Wax is the most popular finish for most wood carvings, it is important that you apply it correctly for the best possible results.
There are different types of wax that you can apply on your wood carving. You can buy branded wax such as Minwax 785004444 Paste Finishing Wax or you can buy a beeswax preparation. Both waxes work the same way, so don’t worry about which one you should get.
You can also create your own beeswax polish, we have made a tutorial on that, as a little bonus at the end of the article, check it out if you’re interested!
Without further ado, let’s get into the 6 steps of the perfect wax finish for your wood carving.
There are a variety of methods to help complete your work to the best standard no matter what finish you choose to apply, Sanding is a process for some of them and it has its own process. If you choose to Wax, sanding will help in that preparation and enhance the work further.
Of course, be careful not to sand off some detail you include in your piece. If you are carving something small like a wooden gnome don’t go too harsh on the face as your gnome will look better with a nose rather than without one.
Depending on the size, roughness, and desired quality of your project you will need to use a succession of differing sandpapers to achieve the finish you want beginning with a course paper, a medium paper and for the final finish, a smooth one. An 80 to 120 grit for rapid removal, around 150 to 240 grit for medium and 320grit or 0000 steel wool for final finish. It is important to work as much with the grain as possible. Remember that one stroke across the grain takes ten strokes with it to correct.
When you have got it smooth enough and to your satisfaction, dampen the work with a damp cloth, this will raise the grain and when it has dried off a light sanding with either fine paper of steel wool will complete the job. You can also raise the grain with methylated spirits or paint thinner to the same effect, these will also help degrease the work from the natural oils secreted from your hands.
The advantage of steel wool is that it can be used as a pad and will follow the contours of an irregular carved surface better than a rigid paper which will tend to rub off the most prominent features.
The goal is to make a smooth feel that will both look good and feel good in the hand ready for waxing process to begin.
An alternative to sanding is burnishing, or you can burnish after sanding to further enhance the work.
This involves rubbing to work with a burnisher, the back of a gouge will do the job very effectively though traditionally the wing bone of a goose was used because of its shape being able to adopt most forms.
Burnishing compresses to surface of the timber to a beautiful sheen, this is more durable than you think and after sealing with wax or other means looks really good and is the most tactile finish of all with the added advantage of the wood keeping much of its original color.
3. Remove Wood Dust
Burnishing does not create dust of course but if you have chosen to sand your work, you will need to remove the debris so created.
The best way to do it is firstly by using a soft brush, (a makeup brush is ideal) or by blowing, either by mouth direct or blowing through a drinking straw for awkward places. If you are lucky enough to have an air compressor, blast it off with compressed air.
You could, of course, go the opposite way and suck with a vacuum cleaner. A soft cloth will often suffice but it will have to be cotton-rich and snag-free, an old tee shirt will do. A yellow duster is not good for this as it can leave yellow threads on the work.
4. Apply the wax
When applying wax, use a soft cloth to apply, you can also use a toothbrush for smaller areas or for awkward detail on your wood carving, this will prevent clogging in those areas and keep them crisp.
The general rule is to apply the wax thinly with a circular motion regardless of the direction of the grain. The idea is that you want to scrub the wax into the grain especially for the first coat. If you dampen your cloth with pure turpentine (not substitute) first, this will help with penetration and flow.
You will be applying multiple coats, so don’t worry too much about the first coat being too thin, you probably want it more on the thin side rather than thick; if you put too much wax on it will clog as it dries, especially in areas of small detail and be difficult to buff up.
5. Wait For The Wax To Dry
Read on the back of the packaging how long your wax has to dry for.
Usually, it is no longer than 15-20 minutes per coat, however, keep in mind that this can vary by a few minutes depending on the humidity and temperature of the room, as well as the type of wood that you are using.
Some waxes take less to dry with very few brands only needing a few minutes before you can apply the next coat.
After the first coat is properly dry, buff it up with a soft cloth.
Polishing the wood in between layers will give it a smoother surface, the frictional heat generated by rubbing will harden the wax to allow the next coat to ‘take’ better and you would be advised to take your time with this and be patient.
The shine will gradually improve until you are satisfied with the result. Usually, 2 or 3 applications are enough for the depth of the shine to be established.
