For centuries, woodworkers have been applying wax finishes to woodworking projects. For most of this time, formulas have centered around beeswax, followed later by slightly more-durable carnuba wax-based varieties.
For today's woodworker, though, a paste wax wood finish may not be the best choice for protecting your woodworking projects. A paste wax wood finish looks great, but really isn't very protective. It doesn't do much at all to repel water, isn't hard or durable enough to protect the wood from dings and scratches, and with a low melting point of about 140-degrees Fahrenheit, wax can easily melt.
Additionally, once wax is applied, no other current finish can be applied to the project to help protect the look of the wax finish. Attempting to add lacquer, polyurethane or any other top coat to a wax finish is futile.
Is There a Place For Wax?:
That being said, there still is a place for a paste wax wood finish. First of all, many older antiques were finished with wax, so a paste wax would be the choice for refinishing such old projects. Also, a great deal of the rustic pine Mexican or hacienda-style furniture available in the Southwestern United States is finished with a paste wax. Repairing, adding on to or modifying any of these types of pieces would require trying to replicate the color of the previous or existing paste wax wood finish.
A more practical use for paste wax for today's modern woodworker would be to use paste wax over an existing polyurethane, varnish, shellac or lacquer finish, to give a piece an unmatched luster and shine. The wax will not provide a great deal of top-coat protection, but the wax will fill in any cracks, scratches or minor imperfections in the finish of the piece, allowing light to reflect at a more even level, providing a beautiful, unblemished shine and luster.
Applying a Paste Wax Wood Finish:
Many wood waxes available today come in a variety of colors. It's best to try and closely approximate the color of the existing finish with the color of the wood. Apply with a clean cotton cloth wrapped around the fingers, much the way one would apply shoe polish to a pair of boots. Work the polish in a circular motion, focusing on working with the grain.
Since wax never really hardens, multiple coats can be applied without waiting a great deal of time, but I find I get the best results by allowing the current coat to sit for 24 hours before applying another coat.