The Dressing Wax

This is a simple home-made product consisting of (by volume): three parts of paraffin wax, one part of carnauba wax, and six parts of pure turpentine. These proportions are not critical. The ingredients should be heated together in a deep metal pan over an indirect heat source. If you use a naked flame as your heat source and fail to give the job 100% of your attention, it is very likely that it will catch fire at some point. The mixture is highly inflammable and difficult to control once ignited.

Fumes will be produced as the temperature of the ingredients increases, so you should work in a well ventilated space. When the waxes have melted completely and been mixed with the turpentine, withdraw a small sample and allow it to cool to room temperature. More turpentine may be stirred in at any time to soften the product and give it greater cleansing power. Harder wax forms a thicker layer and produces a deeper shine, but the polishing process will require greater physical effort.

Usefulness and limitations of wax as a wood finish
Light reflects well from smooth surfaces, but the ultimate degree of smoothness of an object depends on the fineness of its structure. Most woods are of relatively coarse structure but their surfaces may be made smoother by applying various coatings. Liquid coatings like gloss lacquers, varnishes and paints flow out and solidify to produce continuous smooth surfaces. Furniture polishing waxes cannot produce a durable high gloss effect because the final film is of only minimal thickness and strength.

Wax finishes make wood look well dressed but they have no weather resistance. Surfaces subject to handling or wear will need to be dressed more often. Wax is useful as a corrosion inhibitor on metal surfaces and as a lubricant for the work surfaces of woodworking machines and hand planes. Wood screws can be made easier to drive in if a little wax is applied first. If suitable dyes are added, The Dressing Wax can be used as a shoe polish.

Polishing equipment
Application and buffing of The Dressing Wax are best done using natural fibre (e.g. cotton) cloths. Most manmade fibre cloths are less absorbent and do not charge with polish and then meter out the wax in such an effective way. The wax spreads more easily if the application cloth is slightly damp. Soak the cloth in clean cold water, then wring it out well. The polish is better applied to complex or rough surfaces (such as carved wood) using a brush with strong but supple bristles. Natural bristles are likely to work better than those made of a synthetic material. The bristles should not become clogged if you ensure that the wax is worked out of them thoroughly during each polishing session. Use the brush for initial buffing as well as wax application. If clogging does occur the wax may be dissolved away using turpentine.

Polishing procedure
Apply the wax in a thin, even layer. If polishing previously finished surfaces, continue to 'rub out' the wax to produce a smooth surface as the solvent dries and the wax hardens. When applied to completely bare wood, the solvent in the wax will be absorbed by the wood and then released only slowly, thus delaying the hardening of the wax. If this is the case, wait until the wood looks dry before continuing to rub out. When an even lustre has been obtained, change to a drier cloth or a brush, and buff the wax to produce the full depth of shine. Repeated applications of polish is unlikely to increase the thickness of the finish significantly owing to its solvent property.

If working on large items, aim to complete the polishing processes on limited zones rather than on the whole job at once. If the wax is spread over too large an area before buffing is started, the wax first applied may become too hard for it to be rubbed out easily. If this does happen, use either more soft wax or some pure turpentine applied to a cloth and rub vigorously on small areas to dissolve and thin out the previous coating, then wipe away the excess wax.

The aim is not to polish the wood per se, but to refine the surface of the applied wax so that it shines.

Store The Dressing Wax in a cool place. If the wax in its container tends to dry out over time, or you require wax of thinner consistency, add a small amount of pure turpentine to the surface layer. Stir it using a small (say, 6 mm diameter) wooden stick.

See also:
Cleaning wooden furniture
Cleaning hard surfaces