Wax finishes are sold in liquid, paste, and solid stick forms. They are formulated in a host of colors; from clear, amber, a range of wood tones, and even white. They are derived from a variety of mineral, vegetable, and animal sources. The liquid and paste forms typically contain solvents to soften the wax. Some waxes are hard and some are soft, but all waxes are still softer than lacquers and varnishes.
Waxes provide very little protection against scratches and wear. They do not penetrate into the wood but rather sit on top of the surface. Because of that it prevents the wood from oxidizing. Waxes also do not provide much in the way of heat protection as most have low melting temperatures. They are great for shedding water and can be applied over other finishes.
There are five types of waxes; insect, vegetable, mineral, petroleum, and synthetic.
Advantages of using wax:
- Mildly water resistant
- Moderately resistant to acids and alkali
- Does not color the finish of the wood
- Easy and quick to apply
- Very forgiving during application
- Easy to re-apply if the original finish becomes worn or damaged
- Non-toxic and food-safe (Once cured)
The disadvantages are:
- Does not provide protection against scratches and wear
- No heat protection
- Damaged by alcohol
Beeswax is derived from the bees honeycombs. It is harvested by removing the honeycombs and extracting the remaining honey by centrifuging. The left over honeycomb is melted down to form the beeswax. Contaminants such as pollen, gums, and resins add various colors to the wax. Beeswax is a medium hard wax and is used as a base ingredient in many traditional wax finishes.
Carnauba wax is obtained from the outer waxy coating of palm fronds. The wax is separated from the fronds by mechanical beaters. The color of the wax is determined by the age of the leaves when harvested. Pale yellow wax is from new unopened leaves and greenish brown wax is from older leaves that have been exposed to the sun and weather conditions. The pale yellow carnauba wax is considered the highest grade. This wax is the hardest natural vegetable wax and provides a very high gloss.
Candelilla is found in the outer coating of the candelilla shrubs. The wax is extracted by heating the plants in water and adding sulphuric acid. The wax ranges from yellow to tan and is softer than carnauba wax. This wax has a high gloss.
Ouricury wax is obtained from the fronds of the Brazilian feather palm. It is similar to carnauba in its gloss and hardness. Ouricury is darker in color and is sometimes substituted for carnauba when a darker colored wax is desired.
Crude montan wax is a naturally occurring vegetable wax extracted with solvents from lignite coal deposits and peat moss. Refined montan wax has undergone additional processing to remove the resins and asphalt. It is a hard wax, dark brown to a light yellow color. It has a high gloss and a high water repellance. Montan wax does provide a little scuff resistance.
Microcrystalline is a petroleum wax containing branched and cyclic saturated hydrocarbons. It forms a much smaller structure than natural waxes. Microcrystalline has a very high resistance to moisture, alcohol, acids, and finger prints.
Polyethylene is made from selective high or low pressure catalytic polymerization of ethylene feedstocks. Ethylene is produced from natural gas and increase the abrasion resistance of the wood. This wax also helps provide a non-sticky wax surface.