Hand-Rubbed Wax and Shellac Finishes

Thoughts and information on applying this beautiful, but less moisture-resistant, finish. May 24, 2006

I'm building a game table out of Indian rosewood which I will then need to finish. The rosewood has been air drying for about 35 years and is resting at about 5% M.C. Overall the wood isnít very oily due to its age, however the darker streaks in the more quartered sections still are. I'm thinking of just waxing. I really like the old world look and feel of the waxed finish along with the ability of the client to maintain it. On my test pieces (sanded to 600 then burnished with 0000 steel wool then buffed with cloth) I have rubbed dark Briwax into the grain while warming the surface with a heat gun to help saturate the poores, let dry, then buffed to a nice polish. It looks great. I was wondering if a viscous thin cut of shellac on the raw wood before the waxing would be advisable to enhance the depth and to offer slightly more protection and seal? Any thoughts on this procedure would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Neither the wax nor the shellac nor any combination thereof will offer any significant protection against moisture. They can be beautiful though. Look into French polishing, which combines wax and shellac to create a highly polished surface. If you want moisture exclusion capability you need more modern finishes.

From contributor B:
I like the wax finish and your application. If your client knows it isn't a bar-top finish, and is willing to re-wax occasionally, go for it! To contributor A: There is no wax in French polish! It is pure shellac, traditionally applied by hand padding with an oil lubricant. It can be and often is waxed after, but the wax is not part of the finish.

From contributor C:
Unless it is dewaxed shellac, there will be wax in it.

From contributor B:
To contributor C: I don't know if one can French polish without dewaxed shellac. It would never occur to me to try it. I would think it would be a sub-par finish, even if it worked.

From the original questioner:
It seems to me that shellac and wax go well together. The reason I was thinking about using the shellac as a sealer coat is that it binds well to the oily wood and would also add some depth to the rosewood without completely filing the pores. I realize that there are modern finishes that offer more protection; I just donít like the look and feel of a finish that sits on the surface as opposed to a finish that is rubbed into the wood. I will do more testing.

From contributor A:
To contributor B: You may be right about the French polish. I don't use it but have read that it is done with a wax and oil and shellac combination. I understood that the internal wax content was the truly unique feature of this finish. I have also heard that it is a very poor finish for moisture protection. I have often used a wipe-on formula of polyurethane (poly with added thinner and a little raw linseed oil) to simulate the oil finish look. I used to use a tung-oil/polyurethane blend but have found that it is simpler and better to use the thinned poly with a dab of linseed to give more working time. The real key is to have a very thin finish film on the wood surface and good penetration into the surface. These very thin films are not nearly as protective as thicker ones either, though I think they are still superior to oil finishes.

From contributor D:
ML Campbell makes a sealer for oily woods. I believe it is acid catalyzed and suitable for use under conversion varnish. I would clean the entirety of the surface well with lacquer thinner, after your final sanding. Apply the sealer, however many coats they recommend - likely only one. Then coat with Krystal dull sheen. This is a superb product and you will not be disappointed, unless you sprayed it without a good mask.