Restorative Waxes and Wax Infills

MPF Conservation specializes in antique furniture restoration, furniture repair, antique upholstered furniture, and traditional woodworking.  This page documents various types of wax finishes and how they are used alone or with other finishes.

Mitchell creating wax with turpentine as a carrier, right. Hearst Castle‘s
Italian Prei Dieu (Prayer Bench), below left, is an example of a waxed finish.

Waxes have been used throughout history as a protective medium on wooden objects. Unlike oils, there is little polymerization of wax finishes precisely because of their low oil content, which makes them easier to remove and/or readily amended with fresh coats which will amalgamate (intermix) with previous coatings. Multiple historic coatings become one single protective coating.

Traditionally beeswax was the primary wax; when amended with turpentine (derived from balsam) the turpentine acts as a carrier and it will catalyze as an oil might, turning into a synergyzed protective coating, a form of which is discussed below.

The drawback to using beeswax by itself is that it is not viscous, becomes soft at low temperatures, can trap polluting particles within its coating and can attract certain pests.

Carnauba, right, is a wax which, when rendered into its basic wax constituents is very hard, melts at very. high temperatures, and can be combined with other carriers to form excellent wax coatings.

There are now many commercial waxes which are strong and can be used, though an owner or curator should ask a conservator should before using a wax on an antique finish.

Viscous Tree Resin Wax

Though we sometimes use commercial waxes, we also make many of our own waxes. The wax above is made with wax pellets mixed with three tree resins intended for our Oil Varnish, creating a viscous wax for furniture.

Sealing, Filling Bulky Waxes

These waxes are used to repair and seal areas, in this example above on the painted finish on the Imperial furniture at the Crater Lake Science and Learning Center at Crater Lake NP, finished chair shown left.

Waxes used in this way protect the life of the furniture as they help to seal open wood and keep pests from easily entering. The slurry of the above tree resin wax was amended with carnauba to become a thicker repair wax. This was applied and worked into the open grain, then wiped off. In some cases the wax was buffed to a warm finish, depending upon where it was applied. Under the seat and on the open grain feet, it was wiped and left to cure.

For discussion on other types of finishes, visit the pages below: