All About Waxes
Many different kinds of natural and synthetic waxes are mixed into commercially available polishes used for furniture. In and of themselves, waxes offer little protection against moisture, chemical and abrasion damage to the surface of wood, and for that reason they cannot be considered stand-alone finishes applied to raw wood surfaces. But applied over other finishes, such as lacquer, shellac, and varnish, hand-rubbed wax finishes make the surface feel, look, and smell good.
Makers of wax polishes rarely list the full ingredients on the label of the container, so it’s not possible to know precisely what is in the can. Wax blends are usually emulsified with petroleum distillates to make a paste that is easy to apply, so they are classified as evaporative finishes. Among the most commonly used waxes, commercial blends often contain the following:
Carnauba — a hard, quick-drying wax derived from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees. Carnauba can be buffed to a glossy sheen; it usually dries as a whitish film.
Beeswax — a soft, sweet-smelling wax made of the secretions produced by honeybees; contaminants in beeswax give it a distinctive yellow to orange color.
Paraffin — a soft wax gathered as a byproduct of distilling petroleum; also used to make candles.
Shellac wax — the residue left over from dewaxing shellac.
Candelilla — a vegetable wax derived from shrubs that grow in the deserts of Mexico and the southeastern United States.
Ouricury — another hard, glossy wax derived from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees; very similar to carnauba wax, but darker in color.
Polyethylene — a synthetic wax made from petroleum-based hydrocarbon polymers.
In the preparation of commercial blends, manufacturers sometimes add pigments and dyes to give waxes a darker color when they dry, which makes them more suitable to use over the finishes on dark-colored woods such as walnut, or mahogany that has been stained.