Beeswax is a natural wood finish that can be used to enhance the beauty of wooden furniture. If you are looking for a type of finish that is eco-friendly, natural, and aesthetically pleasing, you might consider beeswax as an option.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using beeswax to polish wood? The biggest advantage of beeswax is that it is natural and non-toxic. However, compared to other wood finishes like polyurethane, beeswax is a lot less durable and requires more maintenance.
If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of using beeswax to finish wood, this article will tell you all about beeswax and how you can use it in your next project.
Polishing With Beeswax
Beeswax is a natural wood finish that can be used to enhance the beauty of wooden furniture. It’s often considered a safe and non-toxic alternative to traditional finishes like varnish or polyurethane, which often contain a high amount of VOCs.
Beeswax has been used for centuries as a wood finish, dating back to the ancient Egyptians. Because it comes from a natural resource (beehives), beeswax is a natural, non-toxic, food-safe, and biodegradable wood finish.
If you have worked with wood finishes before, you can understand how impressive this characteristic is.
Wood finishes like varnish or polyurethane often emit VOCs that are toxic when you inhale the fumes. For households with children and pets, using these wood finishes can potentially be dangerous. Using a natural, non-toxic wood finish would be the best option in this case.
For eco-conscious DIY enthusiasts, beeswax is also a great wood finish because it is environmentally friendly and biodegradable.
Other wood finishes that contain harsh chemicals may require special attention, especially when you want to clean your rags and brushes, because of the high level of toxicity.
However, with beeswax, you can rest assured that it is kind to the environment and won’t leave behind any toxic residue.
The beeswax that you can find in the store nowadays is usually a combination of beeswax and a drying oil like tung oil, mineral oil, or walnut oil to help nourish the wood and add shine to the finish.
The drying oil will be absorbed into the wood and become hardened when it is exposed to air, which provides the wood with nourishment and protection, while the beeswax forms a film on the outer layer of the wood.
This natural finish can protect wooden furniture from water, dirt, and stains. It can also give a beautiful shine to the wood and highlight the wood grain beautifully.
Advantages Of Beeswax Wood Finish
In addition to the advantage of being completely natural and non-toxic, you may enjoy the following advantages when using beeswax as a wood finish:
- Easy to apply and quick drying
- Nourishes the wood and adds a beautiful shine to the grain
- Long shelf life
Let’s explore each of the advantages below:
1. Easy To Apply And Quick Drying
It doesn’t take a lot of practice to create a perfect wax finish. Unlike other finishes, beeswax can be applied quickly and easily just by buffing the wax using a clean cloth over the wood.
That means you don’t have to worry too much about leaving brush strokes or uneven textures on the wood, which often happens when applying polyurethane or varnish.
Unlike other wood finishes, beeswax dries quickly on its own. There’s no need to wait days between coats in order to get good results.
If you find that the beeswax finish has become worn out or there are dents on the surface of the wood after some use, it’s also quite easy to reapply the beeswax to improve the protection.
You don’t have to remove the previous layer of beeswax completely; you only need to remove any dirt or grease on the surface of the beeswax and buff in another layer of beeswax over it to create a good-as-new finish.
Compared to other types of finishes, where you have to sand down the previous layer before applying a new one, this is definitely a huge advantage.
With every type of wood, some kind of protection against moisture is always recommended. Wood can absorb moisture in the air as well as any water that it comes into contact with, and it can expand and shrink when the wood absorbs water and when the water evaporates.
This causes a whole host of problems. The changes in the size of the wood can cause it to warp and crack. When water is trapped inside, it can become an ideal environment for rot and fungi to develop.
This is why it’s always recommended to finish wood with a water-resistant or waterproof finish. Fortunately, beeswax is water-resistant. It forms a thin film around the wood to prevent the moisture from being absorbed into the wood’s pores.
Keep in mind that beeswax is only water-resistant and not completely waterproof, which means that the level of protection is quite mild. For waterproof finishes, it’s better to go with a resin topcoat or a polyurethane finish.
3. Nourishes The Wood/Adds Beautiful Shine To Grain
Beeswax is an excellent wood finish because it has a beautiful warm color which enhances the grain of the wood. In addition, beeswax nourishes the wood rather than just covering it up like most other finishes, so it will help keep your furniture looking good for years to come.
This is because beeswax doesn’t just sit on top of the wood like other finishes; it soaks down into the pores of your woodwork and fills them up, leaving a deep luster that makes your wood look its best by highlighting the natural grain.
It is quite rare to find a wood finish that can be completely food-safe after drying. This is especially important if you are finishing up wooden pieces that regularly come in contact with food, such as your cutting boards, kitchen countertop, or wooden bowls, plates, and utensils.
Not only is beeswax completely non-toxic, but it is also food-safe, which means you can safely use it to finish your kitchenware without worrying about toxic substances contaminating your food.
If you have small children at home, you can also use beeswax to finish their wooden toys and furniture as well.
5. Long Shelf Life.
Did you know that beeswax can last indefinitely, as long as you store it correctly in a sealed container in a dry and cool place?
This is definitely a huge advantage over other types of wood finishes. In comparison, polyurethane is good for about three years if the container is unopened and only one year after the container is open!
