Thursday, December 13, 2012

All Waxes Are Not Created Equal

Here is the finished project I began a week or so ago with the carved and gilded lid.

Finished Camellia Box

    At that point I'd left you with a lid that was brightly gilded with Dutch Gold and I promised to share the technique I'd use to tone it down.

Bright & Brassy Composition Gold Metal

     Well, that's the point of this blogs title; all waxes are not created equal.  The first step to this process was to completely paint the lid.  I used a Krylon, satin black spray paint for this project.  They make a paint called Ultra-Flat which is a great one to use for picture  or mirror frames.  I should mention that this technique can also be done by using carved appliqués that you can find at craft stores.  Simply attach them to flat stock and that will eliminate the carving step in this process.  For me though, this gives me a great avenue to practice my carving.  After you've applied the spray paint it's best to wait 2-3 days to allow the paint to cure completely.
     Next up is selectively remove the paint to bring out the highlights of the carving.  This is a process that you can control if you realize a few things about waxes.  I'm familiar with a few different brands so that's what I can share with you.  Waxes have varying amounts and types of solvents in them, something you can tell strictly  by the smell.  The reason that's important to know is that the more solvent there is in the wax, the quicker you will rub off the paint and reveal the gold underneath.  Here's the basic premise:

  • More solvent = quicker removal of paint which can be a plus -- or a negative!  You may remove more of the paint than you wanted.
  • Less solvent = slower removal of paint which again, can be a plus or a negative.  It'll take you longer to reveal the gold below the paint layer but you'll have a bit more control.
     As far as waxes go, my favorite is made by Liberon and called Black Bison.  I love the smell and feel of it and is the one I use as a top coat on picture frames, boxes, and any furniture projects that I choose to wax.  It doesn't have a lot of solvent so it is quite slow at removing the paint layer.
     Another one that you may have seen since it's advertised quite a lot is Briwax.  It has a lot of solvent, you'll be able to smell it, and removes the paint layer extremely fast.  Because of that I don't like to use it.
     The last one I'm familiar with is Johnson's Paste Wax.  It's readily available and has a moderate amount of solvents and doesn't have a strong odor like the Briwax.  I should mention automotive paste waxes too because they are sometimes used on wood.  The only drawback with them is they usually contain silicon and they tend to leave a white residue in the pores of the wood.  I'd avoid them.  For this project I began by using the Johnson's to accelerate the paint removal process and then finished off with the Liberon.  The amount of time the paint has cured and the temperature/weather conditions will affect how the paint reacts to the wax too so, as you always hear -- test in an inconspicuous area first.
     I prefer to use cotton balls to work the wax onto the surface.  Because of the lack of structure to them they will get into the crooks and crannies of the carving.  Put a small amount of wax on the cotton ball and begin wiping the surface.  I'd advise that you put some wax on a scrap piece of wood rather than continually getting it out of the can with the cotton ball --- you'll contaminate the can with the paint.  At first you'll think nothing is happening but all of a sudden you'll feel some drag on the cotton ball.  That tells you the paint has become softened and is ready to come off!  Take your time and creatively remove what you want.  Obviously this is subjective but here's a photo sequence of this particular lid.

Initial wax application, notice dullness on lower left?

Drag on cotton ball & dullness means you should lighten up.

Remove as much of the black as you desire then

Buff entire lid.

     One of the disadvantages of course to black and waxed surfaces is that it will show any defects or blemishes but this is referred to as the patina and aging of the piece.  Tends to add to its appeal, makes it seem like a treasured heirloom object.  Like a gallery owner once told Diane as we were discussing her awards vs. sales: "the public votes with their checkbook".  I'll list this on my Etsy store tonight and see how the public votes!


  1. John this is truly beautiful! Great craftsmanship.

  2. Fantastic craftsmanship. I'm interested in what consistency your Liberon arrives in? I've been using UK Tool Centre's Liberon for a few months now and it always seems to come with a perfect thick cream texture, whilst my neighbour who orders his from Amazon comes almost liquid.

    1. Morning Thomas, thanks for the compliment. It sounds as if we get the Liberon the same way, a perfect, thick creamy texture. A tin seems to last forever and I've only used the neutral. I've experimented with heating it up and adding pigmented colors to it for toning picture frames which leaves a very subtle tone on the frames.