Is Wax a Good Finish?

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leehljp

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Is WAX a finish?

After thinking about this for a long long time, my logical, practical, deductive reasoning mindset took over. (Hey, I am an INTP.)

Wax on top of cast blanks and wood is purely an “iffy” proposition, helpful in a few cases, but wasted in most - in the pen world.

To understand where I am coming from, think about why we wax our pens, if we do it at all - and many/most do:
Well, we wax our cars, for some - just once when new, and for some . . . with spray on wax at the car wash. No matter which, a single waxing is certainly not a long term finish.
Furniture at home: Some of you grew up and saw your mom wax furniture, every two weeks or so, at least once a month, and particularly where little hands rubbed the table or china cabinet as we walked (ran) by - and that was to wipe the grime off and put a fresh shine back on.

Waxing is NOT a long term finish. When it wears off, it exposes the wood beneath it to grime, AND it reveals either A. the incompleteness of a good finish under it, or B. a prized hand rubbed and oiled or fine finish.

IS waxing a substitute for a shiny finish or a beautiful satin finish? Waxing works best when it is over a great finish so that when the wax evaporates or wears off, the underlying sheen of the wood or other material shows its magnificence. In tase cases, (Cars & Furniture) the wax is there to keep the grime off of the underlying finish.

This brings us to two reasons for Waxing: Temporary Protection or Temporary Shine/Sheen Finish.

How much does this apply to Pen Finishing?

I will never forget my first use of EEE. I made a pen out of Purple Heart for a co-worker that wanted a hand turned pen, - and I had only been turning for about 6 months. It was NICE looking. I put the numerous coats of CA in which the paper towel absorbed far more than went onto the blank. I micro meshed it down below the finish, but didn’t know that was what was happening. I thought the CA was just dull. EEE to the rescue! Wow, that made a great shine! I gave it to the co-worker, and she was Happy as Purple was her favorite color. A couple of days later she brought it back to me saying that something was wrong with it. “What happened to the finish?” She asked. Dull splotches and bright shiny spots.

I learned quickly what WAXES did - Waxes hide the dull finish underneath. I learned that for CA finishes, lacquer finishes, urethane finishes or other clear acrylic type, wax brings a temporary outer finish that wears off quick. That’s it, plain and simple!

SO what does wax do?
Why do we use wax?
(Two good exceptions, later below)

• Because we see or read of others using it.

• Because we want a new experience, quick results, and a magic bullet.

• Because of big companies advertising it in their catalogs. It must be great!

A story on this line of reasoning: A friend who knew my computer background (though I never promote it) came and asked me what computer he should get. I knew his work habits and his multiple language writing needs and graphics ability. I recommended one with a powerful processor, more RAM and larger HD than most people purchase. Yet He bought one with an older less powerful processor, less HD and less RAM. I asked him “WHY? WHY?” (I knew I would have to deal with his purchase.) He said, “Well, I talked to the salesman and he obviously knows more about computers because he sells them, and he said this would do me just fine.” I told him, “He sold you the one with the highest profit margin and this computer will be spinning beach balls in no time!” Sure enough, he called in a few months wanting to know why his computer was getting slow. I had to tell him politely to “deal with it.”
The moral of the story - how many times do we see on this forum, people falling for ads, thinking: Obviously THEY (sellers) KNOW more than the people here. I have watched people in the know (experienced) recommend something after being questioned about a procedure, process or product and then the questioner will follow the “Ads” instead of the “experience”. The polite experienced person will just back out and let people find out for themselves while the Ads will grab the neophyte and take him down a road of following the marketing guy!

CAVEAT: My Experience -The pen turners/SELLERS on this forum are great. They listen and tell you the truth, not necessarily what you are wanting to hear. They will still sell you what you want, but they will tell you what they know to be true.

So, What does waxing bring to the table on top of CA, lacquer, or cast blanks? A good temporary finish! However, IF the finish under the wax is finished to its best, wax will NOT improve it. If wax improves it, the underlying finish has not been perfected.

What does waxing add to a beautifully finished Cast pen or CA’d pen? Nothing except another layer that will wear off and reveal the beautiful finish underneath. But we can at least say: I did a good job waxing it, and the underlying finish was so good that I didn't know when the wax wore off!

FEEL? Does Waxing give a smoother feel than a finished pen without wax?
Early on in my pen making world, I finished a pen (CA) that when I tried to write with it, it was slippery and hard to hold. It wasn’t waxed either. That taught me that a very fine finish can be had without waxing. Different CA’s and castings act differently, and gripping ability depends on the material and how fine it is finished. Wax can alter that “feel” to some extent, and it presents an initial feel that some may like, but it does wear off rather quickly. So, again, why put something on that is going to come of in a few days to a week or so?

