When you think of traditional wood finishes, applying oil or wax comes to mind. While there other methods of finishing your wood, In this article, we are going to put the two traditional finishes to the test, waxing vs. oiling wood.
Wood finishes enhance the look of wood and give it protection from the elements. But they all provide different results from one another, that is why you can not pick the best one for all kinds of projects that you are working on. Your choice of finish will highly depend on the type of wood you’re using, the size of your project, whether it will stay indoors or outside, and a lot of other factors.
There are many chemically synthesized finishes that are durable, but traditional woodworkers ideally prefer oil and wax for the best results. We call these finishes classics because they have been used for centuries by people for strengthening wood. One of the main reasons for that, is oil and wax can be sourced from nature itself. Although now, thanks to modern technology, they can also be synthesized.
Without further ado, let us compare and contrast the two finishes!
Pros and Cons of Oil Finishes vs. Wax Finishes for Wood
As we said earlier, the reason people use different finishes is that they give different results. They will all provide a distinct quality to the wood, strengthen it and enhance its look. Wax and oil both do that, but both of them have their goods and bads.
Dubbed the classic finish, wax has been used by woodworkers for centuries now. Following are the pros and cons of using wax on wood as a finishing.
Pros of Using Wax
- Wax, if applied properly, provides the wood with a shiny surface.
- It can be used over other kinds of finishes to give wood another layer of protection.
- If sourced naturally it is non-toxic, for example, beeswax. This makes it safe for use in kitchen utensils.
- It gives the wood a silky smooth feel to the touch, making it a great choice for furniture.
- It sits over the wood compared to other finishes, where it is absorbed by it. This keeps the wood in its most natural state possible.
Cons of Using Wax
- Wax is brittle, it can be easily scratched and damaged.
- It is not suitable for applications where heat is a big factor since wax melts off easily.
- Not good for rainy weather either, since it is superficial protection that sits atop.
- Needs to be reapplied frequently compared to oil and other finishes.
- It becomes dull after time, which requires you to reapply another coat on it.
Oils are a great way to preserve woods and also give them a beautiful look. Here are some of the pros and cons of using oil on wood.
Pros of Using Oils
- Oils, when sourced from natural sources, are eco-friendly and also non-toxic. People often use them on kitchen utensils like wooden spoons and bowls.
- Oil is absorbed by the wood, which prevents it from aging and elements like rot and water.
- Oil also preserves wood from sunlight degradation, oxidation, and water.
- It works well with some other kinds of finishes, like varnish, polyurethane, and wax.
- It gives the wood grain a deeper, more beautiful look.
- Great for dense woods.
- It is easy to reapply, just sand out any scratches and reapply a few coats of oil.
Cons of Using Oils
- Oil finishes are generally less tough and more prone to scratches and dents than other finishes.
- At times oils can change the color of the wood to a deeper shade.
- Needs to be reapplied every 6 months or so depending on the oil. Some oil finishes last longer like tung oil is considered one of the best.
- It can take a huge amount of time to dry and at times requires more than one coat.
- It does not give a shine on porous woods, as much as it does on dense ones.
Wax Vs. Oil for Different Wood Uses
If you are not sure whether you should use oil or wax to finish the wood, here is a table that shows which one of these finishes is suitable for the different projects listed below:
|Indoor Wooden Objects||x|
|Outdoor Wooden Objects||x|
So, there is kind of a tug of war between people who use wax vs. those who use oil on floorings. Wax gives wood flooring a glistening sheen, that is why people wax their wood floorings often. Though a good finish would be the combination of both, where the oil preserves wood from within and wax provides the satin feel and glossy finish.
For furniture mostly oil-based finishes are applied since it is absorbed by the wood helping it from drying out too much. While if you have a trophy case or a shelf, you can also wax it to give it a shiny look and feel. Wax gets dull over time and needs to be reapplied very often, so it is not a good choice for furniture overall.
If you are talking about wooden objects that you keep in your home on display, then wax is a good choice. For outdoor wooden objects, oil would be the best finish since it is much more resistant to heat.
