Wax Finish for a Knotty Pine Kitchen

A request for help with an unusual job draws some interesting information about wax finishes. March 12, 2006

I am building a kitchen out of knotty pine. The client brought in a drawer sample for color and a stain that he claims to be wax. It is in an unmarked container and there isn't enough to cover all the cabinets and doors. He said that it is a wax and that he only used one coat to get the color and tone he had. It does feel a little filmy. The color is somewhat greenish-yellowish brown. I have never heard of a wax stain. I have heard of a poly stain or similar. Could this be it? What if I use a homebrewed stain to get the color and then tung oil? I want the finish to last, not be oily to the touch, be safe for children, and be a good finish for a kitchen. But I need it to look like the sample, too. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
Greenish-yellowish… that sounds like amber shellac to me. He may have put the wax on, but I doubt that is what imparted the color you see.

From contributor M:
Waxes can be tinted and used in the manner suggested. Simply get yourself a good wood wax, put it over heat until it melts, then stir in UTC tint. That is what I do. I've not tried to tone it with stain. The color you are asking about sounds like raw umber, but very tough to tell without a picture. Wax is not strong enough for high use kitchen cabinets.

From contributor M:
Liberon's Black Bison Wax. High quality, many colors to choose from.

From contributor R:
If the client wants a wax finish just to get a certain color, then he should be told that the resultant finish will not likely give him the protective qualities that a kitchen environment requires. I am very cautious about letting a client tell me he wants a finish that I can't stand behind... knowing the affect it has on referrals.

From the original questioner:
One of the problems is that he already has the wax stain that he wants but doesn't have enough. It is unlabeled, so I have no way of knowing what it is. When applied, it doesn't look like it has finish on it. It looks natural, but with color. It also takes several weeks to cure, according to him, and has a strong odor. He has used it on most of the furniture he purchased unfinished from someone else. I will probably make something and then use a tung oil poly mix or something that will protect but look natural. Thanks.

From contributor B:
Never let a customer tell you what products to use! It's the quickest way to get into a nightmare job. You are the pro - they show you what color and sheen they want, and you give it to them using the best finish for the job.

Customer says "yeah, I want that wax stuff - uncle Joe says it's the best." Uncle did one small table 15 years ago and he's the expert? Use the best finish for the job. Wax is no good in the kitchen. You must use a good, hard, waterproof finish. If you spray, use Magnamax or better. If you brush, use poly.

From contributor C:
I have to agree with contributor B, for the most part. I had lots of problems trying to match factory finishes with supplies ordered from the factory. I never use such things now. I stick with the products that I know and love and match the look of the existing finishes. This policy has saved me tons of headaches. Match color, sheen, and the intangibles that constitute the look, but your life will be longer and happier if you do it with materials that you know intimately. A wipe-on poly formulation (whether from the can or homebrewed) can give an excellent imitation of a wax finish, except that the durability and almost non-existent maintenance features vastly surpass those of the best wax finishes.

From contributor Q:
Everyone is concerned about the choice of finishing materials for a kitchen job... How many would recommend knotty pine for a kitchen in the first place? Anyway, after explaining the pros/cons of using wax in a kitchen to the client, and they still decide that is what they want, then why not do it?

I'd be willing to bet anything the color you see on the sample piece was achieved by using Bri-wax in the "stripped pine" color. There are many retailers that import these pine pieces from Europe and they will give you a small unmarked can with the piece for touchups. If the sample was actually an older piece that had been stripped and finished with the wax, then this look can be duplicated by applying some Liquid Plumber to new pine. This will give the wood the same yellow color that the chemicals in the stripper provided, then brush on a coat of the Bri-wax and wipe off with rag and, like I said... be willing to bet it looks just like their sample.

By the way, Bri-wax is available in several different colors. The stripped pine flavor was suggested as it matches the color you are describing.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the responses. The customer always has a say when I work for them. If they want wax stain in the kitchen, that is what they will get, as long as they sign my waiver stating that I cannot guarantee the finish from stains, fading, etc, and that they will need to recoat occasionally. I feel that "custom" means making them what they want, not what I want. That said, I used Liberon's Black Bison Wax (rustic pine) and the customer was tickled. Thanks! There are always jobs that are weird, and that's what makes it fun.