Advantages and Disadvantages of Beeswax Finish in Woodworking

Advantages and Disadvantages of Beeswax in Woodworking

You are probably too young to remember the phrase “Mind your own beeswax,” but sadly, I am not.  

Everything bees make is pretty amazing, including the wax that forms when they are building a nest.  Did you know that honey, if well-stored, never spoils or goes bad?  

Indigenous peoples of North America didn’t suffer from allergies as we so often do because honey was a steady part of their diet.  The honey was made by bees from all of the surrounding flowers they visited for pollen, and so the people adapted to those pollens from childhood and didn’t suffer allergies from them.

It is both sad and alarming to read so many news stories about the decline of the honey bee population because of pollution and climate change.  Like all else in nature, they exist for a purpose, and who knows what else will be affected if that population continues to decline?  While that might seem unrelated to woodworking, trees are plants, too, and the cascading effects of other wildlife decimation might well harm our woodworking passion.

Back to minding our own beeswax, though, for this article.  Let’s see what use we can make of this as a wood finish.  After all, we do use wax as a wood finish, including carnauba, an extract from the leaves of the carnauba plant that is native to northeastern Brazil.  Perhaps you’ve used it yourself.

In the case of Rubio Monocoat, a product we have written often of, we find a hard-wax and linseed oil finish that works in a single application.  While it is not waterproof, it is highly water-resistant, and its easy application makes it a wax-finish compelling choice.

Beyond that, though, we also have beeswax.  We’ll look hard into this soft and warming wood finish.

Is Beeswax A Good Choice For Wood Finish?

It depends.  What aesthetic are you wanting to create for your project?  If it’s a hard finish you are wanting, it might not be the right choice, but if you are looking for a soft (in terms of both durability and appearance) finish, it very well could be.  

Beeswax will create a warm appearance to the wood surface and allow its natural beauty to show.  A beeswax finish has a pleasing shine to it that helps it appear as freshly polished.

Make Your Own 100% Natural and Non-Toxic Beeswax Furniture Polish

In fact, you can make a lovely DIY beeswax polish easily.  By melting beeswax into olive oil and adding a little vitamin E and the scent of your choice, perhaps essential lavender oil, you will have yourself a fragrant and effective polish that will give your furniture a wonderful shine and your room a wonderful scent.

Let it cool completely after mixing before you use it.  The polish will have a medium hard balm consistency to it, easy to work with by applying a small “glob” (technical term there) on either the furniture piece or a clean cloth and wipe as you would with any polish.  You’ll be pleased with the results and the aroma it will add to the room.

The Advantages of Using Beeswax On Wood

Beeswax on Wood

We’ve mentioned a couple of nice features about a beeswax finish for your wooden furniture already – – a warm and pleasing shine that enhances the natural beauty of the wood.  There are more:

  • An easy application.  Beeswax is extremely easy to apply, whether to raw wood or wood that has already been stained.  Sanded and cleaned well as your prep, a clean cloth is all you need.  If you want to keep your hands clean, wear a glove.  An even application in a straight line along the wood’s surface will do the job.  Cleanup is simply a matter of removing the glove and folding the cloth for further use.
  • A quick dry.  Beeswax goes from being applied to drying in 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the environment.  Just make sure your coat was applied evenly and not too thick. That’s certainly faster than other wood finishes where something like polymerized linseed oil might take up to 3 days, or even polyurethane with 2 hours needed before sanding for the second coat.
  • What about water?  Depending on the source you cite, beeswax is either highly water-resistant or waterproof.  We lean toward the latter, actually.  Beeswax is used to seal many other surfaces, including concrete, granite, and other porous materials.  It’s used for waterproofing canvas and leather (gloves, boots), too.  Even copper and zinc surfaces, as well.  I used to seal my leather motorcycle boots with it when I was riding, too.

In this video, the videographer is waterproofing his canvas carry bag and other items using beeswax.  The formula he uses to make the agent is mostly beeswax, and we provide the video to show its versatility as a waterproofing agent.

  • Feeds the wood.  Beeswax acts as a nourishing agent for wood.  It can fill cracks and scratches and even undo damage caused by the sun.  It will bring dull wood alive and smooth its appearance in addition to the shine it will provide.
  • Non-toxic and safe.  This might make it a suitable choice for kitchen surfaces like countertops.  We’d say cutting boards, too, but it’s not durable enough to withstand a knife’s blade. (addressed in the list of disadvantages)
  • Doesn’t Spoil.  Properly stored, it’s like the honey it once held in the bee’s nest.  It won’t spoil or go bad.
  • A topcoat.  Yes, beeswax can be used over varnish, shellac, paint, oil, lacquer, and polyurethane and will add a beautiful and warm shine to the workpiece.  You just want to make sure the varnish, shellac, lacquer, poly, and all have fully cured before you apply the beeswax.

