Wax and Oil Finishes Made Easy: A Practical Guide

Wax and Oil Finishes Made Easy: A Practical Guide

Are you one of those woodworkers who feel confused regarding what to use between wax and oil finishes? Worry no more because here’s a practical guide to make wax and oil finishes easier for your next projects.

What Is Wood Finishing?

Wood finishing describes the process of refining or protecting a wooden surface. Finishing is the final step of the production process that gives desirable characteristics to wood surfaces, including enhanced appearance and improved resistance to moisture and other environmental toxins. Moreover, it adds protection against tear.

Finishing can also facilitate cleaning wood and keep it sanitized, sealing pores, which can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Finishing can also affect other wood properties, such as the tonal qualities of musical instruments and floor hardness. Moreover, finishing provides a way to give low-value woods the appearance of expensive and hard to obtain. Some of the most common wood finishes are varnish, paint, wax, and oil. This article will focus on the characteristics, pros, and cons to understand oil and wax finishes.

What is Oil Finish For Wood?

Wood oil is a decorative and functional wood finish that you can apply directly to bare wood and timber over the top of wood stains. Their protective qualities are not as durable as varnishes. Still, woodworkers always want to bring out the wood’s character with a pleasantly contrasting shine over the wood’s grain.

Wood oil penetrates the wood, replacing and replenishing natural oils that can be lost through exposure, age, and general wear and tear. Moreover, it can revive the natural color of a wooden surface, bringing it back to life. With wood oil treatment, you can transform woodworking pieces and provide well-oiled surfaces and authentically richly toned, warm and rootsy atmosphere.

By applying wood oil layers, you build a durable and lustrous surface finish which can seal wooden floors and exposed surfaces. Once dried, you can maintain wooden surfaces easily and keep looking rejuvenated and ‘healthy.’ Wood oils are predominantly natural products that are easy to apply and carried over long periods. If you enjoy ‘care for wood,’ the best choice of finish could be a suitable wood oil, rather than wax or varnish.

What is Wax Finish For Wood?

Wax has been useful as a protective coating and polish for wood. While modern finishes are more moisture- and scratch-resistant, wax still offers many benefits. By filling in minute scratches left behind by steel wool and other abrasives, wax enhances the sheen of film-forming finishes, creating a more light-reflective surface.

Waxed finishes are also more resistant to abrasion and easier to maintain than an unwaxed finish. Wax isn’t waterproof, but it can prevent quickly mopped-up damage from spills. It may not be a suitable surface treatment for hard-wearing objects, but it works great as a quick finish for decorative items like picture frames. Moreover, you can use this finish to rejuvenate aging or dull finishes. 

How to Apply Finishing Wax to a Wood Finish?

To get the best results, you must understand how to apply finishing waxes on your wooden objects. Regardless of the method or material you want to use, let us share some of the easy ways to use it correctly to avoid any mistakes and apply it like a pro. Let’s start with learning how to put wax, then move forward to applying oil in a while.

Step 1 – Clean And Smoothen The Surface

It’s best to clean the wood of any dust and debris before getting started. You can do it by rubbing down the surface of your wooden object with a clean cloth. It is also better to smoothen those rough surfaces using sanding paper unless it is a part of your design. 

Step 2 – Apply Your Chosen Wax

Wax finishes come in different types, which we will talk about in a while, so make sure to pick one that is appropriate for your design. Use a cloth to apply the wax to delicate surfaces sparingly. Use 0000 steel wool for those needing a more thorough penetration. It is essential to put it this way because if you lay the wax too thick, it will dry unevenly and create a hazy appearance.

Step 3 – Let The Thin Layer To Dry

After applying a thin, even polish coating, it gives the medium plenty of time to evaporate and harden.

Step 4 – Start Buffing

You can do it best with a stockinette roll. The surface of the soft open texture absorbs excess wax while burning the surface. For larger surfaces, using a brush mounted on an electric drill is a great way to speed up this process. Alternatively, you can finish buffing quickly and easily if you have the luxury to get a lathe.

Step 5 – Repeat The Process

Repeat the entire process once again to get the best possible finish on your wooden object. As for most finishing and polishing, patience is the key to an excellent finish. So we recommend that you keep the processes going until you get the finish you want. 

What Are The Types of Wax?