If you are using wooden cutlery like spoons and forks, then consider using oil as a finish. Natural oils are non-toxic and so great for use on items that you use to consume food.
The same goes for utensils like cutting boards because reapplying oil is much easier on such objects. Cutting boards are often the object of abuse by knife marks and such. Wax wouldn’t last long on such objects at all.
Best Oil Finishes
While many kinds of oils are applied to wood, the best are tung, linseed, and Danish oil. These three are the most popular oil finishes used by woodworkers around the world.
Linseed oil is pretty much the most popular choice of oil-based wood finish on the planet. It is very readily available throughout the globe, very inexpensive compared to other oil finishes, and easy to apply. It is made out of flax seeds or linseed. If you are looking to purchase linseed oil, we highly recommend the 872G1S Linseed Oil that you can get from Amazon, we personally used this brand, liked it, and can now recommend it to you.
Raw linseed oil takes a huge amount of time to cure and dry, thus most people avoid using it in that form. It also tends to make the wooden surface sticky as well. It takes around 3-7 days for a raw linseed oil coat to dry depending on the weather conditions.
While boiled linseed oil is the more preferred form for use as a finish. Double-boiled or polymerized linseed oil has been vacuum cooked making it thicker. In this condition it dries off more easily, taking roughly 12-24 hours for one coat to dry off.
When linseed oil is applied, it gives a golden hue to the wood, which slowly turns amber as it ages. This makes it exceedingly popular with some people and disliked by others.
It is also pretty much resistant to water and alcohol. This is why it is such a sought-after wood finish by woodworkers.
Tung oil is extracted from the tung tree seed, which is native to Asia. Pure tung oil is more durable than linseed oil and has more water resistance as well. This is why it is often applied on wooden boats, where they are still used.
It does not darken wooden objects which is a plus point for a few people who dislike the coloration that linseed oil brings to the table. It stays the same color for a long time. It is also a great choice for wooden cutlery and utensils thanks to it being non-toxic and water-resistant.
Compared to other oils, tung oil dries up way faster, making it easier to apply. People also use tung oil on hardwood flooring which can protect it from spillage.
Applying tung oil to wooden furniture gives it a matte finish and an antique look.
Danish oil is a mixture of either tung or linseed oil with spirits and varnish to give it a long-lasting property. These are usually the contents of Danish oil but the composition can vary depending on the manufacturer.
It is a pretty popular finish for wooden countertops and wooden utensils thanks to its water-resistant properties. Though you should check the composition of the oil before applying it to items that you will use to consume food.
But in most cases it is safe and people often apply it on wooden toys as well. It has very little odor when you apply it and loses that smell completely when it dries.
One downside is that it gives the wood a darker finish, but some people may even like that so that totally depends on the person.
Best Wax Finish
Most wax finishes are usually made with either beeswax or carnauba wax. Though chances are there might be other kinds of chemical waxes in their composition. Beeswax is more susceptible to damage compared to one made from carnauba palm. If you don’t know how to apply wax to wood, here is a helpful wax finish tutorial that can better equip you with that knowledge.
Here are the best waxes for wood finish available in the market.
Minwax Paste Wax
Minwax paste wax is one of the top brands when it comes to wax-based wood finishes. It has an amazing feel, providing one of the shiniest looks to wood once applied. It is also very easy to apply, just requires a cloth to spread on the desired object.
It is a semi-gloss finish, which is perfect for antique furniture, paneling, and doors. It has a slight odor to it, which some people might not appreciate. Also on wood with a lighter color, it gives a slight golden or tan hue.
It dries off fast, which is a great thing. Another plus point is that it is also very smooth to the touch. While being one of the best brands of wood wax, it is considerably affordable.
Though it is not food grade safe, it is best to avoid using it near the kitchen.
Howard Citrus Shield Paste Wax
One of the most versatile waxes in the market, the Howard Citrus Shield Paste Wax is great for almost everything. It contains natural carnauba wax which is super durable and water-resistant. This makes the Howard Citrus Shield Paste Wax great for furniture, flooring, doors, and most wooden surfaces.
