The Use of Wax Finishes on Pre-Industrial American Furniture

Here's a scholarly paper on the history of wax finishes applied to early American furniture, and the difficult challenges of identifying and restoring original wax finishes. December 11, 2007

Reprinted with permission of Joseph Godla.

The application of analytical methods to historic furniture finishes has given conservators a better understanding of the objects they are treating. Combining this new ability to characterize extant coatings on artifacts with written documentation of the colonial era has allowed for the low piecing together of knowledge on period finishing practices. This information has been forwarded to curators and collectors and has already assisted in the more appropriate interpretation of some American furniture. However, there are times when the results of analysis appear to be at odds with the materials that might be expected. Wax is such a material. Both curators and conservators have concluded that wax was a primary finishing material used by eighteenth century cabinetmakers. Yet, it is rarely identifiable as an early layer in the cross-sectional examination of furniture samples.

This study had several objectives. The first was to examine documentary evidence regarding the use of wax by American cabinetmakers. Second, with the aid of sophisticated analytical methods, confidently identify furniture with early wax coatings in place. And finally, to address some of the conservation issues related to wax finishes.

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The Use of Wax Finishes on Pre-Industrial American Furniture