Pros and Cons of finishing with wax
As previously mentioned, wax is the most common finish that woodcarvers use. However, that does not mean it is the best.
It is very simple to apply, is inexpensive and generally looks good on all projects, with that said, there are alternatives to wax such as:
- Cellulose spray, available in aerosol form
- Oil finish, the best being raw Linseed and including Tung oil and Danish oil
There are others as well as some variations on each of the above, we have a whole separate article How To Finish a Wood Carving – 5 Different ways, that discusses all of the above methods in more detail.
Now onto the pros and cons of finishing with wax
Wax is inexpensive and is like a universal finish for any project that you create whether it is in the style of relief, chip carving, or traditional whittling.
Other advantages of wax include that you can control how much it shines by the amount force that you buff it with after application.
Lastly, wax takes much faster to apply. With some alternative methods taking several days, wax takes a maximum of 15-20 minutes per layer, and usually does not require more than an hour to complete the whole finish start to end.
The biggest disadvantage of a wax finish is that it is by far not the most durable of finishes. With finishes such as a cellulose spray or some types of oil, the wood will be better protected from physical damage and have higher durability.
Wax has a fair resistance to water, but it is far from perfect. Moisture and direct contact with water will ruin your piece over time, there is no way around that if you are using wax.
It follows then that Wax is not very suitable for items that are placed outside. For outside wood carvings, we have a completely separate article “3 Easy Steps to Seal an Outdoor Wood Carving” that discusses other finishing methods that have better durability if left outdoors. Wax is mostly a good finish for items that are meant to stay inside your home.
A wax finish needs to be maintained, every few weeks is adequate depending on where the work is kept and in what environment.
To conclude, wax is a very simple and common treatment to finish your project. However, it is important to know about other alternatives and their benefits. Try experimenting around and see what comes out of it!
Does Wax Brand Matter
There are loads of different brands of wax that you can find on the market with some differentiation, but they all do the same thing anyway as long as they are made of pure beeswax.
The way wax works, is it slightly gets absorbed into the surface of the wood which gives a slight color change. The wax that has not been absorbed leaves a protective layer for your wood and will allow layers to be built up to achieve a pleasing depth of finish.
This essentially means that it doesn’t matter what wax you buy. Most likely you will notice a difference by using different wax brands, but it will not be much better or worse, just a little different from one another. Avoid waxes that contain silicones, they are usually detrimental to the work. Some waxes are colored but you will get better results with naturally clear wax.
Some wax brands that consider themselves more “luxury” can be double or triple the price for a slight change to the process such as quicker drying or giving a nicer smell the fragrance being created by using expensive essential oils.
We would highly recommend not going through the unnecessary expense for a nicer smell… But that would be your choice.
How to make your own Beeswax
While you can purchase beeswax there is a benefit to creating your own as you can play with the consistency of beeswax and its density.
One of the best ways to do it is to mix beeswax , available from beekeepers or found in stores, with Pure Turpentine (not substitute). The best ratio of the two is about 50/50 but you will perhaps have to experiment with this a little.
Mix the two by gently heating over a very low heat, avoiding a naked flame if possible, be careful not to reach high temperatures as beeswax is easy to catch fire especially with the turpentine, the real accelerant.
When cool, check the consistency as it should be creamy in texture so that a wipe with a rag picks it up, if it is too stiff, repeat the procedure adding more turpentine until correct. It is very important to store it in an airtight tin or jar as the turpentine will quickly spirit off. Every time you load your cloth, put the lid back on to keep it moist.
The mixture will have a wonderful smell and a great texture, this will also be a lot cheaper then if you buy beeswax from suppliers.
We have also found an alternative recipe online, while we are fully convinced that our recipe is better, but here is an alternative for you to compare.
For an alternative recipe on beeswax you will need the following ingredients:
- Paper/clean board
- Glass jar (with good heat resistance)
- Carnauba Wax
- Pure Turpentine (not substitute)
- Hot water
Check out this video below for an instruction of how to do it!
Happy Wax Finishing
This was our complete guide on finishing your wood carving with wax. We hope you found this article useful and that your wood carving will have a spectacular finish!