WAXING - two scenarios where it is beneficial:

1. Wood preservative and revealing of the grain.

This is much like waxing furniture. To keep the wood clean and give a real “Wood” feel.

There are a few pen turners/pen makers who only deal in “wood” pens without any finishes other than oil/wax. There is nothing wrong with holding a “purist” philosophy with wood finishes, and the commitment needed to maintain the wood feel by the customer. Wax helps protect and clean the wood. Caution to those who want to go this route and are inexperienced with raw wood. Oiling and waxing the wood, to be effective, takes a few days at the least to a few weeks of almost daily waxing or oiling and a week to let it cure. One or two times waxing wood won’t do it (protection wise) for a nice wood pen. But this waxing or oil route makes for show casing fine wood and maintaining the wood feel! Wax is great for this.

2. For those that wax weekly or monthly: Fountain Pen aficionados take CARE of their pens. While we regular pen makers sell pens for $50 - $500, experienced and skilled fountain pen makers sell their fountain pens for $500 - $5000. Fountain pen connoisseurs are obsessive about their pens. They often know the types of nibs, kinds and brands of ink and are particular about the paper that they write on. These types of people will usually clean and wax their pens on a regular basis. Wax works with them.

If ball point/roller ball pen owners took care of their pens as fountain pen connoisseurs did, waxing would be viable for them. But since the vast majority will not and do not even entertain the thought of it, waxing by the seller is a one time event in the life of that pen. The finish that is applied under the waxing - needs to be so good that the buyer does not know when the wax wears off. However, if the finish is that good, why bother with wax?

Don’t let Wax Finishes be a substitute for a great finish under it. And if you have a great finish, wax isn't going to help!
Waxing is temporary!
Last comment: If waxing the pen as a finish makes you feel good, then do it.
 
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Larryreitz

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I've never used wax, probably for all or most of the reasons you detail. I've just never thought it all through as you have in your post. I think your deserve kudos for putting it so clearly.
Larry
 

mark james

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Awesome detailed summary of the issue Hank. Well worded. 👍

And I agree with the final statement: Don’t let Wax Finishes be a substitute for a great finish under it. And if you have a great finish, wax isn't going to help! Waxing is temporary!

My finishing technique is my weakest skill set for what I do, but I will not use a finish that is gone after 3-4 weeks.
 

MPVic

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Hank, thank you for taking the time to share your experience & recommendations. I confess in earlier days I fell prey to the very pitfalls you have reviewed, but I DID learn, albeit the hard way.
 

MRDucks2

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I never used wax as a finish on a pen and am normally quite pleased with my final finish, even though I am inconsistent with the effort required to get it there.

However, as my small collection of pens are often handled by family, friends, visitors and at IAP meetings I found that adding a coat of wax minimizes finger prints, dust and such. As a result, I now often put a wax finish over the top as a temporary protectant. In pens I have carried the only thing you notice when it wears off is the need to wipe is a it to get rid of prints.

Knowing it is temporary and helps lessen upkeep of the display seems beneficial to me.
 
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I never used wax as a finish on a pen and am normally quite pleased with my final finish, even though I am inconsistent with the effort required to get it there.

However, as my small collection of pens are often handled by family, friends, visitors and at IAP meetings I found that adding a coat of wax minimizes finger prints, dust and such. As a result, I now often put a wax finish over the top as a temporary protectant. In pens I have carried the only thing you notice when it wears off is the need to wipe is a it to get rid of prints.

Knowing it is temporary and helps lessen upkeep of the display seems beneficial to me.

Great write up Hank, well covered information
For the same reason shown in Mikes post, my final finish is a bit of Renaissance Wax that I buff. It is not a finish per se, just a way to protect the underlying finish, kind of like you use on a hardwood floor. On my knives I have instructions that say you should apply a coat of quality paste wax on the handle often. But again, it's not the final finish just a protectant. But the write up you've done, Hank, is excellent.
 

leehljp

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Great write up Hank, well covered information
For the same reason shown in Mikes post, my final finish is a bit of Renaissance Wax that I buff. It is not a finish per se, just a way to protect the underlying finish, kind of like you use on a hardwood floor. On my knives I have instructions that say you should apply a coat of quality paste wax on the handle often. But again, it's not the final finish just a protectant. But the write up you've done, Hank, is excellent.

Thanks for the reply. It helps to see others weigh in on this and there is a place for Wax on the finish. But it needs to be understood, and you and Mike and a some others understand its real purpose, and what it is not.

I did imply this but didn't say it directly: Wax is a good protector of the "finish" and in some cases with certain waxes keeps finger prints down. (Mike brought that out.) The problem with it is - it is a learned and repetitive process in which those who use ball point / rollerball pens don't do or use as a matter of practice. How many people wax their pens a much as hard wood floors or fine china cabinets are waxed? Now getting into the realm of dedicated fountain pen aficionados, or Sam Maloof rocking chair* owners, I am sure they wax on a regular basis. But that is in the "thousands of dollars" range and people with Lamborginis, Ferraris, Rolls Royces are going to do that. Chevy, Ford, Nissans and Toyota owners are not.