The only exception would be wooden countertops in the kitchen and utensils. It has UV inhibitors as its components, giving it protection from sun degradation. Carnauba wax is already plenty heat resistant, which is why people use it in wooden pipes in its natural form.
It is free of silicone or linseed oil additives and also provides a very beautiful lustrous sheen. You can also buy this paste wax in 5 different color hues if you are a fan of that.
Colored and Scented Waxes
Colored waxes are those which provide a light hue of color when it dries off. Most of the time, this is just for show, it does not add anything to the result of the finishing itself. If you are a fan of colored hued on your wood, then these are great finishes. Though a minor warning, they might cost more than clear waxes that are available in the market.
The same is the case with scented waxes, they are pretty much the same as clear ones. They provide you with similar results as clear wax which is odorless. But it is pretty expensive, so if you want to save yourself some money, just skip it entirely. It is completely not worth the extra money to have a slight scent to the finish.
Applying Wax Over Oil Finish
Wax sits atop the surface and does not get absorbed at all by the wood. It creates a layer over the wooden surface and gives protection. Meanwhile, oil is absorbed into the wood and strengthens it from within. It gives protection to wood from aging and rot, it is also good for protection against sun degradation.
While both of these finishes are somewhat incomplete, the best thing about wax is that you can apply it over other finishes. In fact, most people apply wax over the oil finish to give it an added layer of protection. With a wax finish on the wood over the oil, you will get a lustrous shiny finish that you couldn’t with oil alone.
Sanding Wood Before Applying Oil and Wax Finish
Once you are done with any piece of work, you need to sand it to give it a smooth feel. But is it important to sand your piece before applying wax or oil finish?
When it comes to an oil finish on a wooden surface, you need to ensure it is thoroughly sanded. The reason behind it is, you have to sand the surface to even out the pores of the wood. The oil is absorbed into the wood through the pores on its surface.
Though one thing to be extra careful about is to ensure you don’t use fine-grit sandpaper. The reason behind it is simple when you sand too finely, the pores get blocked off. So the oil does not get absorbed properly into the wood and gives an uneven finish.
Just 150-200 grit sandpaper is more than enough if you are planning on applying an oil finish to your wooden surface.
For waxing though, it is also important to sand the surface of the wood. This allows for even distribution throughout the surface, creating a perfect finish. Just make sure that before waxing, you thoroughly clean off the piece.
- Does wax come in different colors?
Yes, many brands of wax pastes and liquid waxes have products in different colors. Try to match the hue best to that of your wood to get the best results.
- Can you apply wax over other finishes as well?
Yes, you can apply wax over any sort of finish, as it sits on the top of the surface and does not penetrate into the wood. So if there is any other finish already applied, you can add another layer of wax over it to give it more sheen and strength.
- Can you apply natural beeswax as a wood finish?
Yes, beeswax is a natural wax made by honeybees to make honeycombs. So you can use natural beeswax as a wood finish too. Though you might need to use oil before the beeswax to give the wood added protection since other additives in the aftermarket wax products give it strength and durability.
- Can you mix different oils to get a stronger finish?
Danish oil is a prime example of how mixing different oils with additives can give you better results than plain oil itself. Though it might give unexpected results, so be cautious of that, like darker color or longer drying times.
- Can oil finish provide a lustrous finish?
On some hardwoods with a dense structure, it can provide you with a shinier finish.
- Can you use tung and linseed oil as it is in the purest natural form?
While it will take longer to cure and dry off, you can finish wood with raw linseed and tung oil. The only reason these are boiled and polymerized is to thicken them so they can dry off faster. Otherwise, most brands don’t add any other components to these oils.
Wax and oil are traditional wood finishes that people love to apply to their furniture and wood carvings. Waxing or oiling, both provide different results and should be used for different wooden applications. In some instances though, you can use them together to get even better results. Just make sure to not use waxes on wooden utensils and cutlery that isn’t food safe.