What the Wax Does

Applying paste wax to furniture is part of most furniture maker's process. For closed pore woods, such as cherry or maple, clear paste wax is usually used. But when finishing furniture made from open pored woods (oak, mahogany, walnut), it is a common practice to apply a colored paste wax as a final step. Usually a black or very dark brown wax. For the Arts & Crafts / Craftsman / Mission pieces I have built using quarter sawn white oak, I've done it on every piece. It is a standard part of my finishing regimen. Recently, I finished up a commission to replace some worn painted plywood doors on a mid-century modern credenza with mahogany veneer doors, and I used dark brown wax there as well. Let's look at the effect...

In these quarter sawn white oak door frames, the wax adds definition to the pores, and gives the wood more richness and depth. The overall color darkens slightly, but it is more about emphasizing the pores and corners.

In the case of the credenza, I used the wax to match the existing finish on the outside of the case. In this piece, the mahogany veneer on the body had already been finished by a factory finishing process. I suspect it was a dark colored glaze (sort of a "wash coat" that only leaves colors in the pores & corners) topped with a tinted top coat. However, the doors I built were starting from bare mahogany. So instead of trying to do a glaze (something I don't tend to do) and applying a tinted top coat, I approached it differently. After several rounds of testing, I found that first applying a coat of amber shellac, followed by several coats of clear wipe on polyurethane, THEN a final waxing with dark brown paste wax, resulted in a match for the original finish quite well. 

Once I had the formula, I applied it to the finished piece...

With any final coat of wax, you can buff it to the desired sheen, from shiny to matte. I usually apply it using fine (0000) steel wool to knock of any dust nibs as I go, then buff with a cotton rag. The result is a smooth, deep finish with the sheen tailored to your taste. So if you're new to finishing, or just new to wax, try it out (ON TEST BOARDS) and see what it can do for your finishes.

Some Trim Carpentry for Fun

Trim carpentry is fun. Sometimes. As a furniture maker, I enjoy being able to work on projects in the comfort of my own shop, with a nice bench, and my whole array of tools and work holding apparatuses that I have gathered together over the years. As a homeowner, fixing up the place is an ongoing series of tasks that is never done. And fixing up things that are in, on, or attached to the house is often in uncomfortable places, with a limited set of tools (always not enough, requiring multiple trips to my wood shop or the handyman bench on the basement), and terrible or non-existent work holding.

before...

after...

Once the tools and work holding situation problem is figured out for the task at hand, I run into another problem: I want to treat things like a woodworker, not a carpenter (sorry carpenters). I get fussy about little details that won't show, or won't matter. I'm not saying that carpenters are more sloppy than furniture makers; it's just that when you change the scale of your work, the requirements change. For you woodworkers, think about how different timber framing is from making little gift boxes. Watching a skilled carpenter do their thing is a great education for a furniture maker, and vice versa. Both trades do things differently, and appropriate to the task at hand. I know I would never be efficient enough as a carpenter.

But recently, I had an opportunity to try my hand on applying some of my woodworking skills on a long overdue house repair project. Our house has suffered from a terrible set of front porch stairs since the day we bought it, and it was long overdue to be repaired. I knew enough to hire a carpenter (and good friend) to do the pro stuff. I did the demo, and then proceeded to assist (or get in the way?) during the (re)build. Not finding any pre-made hand rails that would work for the design, I had a chance to mill my own in the shop, using some hollow & round planes for the profile. I also made the post caps. We were then forced to consider a design change, as we had to remove some of the siding that was applied to the (incorrect) profile of the old stairs, creating an opportunity to add some finished wainscoting around the stairs. I had fun finishing and fitting the finished parts, and after the painter (another pro and friend) was finished, the result was great. It also makes the front door, screen door, windows and ceiling work I did last year look so much better.

Thank you Dustin Christian of Focal Point Carpentry (Milwaukee, WI) and Jacob Levee of Jacob's Ladder for their great work. And thanks to my neighbors, for putting up with 18 years of looking at my garbage steps.