I have seen (on this forum) pen turners who will give a card with each pen sold with instructions on caring for the pen, which includes recommendations to "wax it regularly". But I doubt many buyers will do that, maybe only one or two times at the most for a few. The more expensive the pen or item, the more likely they will.

You and some high end sellers do this (wax/give cards/instructions) with your items. That is good. However, more than not, I see new turners get the idea that Wax is the final finish, and will name the brands that they use. If we observe the descriptions - i.e. most of those that name the brand of wax, that is a part of their "Finish," and it is easy to see that they consider the Wax finish as the icing on the cake. It is not. It wears off.

Wax has its place for those that understand it. Except for "all natural wood feel", It is just not a replacement or substitute for "Finish"

Thanks to you and Mike for pointing out areas that I did not touch on.

Notes:
* Sam Maloof Rocking Chair for sale (1963) $47,000.
(That link will soon be outdated as it sells)

Sam Maloof sites pen blanks:
 
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TonyL

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I use it as a temporary finish protector upon delivery of my pens to customers. It is always used on top of CA or acrylic/non-wood finishes.
It adds depth to the shine - albeit only temporary. I use Rejex. it does NOT contain any abrasives.
 

dogcatcher

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All finishes can use an occasional good wax job. Most of my selling venues were at gun shows or hunting events, pens were a sideline, game calls were my bread and butter. Duck calls take a beating in harsh weather, mud, grime and blood, a good wax makes it easier to clean them.

I use a mix of paraffin, beeswax and carnauba. Equal parts, melted, from here you can make either bars or a paste wax. Microcrystalline wax is a highly refined paraffin wax, you can buy it in the Microcrystalline wax or cheat and use food grade paraffin from the grocery store. In bar form, I use it like the Beall carnauba bar, for paste wax I add citrus solvent to make it smell good. Use it like Johnson's paste wax.

Another wax I liked was Kiwi neutral shoe polish wax. Just apply like polishing shoes. At shows for good customers I would give away small containers of my home brewed wax. This was to be used on game calls, but works equally well on pens etc.. You have to educate the buyers as to the care of waxing their pens and game calls. Same goes for waxing other turned items.
 

robutacion

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G'day Hank,

I read your thread (OP) last night and I was most impressed with your decision to get "the dots in the right spots" by making a very clear and detailed explanation on an issue that has been lingering around for some time.

I particularly like your ability to clearly separate all the issues related to waxes, if there were folks out there that were still confused about the issue, they don't have an excuse now.

The old-style finishes such as French polish still an interesting proposition to someone that has plenty of time and will get top dollar for what the polish and applied to such as old/antique/rare furniture, the Japanese still use finishes that no commercial product replicates or replaces but that would be a subject for another thread.

Thank you for putting the time and effort on writing this thread.

By-the-way, I'm also happy that I'm not the only one that writes long threads/post and or has plenty of say about stuff.

Cheers
George
 

leehljp

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All finishes can use an occasional good wax job. Most of my selling venues were at gun shows or hunting events, pens were a sideline, game calls were my bread and butter. Duck calls take a beating in harsh weather, mud, grime and blood, a good wax makes it easier to clean them.

I use a mix of paraffin, beeswax and carnauba. Equal parts, melted, from here you can make either bars or a paste wax. Microcrystalline wax is a highly refined paraffin wax, you can buy it in the Microcrystalline wax or cheat and use food grade paraffin from the grocery store. In bar form, I use it like the Beall carnauba bar, for paste wax I add citrus solvent to make it smell good. Use it like Johnson's paste wax.

Another wax I liked was Kiwi neutral shoe polish wax. Just apply like polishing shoes. At shows for good customers I would give away small containers of my home brewed wax. This was to be used on game calls, but works equally well on pens etc.. You have to educate the buyers as to the care of waxing their pens and game calls. Same goes for waxing other turned items.

You are correct and right on. There is a lot of good to be said for waxes of different kinds. But it has to be noted that it is not a permanent Finish. Temporary. I see this idea of "wax as a finish" regularly among many new people - as it was for me on the Purple Heart pen. Yet I never see it mentioned to the "new to turning" folks from us grumpy oldies that the wax is not a permanent finish. I have EEE and have used it, but it is not a viable finish when used to cover up an inadequate base. Same for other waxes.

Polish - that is another subject as "polish" has two different and distinct meanings that often get muddled into one conversation. The word "Polish" is used as a substitute for wax in some cases and circles (such as you mentioned in shoe polish), and it is also used as a very mild abrasive in many/most cases. Yet both are distinctively different.

Thanks for the input. Very helpful.
 
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