The Disadvantages of Beeswax On Wood

Beeswax Wood Finish

After all of those advantages, you would think beeswax could be the perfect choice for your project.  They are compelling, we agree, but you need to know the other side of the story before making your final choice.

  • It’s a final choice.  By that, we mean that once you have applied beeswax to wood, there’s little turning back without some pain.  It will block the use of any other measures – once on, you’re done.  So be sure it’s what you really want for your furniture piece.
  • Difficult to remove.  It’s a final choice unless you want to start all over again.  Beeswax is difficult to remove.  Scraping first and extensive sanding after is the process.  You will need to get down to raw wood again before you begin another finish.  It must be completely gone from the wood’s surface, or the next finish you apply will be uneven and streaky, where you missed a spot or more.  
  • Durable?  No.  Beeswax is a soft finish (we don’t mean in appearance) and is very susceptible to scratches and dings.  Remember when we mentioned cutting boards because it’s non-toxic and food-safe?  Your knife will ding it or scratch it because it isn’t like a varnish, poly, or lacquer finish or even like the hard-wax finish of Rubio Monocoat.  Yes, it’s great for repairing and filling scratches when they occur; it also facilitates those scratches by its soft nature.
  • Heat can hurt.  Beeswax is soft, as we have said, and it melts under heat.  Keep in mind that beeswax makes lovely candles that burn evenly and well.  This is good for candles but not for your furniture piece.  Any amount or degree of heat will cause it to melt.  Yes, it’s easy to repair – another application, and in less than an hour, the piece is as good as it was before the melt.  How many times do you want to be repairing that piece, whether from scratches or melting, though?
  • Frequent updates.  Its lack of durability will also mean frequent re-applications to keep it looking fresh and new.  It will wear off rather quickly, and so those re-applications could be frequent depending on use and environment.  While that is an easy process, as we have said, it can become an annoying chore over time.  If you are looking for a once-on-it’s-good wood finish, there are better choices that will last longer and provide more durable protection.  

General Aspects of Beeswax As A Wood Finish

Easy on is appealing, whether applying the first time around or reapplying because it was dented or scratched.  Easy cleanup after application also has some appeal and is certainly easier to clean up after than a polyurethane, for instance.  We recently wrote about cleaning brushes after a poly application, and you’ll find it here if you want to compare.  

But, it also made those scratches and dents you need to repair possible by its soft composition and lack of comparative durability (varnish, lacquer, polyurethane).  That push me-pull me dynamic might dissuade you from choosing beeswax.

Yes, it’s soft and susceptible to scratches and dents, but a beeswax finish can last from 3-5 years before the entire piece of furniture will need a full new coat applied.  Occasional repairs and re-applications for a 3-5 year lifespan might not be that bad, although a varnish choice will be both more durable and longer lasting.  It’s a different aesthetic than beeswax, of course, but that convenience may sway your choice. 

We burn beeswax candles in our homes.  The candles are long-lasting and have an almost sweet aroma that paraffin candles do not.  While we’ve used wood waxes as a finish on some of our projects, we’ve not used beeswax yet.  In researching for this article and chatting with another woodworker who uses oil and wood waxes exclusively for his turnery projects, we’ve become curious enough to add it to our list for a future project.  

Here is what we have decided in making that decision:

  • It will be on a project that will not get a lot of use – certainly not a tabletop or a chair, and most certainly not a cutting board or even a charcuterie board where a knife would likely cause a scratch needing to be repaired.
  • It will likely be a small piece as an experiment that will sit on a shelf for display, rarely to be touched.
  • We will likely make a wood polish with it using the formula we presented earlier in the article and test it on some of our wooden furniture to measure both its effectiveness and different aromas for our house.

We offer these thoughts that you might find helpful if you are considering beeswax as a wood finish sometime.  You can purchase beeswax in 1 lb blocks, and it breaks with a little light persuasion (chisel and mallet) into smaller amounts.  

It comes in both yellow and white and will run you between $7 – $15, depending on the source.  You may have a beekeeper nearby that sells wax; certainly, candlemakers will have a ready supply, too.  Of course, you can also find many options online since you can buy almost anything online today.

We offer a second video for you, this time a school woodshop teacher who was looking for a toxin-free and safe wax option for his students to finish their wood projects.  He melted down a 1 lb block of beeswax and mixed in some mineral oil, and deemed it safe for his students to use.  

We don’t recommend ingesting beeswax, of course, although you could without harming yourself.  Mineral oil is safe to ingest but only do so if you need to use a mild laxative, as that is its property when you take a spoonful.  

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We think beeswax is worth a try.  Perhaps in a later article, we’ll chronicle its use with photos and let you know how it went.  In the meantime, we’ll continue to mind our own beeswax.

Last update on 2022-11-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API