Make Your Own Polish - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Wood Finishing: A simple recipe has been developed for a polish that you can make in unlimited and relatively inexpensive quantities, that’s easy and quick to apply, provides a one-coat seal and finish, has a minimal drying time, and gives a soft glow to a high gloss depending on the buffing speed used.

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Make Your Own Polish



Vessels and photo by Ken Wiancko

I've tried more than 30 home brewed combinations of materials in my shop using mineral oil, tung oil, citrus thinner and turpentine as carriers. Some of the combinations that have proved successful are described below. I use the mixture that includes beeswax, carnauba wax, Damar varnish, and turpentine on my wax finished wood turnings. The first three ingredients of this mixture are used in the food industry. Even though the amount of turpentine in this mixture is very small, for pieces with food applications you should substitute citrus thinner or orange solvent for the turpentine. If you do this you will need to use more of the solvent to dissolve the solids. Reducing the amount of solvent will create a paste, while increasing it makes liquid wax.
 
Brewing the Finish
Brewing your own polish takes some experimentation, but the results can be well worth the time and effort. Here are some tips to make your home brewing experience easier.

• In the best interests of matrimonial harmony, buy a hot plate, a couple of cheap glass or steel pots to cook the finish in, and some glass jars to store the finish in. Also brew in your shop, not the kitchen.

• Even though brewing this wax finish is less offensive than painting a room with latex paint, it’s best to brew your finish in a ventilated space.

• You need a double boiler – the pot containing the wax (the ‘melting pot’) should sit in another pot with water in it. Use just enough water so the melting pot, Woodworkers, particularly novices, are often perplexed trying to find a suitable polish among the many offered for sale. Making your own polish isn't difficult; in this article I’ll show you how to do it. with ingredients, doesn’t float. Then place both pots on the hot plate.

• Combine all the ingredients into the melting pot by weight (I use an old postage meter).

• Bring water to a low boil, stirring ingredients occasionally to prevent sticking. The melting point for beeswax is 64ºC (147ºF), for carnauba wax 84ºC (183ºF) and for Damar varnish 120ºC (240ºF). You don’t need to boil the turpentine as the moderate heat from the water will dissolve the solids. The solids will dissolve in about 1/2 hour.

• Pour the wax mixture into glass or metal containers to cool. As a safety precaution wear gloves, and be careful to avoid spilling the mixture on the heating elements. You’ll also want to keep a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

The finished product shrinks as it cools, leaving a depression in the top of the wax. The mixture weights given below for various ‘home brews’ will produce near equivalent weights of wax polish. Larger amounts are just as easily made by increasing the ingredient weights proportionally. It keeps well in a closed jar and if it hardens, simply re-melt the wax and add a dash of turpentine.
 
Using the Brew
The steps I outline below are based on my experience applying wax to wood turnings. If you are applying the wax to a piece of furniture you will have to buff by hand, or with an electric polisher; it’s a good idea to use nitrile gloves (leevalley.com) when applying the wax to prevent mucking up your cuticles.

• Apply the wax thinly to the turned stationary piece - long way to the grain on spindle pieces and circularly to face plate work. Spin slowly until the surface feels tacky to the gloved hand, then increase lathe speed for buffing with a soft paper towel.

• This mixture will close up wood pores, though you can add a little solvent compatible dye for use on dark woods if you wish.

• The wax also helps hide sanding marks. I find that the wax rarely streaks, and after setting for a day the depth of finish can be accentuated using a three wheel buffing system.

• A marked piece can often be repaired by a smear of the wax to the area and rebuffing.

Remember the old turning adage: Put the shine on your finished piece before shining with wax. Sand to 220 or 400 grit with alternate power and hand sanding before using your home brew. Polish at about 1000 RPM to give a soft matte finish. Progressively sanding up to 2000 grit (I use automotive body work sandpaper) with a single application of the brew and then buffing at 3000 RPM lathe speed results in a rich, gloss finish.

High lathe speed finishes using this mixture can be handled almost immediately without fear of finger marks. The finish sets in an hour or two and is odourless in two or three days. Slow speed or hand polished pieces will take a little longer to cure. This wax is equally effective for flatwork polish, working about a square foot at a time. You can sign your piece over this wax with a Lumicolor® pen.
 

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KEN WIANCKO
Ken Wiancko