Durability of Wax Finishes

Traditional wax finishes such as beeswax or carnauba wax can last for many years if not exposed to wear or chemicals. September 5, 2010

I have a client who is requesting a wax only finish over quartered walnut veneer laid up on MDF for paneling. Because its paneling and will never be touched or get wet I'm ok with it but I want to write a disclaimer about wear, maintenance, renewability, etc. I have almost no experience with a wax only finish so I'm looking for advice about application/polishing of large panels plus the disclaimer. Any help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor H:
Wax will eventually dissipate and leave no protective finish and it would probably be better if the panel was in a place where it got touched. At least it would get some oil protection from people’s hands. When the first Danish Modern furniture came to America it had an oil finish, with thought that in Denmark everyone oils their furniture at least yearly. Not in America so the next boat load of Danish Modern furniture had a flat Catalyzed Lacquer finish on it that protected the veneer, which only us refinishes know about.

This is what I normally do when a customer wants us to "Only Wax" or "Just Oil" and the request is for a political statement and not for health reasons. Wax only or oil only take far more time and effort than most people are willing to give to a wall panel – re-coat every few years. Also remember that Shellac is technically a wax!

From contributor J:
Try to convince your client that the panels need a coat of oil first (tung oil or equivalent) followed by multiple coats of wax. I favor Liberon waxes and they come in various colors. Large panels are very difficult to wax and make sure your client knows that it will have a sheen level above a satin, approaching semi-gloss lustre.

From contributor W:
Wax finish is a traditional finishing material. It does not give a lot of protection for the substrate underneath. It will give a smooth surface, and can reduce the scratches possibility but it cannot stay for a long time. After about a year the wax will be gone, and wax needs to be applied to the surface again.

From contributor J:
I'm just finishing a job doing this. I used polymerized tung oil on it and I'm still deciding on the wax. Liberon Black Bison was a pain to apply, so I'll likely use Howard's Feed-N-Wax.

From contributor S:
Natural waxes do not dissipate, disappear or sublime under any normal use. Removal or loss occurs through mechanical means such in polishing or rubbing or through chemical removal. Short of a house fire or an overly touchy housekeeper, a wax left undisturbed can remain intact for many hundreds of years. Shellac is technically not a wax. While it contains its own natural wax it is only about 5%+/- of the total. The remainder is an insect resin secreted by the lac bug.

The best wax I have ever found is "Beauté" made by Roger Reed Wax. It is an emulsion of the natural waxes; beeswax, candelilla, and carnauba, with the consistency of whipped butter. It applies and works easily then dries to a hard satin sheen. You can increase or decrease the sheen.

From contributor R:
Tried and True wood finish is like whipped butter or thick peanut butter. It contains oil and beeswax. Over time, it will leave a nice flat sheen. I have applied it to large veneer panels (two feet by ten feet) which are exposed to sunlight all day long and it lasted for four years before another application was needed. I did not apply another wax over the Tried and True.

From contributor K:
Contributor S is right, a natural wax like beeswax will last. In fact, it will outlast the owners. As noted and absent mechanical or chemical wear, it can last a thousand years (leave a chunk in a pyramid and come back in a thousand years and check on it, if you don't believe me).

There are many products with bees wax in them. You can even make your own with warm turpentine (find a beekeeper and save a bundle on the price of your beeswax).

Carnuba wax is the go to wax for a hard finish. You'll find it in most automotive waxes for that reason. That's the reason many floor and other waxes brag about it being one of their contents. Of course, to the public, it's just an exotic name. All that said, I'm a fan of the tung oil suggestion.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for that advice and I'll look up the supplier. I decided to go with Meguiar's Gold paste wax. We use it on the machines and because it was handy I used it for a sample. I'm not usually that laissez-faire about samples and just wanted to get something to them quickly and they happened to approve it. I talked to a couple of wax techs who told me that after initial off gassing the wax that remains is inert and will last.