How to Wax Furniture
Okay… so you’re having trouble with wax, right? Take a deep breath. No really, take a deep breath… cause I totally know you didn’t just take one. The thing is, using furniture wax is as much about relaxing as it is about anything else. It’s about realizing that wax, while you can make a few mistakes, is part of your artistic vision. So there really isn’t any kind of HUGE mistake that can’t be undone. I’ve seen some things with wax that I didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean they were wrong. I don’t like nuts in my brownies either… but that’s just one girl’s taste buds. I guess what I’m saying is, wax… especially dark wax… is a matter of taste. You just have to please you. So take a deep breath. You’ll get there. I promise.
So let’s review the basics. When you’re using chalk paint, you can choose to wax or not to wax. No one is taking notes, and there are plenty of people who like a unwaxed look. But the reality is, that wax protects your furniture. It deepens the color of the paint, repels water, and it protects the finish. So most people choose to use it.
Ok, sure… but…
Q: Is there a time when I should not use wax?
A: Yes… if you’re doing outdoor furniture. Wax melts in the sun. Wax + sun = mess.
Q: Can I use other protective finishes with chalk paint… like polyurethane or lacquer?
A: Yes. I prefer wax with chalk paint because it’s easier to control the type of finish you want. But if you’re more comfortable, all protective finishes work on chalk paint.
Q: Will wax protect as well as polyurethane?
A: Yes. Wax will cure to a hard finish, repel water and protect the paint from chipping. And wax doesn’t yellow like polyurethane. If you use poly… go with a Polycrylic water based clear finish. You’ll thank me later.
So you’ve decided to go with clear wax… Now what?
Q: Do I have to use the same brand of wax as the chalk paint I choose?
A: No. Some brands claim to have waxes that are designed to work with their brand of paint. But I’ve used many brands of wax that have worked very well without any issues.
Q: What brands of wax can I use with chalk paint?
A: Fat Wax, Cece Caldwell, Maison Blanche and Annie Sloan are boutique brands that work really well. But you can certainly use alternative brands. Briwax, Fides & Sons, Minwax, and Johnson’s Paste wax are just a few options that have been around for decades.
So you’ve painted your furniture with chalk paint, you’ve got your clear wax and you’re ready to wax your heart out. But you still have a few questions.
Q: How long after I paint should I wait to wax?
A: You can wax as soon as the paint is dry.
Q: Do I sand first or wax first?
A: Either. But sanding first can be messy, and you may naturally remove more paint as you wax anyway. So I prefer to wax first and see what happens. I can always sand more afterward. But waxing first also means less dust in the sanding process.
Q: What if I don’t want any distressing. Should I still wax?
A: Yes. If you don’t want any distressing wait for the paint to dry overnight before waxing. It gives the paint time to set, and less chance of natural rub off while waxing.
Q: How should I apply the wax… with a rag, or a brush?
A: Either. Many people swear by the brushes and I admit, they’re great for nooks and crannies. I use an inexpensive chip brush for those. But it’s an added expense for sure. If I had an endless supply of money, I’d probably buy a couple. But on a budget, a wax brush is a luxury I can do without.
Q: How much wax should I use?
A: I’ve heard lots of people say, “…the wax goes so far, you don’t need much at all.” But too often, in attempt to conserve, I’ve seen waxed pieces that are really streaky. If the paint has streaky color variations or looks patchy, you probably didn’t use enough. By the same token, if you can see the wax or it’s very tacky to the touch, you have used too much. The goal is to rub it in, letting the paint absorb the moisture of the wax, until the paint is one uniform color and the piece feels smooth to the touch. Rub until the wax is gone. You may need to get an extra rag. But keep at it. Waxing is the most time consuming part of refinishing your furniture. But it’s worth it.
Q: What if the furniture feels tacky?
A: There may be some slight tackiness. Just like if you put on body lotion, you may feel it. But that will go away within a couple of days. If it doesn’t, keep buffing until it does.
Q: Should I let the wax sit a little while, or just wipe it off?
A: Wax isn’t like a marinade. You don’t need to let it sit on the furniture to make it work, and it’s not really about wiping it on and wiping it off either. It’s really more about rubbing it in. It’s about making the wax part of the furniture. So apply the wax and rub it in until it disappears.
