Types of finishes

The information on the following pages provides an introductory guide to finishes. In the main, finishes can be grouped under four main headings, which represent the type of base material of the products: wax. oil, polish and varnish.


Pure waxes are solid in form, at room temperature, with a melting point lower than the boiling point of water. Natural waxes are derived from plants or insects; mineral waxes are obtained by oil distillation and synthetic waxes are produced using oil or natural gas.

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The standard test to measure the hardness of wax is called a penetration test. This meaures the depth, in tenths of a millimetre (dmm), that a specially configured and weighted needle will penetrate the wax at certain temperatures. A hard wax would have a low penetration number.

Above Paraffin wax.

Top left Carnauba wax flakes.

Left Carnauba wax block.

Beeswax A glandular secretion from young worker honeybees for building their honeycomb structures. It is soft, yellow in colour and produces a dull sheen. Hardness of 20dmm at 25'C; melting point 6d"C.


A wax derived from the leaves of the Brazilian carnauba palm. It is very hard, with high gloss. Hardness 2dmm at 25'C; melting point 84"C.

Paraffin wax

This wax is distilled from crude oil. It is a colourless, odourless fatty substance, which produces a soft dull sheen. Paraffin waxes impart high resistance to moisture, alcohol, acids and fingerprints. Hardness greater than 1 Idmm at 25'C; melting point 75*C.

Polyethylene wax A synthetic wax produced by the polymerization of ethylene. Ethylene is produced from natural gas or by cracking petroleum naphtha. Melts between 30 and 140"C depending on grade. Hardness between 7 and 12dmm at 25'C. Polyethylene waxes increase abrasion resistance and provide a non-sticky wax surface.

Above Paraffin wax.

Top left Carnauba wax flakes.

Left Carnauba wax block.

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Above Liberon Blac* Bison fine paste wax.

Waxes can also be mixed to give a combination of their properties. Paste wax - either pure wax or a blend of waxes in a solvent - is a soft wax produced for ease of application. When applied, the solvent evaporates leaving the hard wax on the surface. With a high level of solvent the mixture Becomes a liquid wax. Various solvents are used, such as turpentine, meths and white spirits.

A wax and oil mixture combines the properties of both in liquid form. The oil penetrates the wood, while the wax migrates to the surface and hardens.

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