Woodworkers have been using wax finishes to various woodworking projects for centuries now. So, to understand what kind of wax to use on your projects, let us share the most common types of waxes and their uses with you.


This type of wax came through bees to form the cells of the honeycomb. After extracting the honey, the wax immerses in hot water and floats off to make polishes, fillers, and creams.

Microcrystalline Wax

Microcrystalline, made as part of petroleum refining, is characterized by the fineness of its crystal structure. Water and heat have incredibly high durability, as well as being very easy to apply.

Carnauba Wax

Carnauba Wax’s job is to help the leaf pores reduce excessive evaporation. The manufacturer will collect the leaves and refine them into a hard, brittle wax. They will then combine other waxes such as beeswax for best results and deliver the best finish possible. Woodturners also use carnauba in stick form to apply the wax and take advantage of the heat generated by friction.

Paste Wax

These are special waxes designed to give you the best of all available waxes. It can be a mixture of carnauba and beeswax, beeswax and turpentine, and many others, all designed to satisfy woodworkers’ needs for various applications.


Kinds of paraffin are cheap waxes that originate from petroleum sources that are suitable in candle-making. Carnauba wax is more commonly found in two other non-woodworking applications, as it is used both for creating a beautiful wax shine on your projects.

Wax Application Tips

Many available wood waxes today come in a variety of colors. Trying to match the color of the existing finish close to the color of the wood is best. Apply wax to a pair of leather shoes with a clean cotton cloth wrapped around the fingers, much the way one applies a shoe polish. Work the polish in a circular movement and focus on working with the grain.

Since wax never really hardens, it is possible to apply multiple coats without waiting for much time, but the best results are possible if you allow the current coat to sit for 24 hours before applying an extra coat. Unlike topcoats such as polyurethane, lacquer, and shellac, it is necessary to sand between coats of a paste wax finish to get the desired results.

How to Apply Finishing Wax to a Wood Finish?

Oil finishes are a perfect match for wood. They are incredibly easy to apply, stunning, and some are exceptionally environmentally friendly. Woodworking oil finish helps protect and embellish wood while creating a water-resistant finish and highlights the wood grain. Whether you are using linseed, tung oil, or other oil types, in just a few easy steps, you can learn how to oil woodwork.

Step 1 – Clean And Sand The Surface

Just like applying a wax finish, clean and sand the area where you intend to put the oil finish. As much as possible, use sandpaper with an extra-fine 220 grit.

Step 2 – Apply The Oil Finish

Apply a large amount of oil directly to the area where you want to put it. However, you don’t want to do it when you are using Danish oil because it needs to be conversely applied so that the wood can soak it all up. On the other hand, you can do this technique with Tung, Linseed, Teak, and Mineral oil. Stay tuned because we will talk about the different kinds of oil finishes in a while.

Step 3 – Rub The Oil On The Wood Surface

Gently rub the oil finish on the wood surface using a clean, dry, and soft cloth. Depending on your preference, you can also use a brush. Regardless, ensure that you rub the oil in the direction of the natural wood grain. Then, rub the oil hard into the wood to work well. Keep this process going until all the whole surface that you want to finish is complete.

Step 4 – Dry The Oil

After application, let the oil stay on the wood for about 30 minutes. Then, check if there is any excess oil and remove it with a dry cloth. If everything is okay for you, let the wood stand for at least 24 hours. 

Step 5 – Let The Oil Get Through The Wood

Pour a liberal amount of oil finishes on a piece of 600 to 800 grit wet-and-dry sandpaper after a day of drying from the first application. This method helps in working the oil into the wood and pushing the finishing material deep into the pores and enhancing the wood’s natural grain’s appearance. Repeat this process until you have the oiled sandpaper covered the entire surface of the wood. Wipe dry cloth off any excess oil from the wood.

Step 6 – Dry For Another 24 Hours

Allow another 24 hours for the workpiece to stand again. Repeat the sandpaper finish as many times as you like until you achieve the desired luster. Just be sure to remove any excess oil and let the wood dry between each coat for 24 hours. It may take several days for the oil to cure fully.

Oil Application Tips

Don’t add solvent to pure oil because it won’t increase absorption as some beliefs. It will only reduce the amount of protective film per coat while contributing to environmental problems—flood oil liberally onto the wood, keeping it humid for at least 10 minutes. If wood areas absorb all the oil in less than 10 minutes, add more, keeping the entire surface thoroughly moist. Wrap all of the oil off the surface when it stops absorbing oil. With almost no effort, you will have a uniform and dust-free coat.