If you’re new to wax, you may want to get the hang of the clear wax before you go any further. Just like anything new, you’ll agonize over whether you’re doing it right the first few times, and then suddenly, it will all come together and you’ll be saying, “that’s right, yo!… I’m a waxing goddess.” I promise.
But let’s face it, we creative types need to create. Pretty soon you’ll get bored with clear and you’ll want to move on with dark waxes, and crackle finishes, and stencils and quantum physics. If you get to quantum physics, you’ve gone too far and it’s time for a glass of wine.
But if you’ve conquered clear wax, you’re probably ready to give the dark wax a try. So what are you worried about? You’ve got this. Relax and dive in. Right?
Q: Ok, but should I still use the clear wax if I’m using dark wax?
A: If you’re using ASCP or Cece Caldwell waxes… then YES. I like to think of clear wax as a way of preparing the canvas. The first coat of wax, no matter the color, will soak into the pores of the paint. If dark wax is absorbed first, it will stain the furniture and make it impossible to manipulate the color and finish. The clear wax acts as a barrier to the paint so it’s easier to control the dark wax. I haven’t used Maison Blanche waxes yet, but I’m excited…. They have several colors that reportedly can be used first without a clear coat. So I’ll get back to you on that when I use them.
Q: Can I apply the dark wax immediately after the clear wax?
A: Wait for the wax to dry in between coats. But usually by the time I’ve finished an entire coat of clear and rubbing it in well… it’s dry enough. Waiting an hour wouldn’t hurt. But you don’t have to let it cure… just dry.
Q: Is there any way to make the dark wax lighter?
A: Yes. Mix clear wax with dark wax in a separate container to lighten the wax.
Q: How long should I leave the dark wax on?
A: Work in small areas, applying the wax over a couple of square feet before you go back and adjust. You may want to add more and you may want to have less. Until it dries, you’ll be able to wipe a little away with the same rag you’re using to apply. If it’s too dry to rub off on its own, just apply a little clear wax. It will moisten the dark wax and let you adjust the look to suit your taste.
Q: Should I let the dark wax sit overnight?
A: No. Waxing should be done in one sitting. It will begin to dry quickly so don’t apply a thick, sticky mess, and just expect to buff it off the next morning. It will be much too stiff to work with.
Q: What if applied too much and the next morning I hate it. Is there anything I can do?
A: Yes. Put some mineral spirits into a small container. Then slowly dip a clean rag into the mineral spirits and wipe away the wax. Warning: You should only try this if you put a clear coat of wax on first. Mineral spirits are strong and will remove the paint if clear wax is not underneath. And in spite of this picture, remember to wear gloves.
Q: It goes on too thickly for me. Is there anything I can do?
A: Any wax will become softer when left in the sun for a few minutes. You may find it easier to apply the wax when it’s softer.
Q: What if the wax melts?
A: All wax will melt in heat. Put it in a cool place and it will return to its original form.
Q: Is there any other way to use dark wax?
A: Yes. In a glass jar, mix a couple tablespoons of dark wax with a couple tablespoons of mineral spirits. Add either item until you get a consistency you want to work with. If you add a lot more mineral spirits, you’ll have a glaze of dark wax
So that’s it. You’ve learned how to wax with clear wax and dark wax. So you should be all set. Right? No? Ok… here are a few technique tips.
Q: Should I apply the wax in circles or back and forth with the grain?
A: A little of both is probably best. It isn’t easy to get wax everywhere you want just by going back and forth with the grain. But you don’t want to leave circle streaks behind either. Rub it in uniformly however you can. But at the end, go over it along with the grain, which will give you the best look.
Q: What if I want the final look to be shinier.
A: Buff it. A few hours after waxing, or the next day, you’ll probably want to buff it a little just to make sure you’ve got it nice and smooth. The more you buff, the shinier it will get.
Q: How many coats of wax should I apply?
A: On most pieces I do one. But on a kitchen table or an area that will get lots of use, a second coat will make it that much stronger. Just remember to let one coat dry before applying another.
In the end… no one learns anything by hearing about it… you have to do it. So be fearless. Grab a glass of wine, put on some music, and go have fun! I can’t wait to see your projects!