Thursday, January 2, 2014

Applying and Buffing Furniture Wax

You're going to laugh but it is true: almost everything I learnt about applying furniture wax, I learnt from spit polishing my parade shoes as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force.


When I was studying engineering I was awarded a cadetship with the RAAF and on graduation I worked, full time, an an engineering officer on the Orion aircraft at RAAF Base Edinburgh. If you are lucky, (and perhaps a young blonde single female) some of the first things your more experienced Airforce friends will teach you is how to make your combat boots comfortable (wear them in a hot bath) and how to spit polish your shoes for parades.

I have found that furniture waxing and spit polishing have a lot in common. 

A lot of you will already be using furniture wax over your chalk paint and furniture wax has been used for many years to protect timber, varnish and other paints. It is a very old method for creating a soft sheen and a layer of protection against scratches.  

I have written several blog posts about applying wax to painted furniture, what wax to use, methods of applying, ways to antique with dark wax etc. I am continually asked about waxing painted
furniture as there is a skill in applying wax to get a durable sheen. I would like to tell you that waxing is simple but it just isn't. Getting a beautiful durable finish is usually hard work and I think is underestimated by a lot of people.

Does anyone polish shoes anymore? I used to find it very therapeutic. Slow circular polishing motion, building up layer and layer of wax, buffing then applying another later of polish. Once the shoes were spit polished it would then be much quicker each subsequent time to achieve a perfect mirrored sheen. Often a quick polish with pantyhose would be enough to pass muster.

 One of the aims of polishing is to fill in any scratches or indentations (in both the leather and the paint) to allow an even smooth reflection of light - this is what gives it a gloss. If you have obvious brush marks or a rough pitted surface you won't be able to achieve a high sheen. You may not want to either and that's okay. But the smoother your painted surface is, the shinier you can make your waxed surface.  I have found that sanding with very fine sandpaper or a smooth sanding sponge will give you a sleeker finished surface once you apply the wax.

After sanding and applying furniture wax, make sure the surface is clean and dust free by wiping it down with a damp, but not wet, cloth. (Tack cloths are great for this). Don't worry about non-waterbased marks as the solvents in the wax will help remove these.

The biggest mistake that people make when applying furniture wax, is applying too much at once.  Wax will stick well to furniture but it isn't very good at sticking to itself so it will just rub off if you apply too much and you have wasted your effort and supplies. It also makes the whole process just harder than it needs to be.

You want to keep on building up thin layers of wax until you have a completely smooth surface that gives the glossy shine. It's the same process as shining shoes as polishing furniture - lots of time and effort to make a beautiful smooth shine.

With a soft clean cloth or waxing brush, apply the furniture wax by dipping the cloth or brush into the can of wax. Rub the wax vigorously and spread it on thinly. Next is to buff. Wait until the solvents in the furniture wax have evaporated before buffing. The timing will be determined by what kind of solvent is in the wax, the ambient temperature, the humidity, how much wax you have applied etc. There is no "set" time.

Once the wax is ready to buff (ie it's no longer tacky to touch, which generally is after 10-15 minutes) use a clean cloth and buff the surface. Buffing lightly will produce a satin sheen; while more buffing can produce a higher sheen or even a gloss that is like glass. 

If you try and buff the wax too soon, before the solvent has properly evaporated, you will basically be stripping the wax from the surface. This is the reason a poorly waxed surface appears to have dull and shiny areas. If the solvent in the wax has not fully evaporated, the cloth will pick up the solvent and will remove any dry wax as you buff the surface. On the other hand, if your wax is left on too long, it is just more effort to buff out. Both these problems can easily be rectified by applying another coat of wax.

My advice is to not rush the waxing process. I will often leave the cabinet I'm working on in the hallway and every time I walk by I will buff the top of the cabinet. This results in a beautiful glass like surface.

The best advice is to keep on practicing.

Fiona x


  1. i love the way wax look when it is buffed- seeing that sheen makes me happy! i am a weirdo.

  2. Thanks for sharing Fiona, I've been struggling a little lately with getting a nice sheen

  3. What great advice and love your table. Thrilled to find and follow your blog this morning!!

  4. Love your work and your blog!!! I cant get a shine when I finish is rather cloudy..any suggestions to help make it shine would be much appreciated!!! Thanks!


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