One coat looks woody and natural, while 12 coats look like traditional varnish. Sanding oil with wet or dry paper onto the wood surface helps fill pores with the swarf or oil slurry you create, and may result in a smoother finish. Sand the oil into the wood with fine wet or dry paper to speed the process, or make a slurry to fill open pores.

What are the Different Types of Wood Oil?

New projects, or bare and untreated wood, you can use several oils. However, each type gives a different finish and luster level, so make sure you know what you want to get. For certain woods, specific oils are ideal, which we will look at in more detail below.

Danish Oil

Danish oil can protect wood against chemical damage, heat exposure, superficial scratches and stains, more of a thin oil and varnish mixture than other wood oils. Moreover, you should only apply this oil one layer per day, taking around 15 minutes to soak in the wood. Additional layers will form a thick, durable coating, similar to wood varnish. Remarkable for having a drying time faster than linseed oil, Danish oil works best on new and untreated wood surfaces, giving a lustrous finish.

Hard Wax Oil

Hard wax oil is suitable for hardwood floors and kitchen workstations, being a compromise between traditional oils and a tougher protective coating against liquid spillages. Moreover, you can mix it with colored oils, and brushed or rollered, without leaving marks of ‘swirl.’ It significantly enhances the wood’s natural color and grain, allowing it to age with rich and varying tones, naturally.

Linseed Oil

Raw linseed oil is standard for cricket bats, soaking in and drying out for a long time. Previously oiled cricket bats need only one new linseed oil coating when reapplied after sanding the surface lightly. It is common for the bats to be re-oiled once a month during the cricket season. 

Wipe the excess oil away after the linseed oil has soaked into a surface, and then buff the surface with a clean cloth. You may need to apply several linseed oil layers to reach the desired finish, with sufficient drying time between each coat. However, it is not ideal to use linseed oil on the exterior and exposed woods.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a low-gloss, non-drying oil used by woodworkers. Food-safe wood oils are available for use on kitchen cutting boards and can get washed off while non-drying. Considered to be more of a wood treatment than a wood finish, mineral oils will not leave a dried and solid film on wood because it is non-drying. Light mineral oil, such as ornate bowls, may be used on wood crockery.

Teak Oil

Teak oil is suitable for exterior and interior wood surfaces and embellishes the wood grain, protecting it from UV rays and water stains. You should remove the excess oil. However, ensure that you can maintain protected surfaces with a fresh layer of teak oil at least 1 to 2 times a year. You can buffer up to leave a silky smooth surface after applying the finishing layers and lightly sanded.

Tung Oil

Tung oil or China wood oil dries as with most other oils. It is a plastic-like, clear coating used in printing inks and oil paints, away from wood finishing. Tung oil leaves a wet wood look when used on guitars that have a slightly golden tint. Often considered the finest and most natural wood finish, it requires a different process of application.

Wax VS Oil – Understanding Wood Finishes

Many woodworkers turn to oil and wax finishes, and for a good reason, for their first attempt at completion. They are easy to apply, give almost foolproof results, don’t require applicators beyond a rag, and leave the wood looking rich and natural. Turners especially love them as they perfectly adapt to finish wood, still turning on the lathe. Let us further understand the differences between wax and oil finishes.

Wax Finish

Many woodworkers turn to oil and wax finishes, and for a good reason, for their first attempt at completion. They are easy to apply and give almost foolproof results, don’t require applicators beyond a rag, and leave the wood looking rich and natural. Liquid or paste wax typically contains some solvent, and as the solvent evaporates, the wax will “cure.” All waxes dissolve in mineral spirits or naphtha, which is handy to know if you need to remove wax from wood or on top of a finish.

Most waxes melt at low temperatures, thus offering little in the way of heat resistance. They do shed water, which helps them withstand food spills and drinks. You can apply wax over any other finish, and it will give a soft shine and a smooth feel to the surface, but don’t put different finishes on wax.

Oil Finish

Oil is small enough from molecules to seep into the wood, rather than just sitting on top. Consequently, oil makes the wood look more prosperous and more translucent without adding a surface film. There are two distinct types of oils used by woodworkers: drying and non-drying oils. When exposed to oxygen in the air, the drying oils will turn from liquid to solid film. Nut oils (boiled linseed, tung, etc.) are drying oils, but they are non-drying vegetables (peanut, olive) and mineral oils.

