Should I Add a Finish Over Wax?
Issue: Issue 302
Posted Date: 6/5/2012
I cut down a pecan tree in my back yard over two years ago. I left the tree bark on the larger diameter trunk pieces and set them on a plywood platform to weather uncovered. Most of them are placed where the cut ends are open to the weather; i.e., the bark is lying on the platform. My question about finishing is this: when I remove the bark and finish hand carving the piece, I want to set it in the sunlight, allow it to warm naturally, and then hand rub white candle wax into the grain. Would I then need to apply some other type of finish over the candle wax? I am in my seventy first year of learning and welcome any knowledge you may have that you can pass on to me. - Micheal Lewis Brown Sr.
Rob Johnstone: The first question that is usually asked when a woodworker is trying to determine what sort of finish to use is "What is the completed project and how is it going to be used?" For example, a picture frame is going to hang on the wall and get touched seldom, and will not likely get much moisture or other abuse. A dining room table top, on the other hand, will have hot plates or dishes placed on it. Perhaps alcoholic beverages or hot coffee or tea will be spilled on it. The table will need a much more durable finish than the picture frame. With that in mind, your carved pecan pieces will not need an overly durable finish to protect them. Wax, like the paraffin used in candles, is a very soft finish that provides minimal protection. It will likely serve fine as a hand rubbed finish for your carved art.
Tim Inman: Bark is Mother Nature's version of a plastic bag. It stops water movement from the wood back out into the atmosphere. (Actually, it is a semipermeable membrane, but that's too much about biology to discuss here.) Leaving the bark on will not allow the wood to dry completely -- even though the end grain cuts are exposed. I'm worried that once you remove the bark and complete your carving work, you'll be sadly disappointed when the wood begins to crack open....
That said, back to your real question. I'll answer by beginning with another one: Why are you wanting to rub wax into the grain? If the answer is that you like the look and feel of a waxed wood surface, that's one reason. If you have some other need in mind, then we would need to consider those things. Wax is another one of Mother Nature's inventions. It provides a sacrificial temporary protection for the plants that exude most of it. Sacrificial is the operative term. Even if you use an oil well look-alike, the wax is temporary by design. It oxidizes and chalks away on purpose. So, waxing wood is not a long-term solution for protective finish coating.
If you're wanting the "look" of a waxed surface, but need long-term or more durable protection, I would suggest using a lacquer or varnish product which can simulate the look, but provide the longer protection. It isn't hard. A thinned, dead flat finish soaked into the wood and not allowed to build a surface film can be very deceptively similar to a waxed finish look.
We're all in this together, and we're all learning (and re-learning) things every day. Keep going for it!