Wax is very prevalent in the wood finishing world. It is more common in wood working or smaller projects and becoming less common on floors or other areas, but is still encountered regularly. The three places where you may encounter wax would be as a key ingredient in the finish you are using, as an additional step after a piece has been finished or when recoating or refinishing an existing finish.
Products that Contain Wax
There are no Waterlox products that contain wax. Other finishes may explicitly state they use wax or bury it in the subtext on the label. The most common products would be hardwax oils and butcher block conditioners. These are generally a blend of oils (drying or non-drying) and waxes (usually carnauba or beeswax). There are a variety of brands, formulas, colors and styles, but in all instances you are usually left with a surface that has wax on it. For the purposes of this guide, the takeaway is that these products contain wax and may require additional steps for cleaning, care and eventual recoating.
Using Wax over Waterlox
Many wood workers prefer to use wax on their projects for the look and feel that it can provide to the finished project. It is never required to use wax to achieve a final finish or protective layer, it is strictly a personal preference. It is OK to use wax products over Waterlox finishes. Most buffing and application procedures should work absolutely fine over Waterlox finished surfaces, regardless of the final finish that is used. Be sure that the surface is well cured before continuing, and always test first to be sure that you are pleased with the final result.
If you decide to use wax over your Waterlox finish you are now maintaining that waxed surface. This may require more frequent wax applications or refreshing procedures. You may also see water-spotting or other damage or marking that may be symptoms of the wax, while the Waterlox underneath may be completely unharmed. You will also need to take care to remove the wax before recoating with additional Waterlox products in the future.
Recoating Over Wax
Wax is usually the biggest obstacle when it comes to recoating or refinishing. Wax can sometimes be a main component in some finishes, like hardwax oils and butcher block conditioners or it can be added as an additional layer or maintenance coat on top of another finish. It may also be present in some cleaners that may have words like “restorer”, “rejuvenator” or “refresher”. Wax forms a very loosely bonded layer on the surface that creates a difficult surface for other coatings to stick to, and therefore, it should always be removed prior to refinishing.
Testing for Wax
You can usually identify wax by feeling the surface. For lack of a better term, the surface will feel waxy. Using the side of a coin, you can lightly scrape an inconspicuous area and you should see a waxy buildup on the side of the coin. Add a few drops of mineral spirits to the surface and cover with a shot glass. If there is wax present, it will turn cloudy and should be soft enough to wipe off. A more aggressive test would be to use a few drops of ammonia under a shot glass. This will turn the wax yellow and cause it to lift; HOWEVER, ammonia will also damage many other finishes. This should only be done in an inconspicuous area or if you intend to remove all layers of finish.
Removing wax is a rather difficult process as you run the risk of merely smearing it around. There are a variety of common methods that may work to remove wax. The most common method is to use mineral spirits and a lot of clean rags. Allow the mineral spirits to sit for a few minutes and wipe off the softened wax with a clean rag or towel. The rags will soak up the mineral spirits and wax, so you’ll need to turn and replace the rags frequently to prevent wiping the wax back on. Vinegar and water can also be used to remove wax. Equal parts white vinegar and water can be used in place of the mineral spirits in the same manner as described above. It may take a few more passes and a bit more elbow grease to achieve the same results. Another common household remedy is to mix one cup white vinegar with a tablespoon of cream of tartar to make a lightly abrasive paste. Dampen a soft cloth with the solution and gently scrub off the wax. Again rotate or replace the cloth regularly to prevent redepositing the wax. Follow this up by wiping everything down with clean water to remove any residue. Ammonia and water or other commercial wax removers may be easier to use, but they may damage the piece or the other finishes underneath, so always test in an inconspicuous area. There are numerous other suggestions from a quick internet search, just be sure to always test in an inconspicuous area. Sanding will usually be difficult and will simply spread the wax or drive it further into the surface.
There is no way to guarantee complete removal with wax, even when sanding. Wax can always be a problem for adhesion, so you should always conduct adhesion testing before completely recoating. Even with a positive adhesion test result, it is not a guarantee to have excellent adhesion over the entire surface.
1 Be sure to properly dispose of oily rags to prevent fires. Do not crumple wet rags and dispose of them in the regular trash.