Edible mineral oil is popular on food-contact items. Non-drying oils stay wet indefinitely, but they wash off with soap and water. Non-drying oils are wood treatment because they do not dry to a solid film but not a finish. 

Pros and Cons of Wax Finish

Simple to apply.
It requires flashing to remove toxic materials and frequent reapplication.
Completely non-toxic after flashing solvents.It can be challenging to apply on an unfinished wood surface.
Adding coats is simple to keep the surface in good condition.It offers low protection on the wooden material.
Wax is difficult to remove, so make sure that it is your final decision and move in.It offers a very sluggish appearance unless it is burned to a high shine.
The use of solvents is excellent in removing wax to drive it further into the wood.The protection of the wood surface is minimal.

Pros and Cons of Oil Finish

Oil finishes are excellent for various wood applications.Oil finishes are not the best products, and it requires using other substances like lacquers or shellacs.
Oil is excellent in dense woods.  With minimal effort, nonporous woods with thick grains, such as maple, cherry, and birch can be shined to a glass-like finish using oil finishes.Oil is hard to use on porous woods. Woods with open pores such as oak and mahogany will require a tedious series of sanding and sealing jobs to achieve a gloss finish. In some cases, a light filler may need to give the finishing glass-like properties even out the grain enough.
Easy application. Oil finishes, like Danish oil and linseed, dry quickly and are very easy to apply. It is easy to fix mistakes made while using these oils on the spot or days later, making them an excellent choice for first-time finishers.Oil finishes are less protective than hard finishes such as shellacs and are easier to dent and scratch. Some oils have some water-resistant qualities; oil finishes are generally insufficient to keep water out of wood.
Oil finishes usually elevate a wood grain a bit after they are applied. The luster an oil finish gives a wood is often considered more pleasing to the eye than other standard finishes produce.

Which Wood Finish Is Best Between Oil or Wax?

Choosing between oil and wax depends on your project. For today’s modern woodworker a more practical use for paste wax is to use it over an existing polyurethane, varnish, shellac, or lacquer finish to give an unmatched luster and shine to a piece. The wax will not provide much topcoat protection. It will still fill in the piece’s finish with any cracks, scratches, or minor imperfections, allowing light to reflect at a more even level, providing a beautiful, unscarred glow and sparkle.

It can depend on several factors for picking the right wood oil for a job, not least the type of wood that it is. The selection of a specific wood finishing oil may depend on how the wood has been previously treated, whether for use indoors or outdoors, and whether it needs to be light, medium, or highly durable. Adjusting the finish of a piece of wood to the surrounding decor is also something to consider-if a room has lots of light wood finishes; you may not want a darkening wood oil finish.

Hard wax oil is the best product for impregnation according to various observations, numerous tests, experiences, and hundreds of impregnated tables. It combines the best oil and varnish properties – it brings out the wood’s natural look and protects the tabletop from stains. However, it still depends on your preference.

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to wax and oil finishes, it is all about understanding what you need for your project to pick the right one. It all boils down to knowing the different kinds of finishes and determining your workpiece’s best type. Finally, here are some commonly asked questions about wax and oil finishes.

How Does Wood Oil Differ from Wood Varnish?

Wood oil differs from varnish in many ways. While a stain penetrates deeply into the wood, a varnish lies outside your surfaces, forming a protective barrier. Usually, a varnish is clear and transparent and will harden along with your wood’s outer layer. Some varnishes do include color to improve or alter the shade of wood.

What Wood Finish Can Be Used Over Wood Oil?

Most wood varnishes can not be applied to oiled wood surfaces since the varnish can not adhere to the surface or penetrate the oil coating. Also, fire retardant varnishes and paints can not be directly applied to oiled or waxed wood. The surface must be thoroughly prepared to remove all traces by a combination of sanding and cleaning using a proprietary cleaner such as Timberex Oil & Wax Remover to paint over wood, which has previously had oil or wax on it.

Can You Oil Then Wax Wood?

It is possible to use oil and wax afterward. This finishing material is so versatile that you can apply the wax to nearly any other wood finish, including stain, oil, varnish, and paint. Just make sure that you put it on the surface correctly.

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