Because of this very characteristic, beeswax is quite suitable if you have small, infrequent jobs. You only need a single jar of beeswax in your shop, and it can stay useful indefinitely. This is quite an economical solution for those who want something that will last a long time.
Disadvantages Of Beeswax Finish
After exploring some advantages of beeswax as a wood finish, you may want to get a container of beeswax for your own workshop. However, before rushing to the purchase, you’ll need to learn more about some disadvantages of this wood finish, including:
- Not very durable/not scratch-resistant
- Not heat-resistant
- Needs to be reapplied regularly
- Difficult to remove/will repel other coatings without proper removal
- Can yellow over time
Let’s explore each of these disadvantages below.
1. Not Very Durable/Not Scratch-Resistant
If you’re familiar with any type of wax, you’ll know that running your nails over a waxed surface can leave a scratch. Although beeswax designed to finish wood has been treated to harden somewhat, this is still unavoidable.
This means you won’t be able to use beeswax to finish any type of wood that need protection against heavy use. Think: flooring, tabletops, outdoor furniture, etc. The beeswax won’t be able to handle the heavy use and will become scratched up after just a few days.
Similarly, as we mentioned, beeswax is only water-resistant and not waterproof, which means it won’t be able to withstand a large amount of water. Your outdoor furniture won’t be properly protected if you only use beeswax as a protective layer.
In instances where you need a durable layer of protection, you should use stronger finishes like polyurethane or resin, which have superior waterproof protection as well as scratch – and abrasion resistance.
2. Not Heat Resistant.
Similar to candle wax, beeswax can also melt under high heat. For those who intend to use beeswax to finish wooden bowls or spoons, you should know that hot food and beeswax do not mix. Since beeswax is non-toxic, it’s not doing to be harmful, but the heat can still ruin the beeswax layer.
If you use beeswax to finish a wooden bowl or plate, it’s best to keep these things away from high heat and only use them to handle cold cuts or salads.
3. Needs To Be Reapplied Regularly
As we’ve mentioned, beeswax is not very durable and can be dented or scratched with just a little bit of a scrape. If you want the finish to remain new and shiny, regular reapplication is definitely needed.
It’s not hard to reapply beeswax since you don’t have to completely remove the previous layer. However, having to reapply the protection once every few weeks – depending on how regularly you use your wooden item – can be a hassle.
This is something you should consider when choosing beeswax for a wood finish.
4. Repels Other Coatings/Difficult To Remove
If you want to paint your wood a different color or apply another finish, it can be quite difficult since beeswax forms a smooth film over the wood that can be difficult to paint over.
In this case, you will need to strip the wax completely before moving forward with a coat of paint or finish.
Beeswax can be quite difficult to remove completely. You can use a strong solvent like mineral spirits or turpentine to strip the wax, although these are strong chemicals that can be unpleasant to work with.
You can also use a hairdryer to melt the wax and use a wet sponge to wipe it down, but this method can be inefficient, especially if you need to cover a large area.
Only once the beeswax is completely removed from the wood can you continue with painting or finishing with another type of wood finish.
5. Can Yellow Over Time
Although a beeswax finish can provide the wood with a lustrous shine, unfortunately, that won’t last. Depending on the type of beeswax you use, the color can yellow slightly over time, requiring you to freshen up the look of the wax.
Best Way To Apply Beeswax To Wood
The simplest way to apply beeswax over wood is with a clean cloth and some elbow grease. You can use the cloth to pick up a little bit of wax at a time and buff the wax into the wood in nice, even strokes.
You can also melt the beeswax in a double boiler and use the cloth to wipe the liquid wax over the wood. While this method takes less elbow grease, the cloth will absorb a lot of wax, which makes the application more wax-consuming.
After application, you can use a hairdryer to heat up the wax and allow it to really sink into the pores of the wood, which can help you achieve a nice and even layer.
If the wooden item fits into the oven, you can also pop it into the oven at 170°F for a few minutes, which will do the trick.
View this video below from Woodsmith to find out the best way to apply beeswax:
How often do you need to reapply the wax?
Depending on how much wear and tear the wood needs to suffer on a daily basis, you may see that the wax can become worn out faster in some places than others.
If left alone, beeswax can last for up to 3 years. However, in places like your countertop or cutting board, you may see scratches after only a few months, so reapplying the wax will be needed to maintain a polished appearance.
Does beeswax make wood sticky?
Beeswax forms a thin film over the wood surface that can be slightly tacky when it is freshly applied and will dry smooth.
Unfortunately, this also makes the wax attract dust and dirt, so you will need to clean and polish waxed surfaces more regularly.
When to use beeswax and when to use polyurethane?
Beeswax is an excellent wood finish when you need something that is non-toxic, food-safe and doesn’t need to be highly waterproof or durable.
On the other hand, you should use polyurethane or other durable wood surfaces when you need to finish to be highly durable, water-resistant, and scratch-resistant. For example, outdoor furniture or countertops would be the most suitable for this type of finish.
There are many pros and cons when it comes to using beeswax as a wood finish. Knowing these characteristics will help you choose the best wood finish option for your specific application.
For many people, beeswax is an excellent wood finish because it is all-natural, non-toxic, and eco-friendly. However, if you seek a wood finish with more durability and waterproof ability, you should opt for a traditional wood finish that can offer a bit more protection.