the surface of the wood from
looking dull as a result of UV and oxidation. Lots of churches over in
Europe with "lime" carvings of some vintage treated with wax and candle
On 30 Jan 2004 21:36:42 GMT, firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Stern) wrote:
In my experience, wax is not a finish, but is something that is more
like a polish, that protects the finish beneath it, in only a minimal
sort of way. It provides an easily applied and maintained film that
satisfies the human need to feel that they are maintaining their
I usually send pieces out of the shop with a lacquer finish on them.
Some customers insist on applying wax to the pieces.
Wooddorkers often love an oil and wax "finish" but I maintain that
this is no finish at all, if a finish is something that is intended to
protect the wood.
For something that is commonly touched, in the way that you describe,
wax will not cut it and you will need a film forming finish to provide
a proper protection.
Shellac, lacquer, various varnishes - these can all be good for
protection and good to the touch.
Thomas J. Watson-Cabinetmaker (ret)
Real Email is: tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet
All I can add is what Bob Flexner states in his (excellent) book.
Wax offers no _protection_, only film building finishes offer that. It
provides zero water protection since when applied it is usually buffed off
and leaves behind a very thin coat (picture in book of water penetraiting
waxed board). The only thing wax does is offer some gloss to a previous
finish and help protect that finish by slickening the surface.
In the case of your wood, all it will do is chage the gloss and feel of the
surface If you leave it on chunky-thick, it will offer some water droplet
protection for a while.
Popular woodworking also had an article (by Bob) on this several issues ago
titled "Wax as a finish" or some such thing.
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