{Tutorial} How to Wax and Buff Furniture to a Beautiful Shine

I have a bit of a treat for you today! I haven’t put up any new posts this week because I’ve been working on providing a tutorial on how to wax furniture and get a consistent, even sheen on even dark colors such as black. I know a lot of you have struggled with this… I did too for a long time, but I’m going to show you what I would consider a fool-proof way to apply wax without any issues! It really is easier than you think.

Getting a consistent sheen

Up until today I had a basic tutorial on applying wax. In that tutorial, my advice is that if you are working on something that has been painted dark… to not use wax but to use Wipe On Poly. The reason for that applying wax on light furniture is pretty straight forward and easy… and since it doesn’t reflect the sheen the same way… usually there are no issues. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I love using wax on painted furniture. It’s my go to product for almost anything painted (see be for situations when not to use wax). But, because of the confusion out there on how to apply wax, many get very frustrated with it. It’s really not difficult, but there are a few additional steps you need to avoid a blotchy, streaky appearance.

This is actually a technique I learned by talking with some advanced woodworkers on how they apply wax to unfinished wood. I just slightly modified the technique to work with furniture painted with Chalk Paint. I’m demonstrating this on a dining chair that has 2 coats of Black Latex paint mixed with my favorite, Blue Minerals Chalk Paint Powder. (It will still work with other brands of Chalk Paint as well). I am using Fiddes Supreme Wax in “Light”. Fiddes also comes in “clear” for light and white colored pieces. I prefer light for dark pieces because it brings out a little bit more richness in the color.

{Tutorial} – Scroll down for a video tutorial as well.

How to Wax and Buff Painted Furniture by WhiteCottageBoutique.com

Things You Will Need:

Step 1: Paint furniture as normal.

As stated above – I am using Black Latex paint mixed with Blue Minerals Chalk Paint.

Step 2: Melt wax if necessary.

Make sure to move the wax to a microwave safe container before melting. Put in microwave for approx. 30 seconds to soften the wax. This is not a required step. If you are working outside on a hot day, the wax will already be very soft. If its cold where you are working, you might find it easier to melt the wax. This is just personal preference.

Step 3: Apply 1 Coat of Wax

Apply 1 coat of wax to the entire piece by taking a lint free cloth, t-shirt or waxing brush and wiping it across the entire surface. You do not need to press hard with Fiddes, just apply it in a similar way that you would apply paint. Work in small sections, removing the excess wax quickly after its applied. Make sure to cover the entire thing, getting into all the nooks and crannies (using a waxing brush makes this much easier).  When I say remove the excess wax – I mean take a clean cloth and lightly wipe over the waxed area. You do not want to rub back and forth (this will buff the piece – which you do not want to do – yet!), you’re just lightly wiping, similar to what you would do to dust a table. Look at it like you are smoothing it out, and getting rid of any stroke lines. Fiddes dries relatively quickly, so work in small enough sections that your not having issues wiping off the excess.

Waxing Brush Close Up

Things to look for:

  • No clumps (or at least as little as possible – don’t stress about this). 
  • Apply as evenly as possible – again no stress! 🙂
  • Don’t miss any areas! This is important – make sure that you get at least some wax on every inch of the piece because the areas you miss will be very noticeable.

At this point, your project is going to look like crap! I mean really, unless you found the holy grail of rags that leaves not dust or lint behind, you’re going to have little white things all over the piece. Its going to look streaky and splotchy and you’re going to be oh so tempted to try to buff it out right now! Don’t! Just let it be and trust me that it will look beautiful in the end.

What to expect after applying wax

Step 4: Let it cure

When I say let it cure – you can think of it like letting it dry – but much longer! It will feel dry to the touch about 5 minutes after you apply the wax. With wax, you want to let the wax get past just drying, to the point where its transforming into a solid durable surface. Then you can rub out and buff the surface! I recommend waiting at least overnight, but if you’re inpatient like me – you could get away with waiting 4-5 hours. But, overnight is best!

Step 5: Rub it Out

This is not the technical term for this step – It’s really a part of the buffing process, but I want to make sure to make a point that this should be done in addition to just normal buffing. This is the step that everyone skips – but it’s really the most important part!

So it’s the next day (hopefully ;)), and you’re painted furniture looks like crap! It’s a splotchy mess and you are hating me because you don’t know how this could possibly turn out well! But before you give up try it. I promise you’ll never go back to the way you were waxing before.

Take your #0000 grit steel wood and start to lightly rub over your waxed furniture. Think of it as lightly sanding your piece – because you are). When I say “lightly” – imagine you are using the abrasive side of a sponge to clean your table – you don’t want to put so hard that you remove paint – especially around the edges. You could even distress at this point – which I do when I want a very light distressed look, but if you don’t want any distressed edges – be careful about how hard to press on the steel wool.

The goal is to even out the sheen. The steel wool will most likely look pretty dull where you rub, but just work with it until it’s even. If you come across a particularly shiny spot, you most likely have too much wax (or you accidentally buffed it while applying the wax), so you will have to rub a little more strongly in that area until it dulls down to the same sheen as the remainder of the piece. Same with splotchy areas, you might not have wiped enough of the wax off, but that’s okay (remember when I said not to stress about it), you can rub it off with the steel wool until its even, it just takes a little bit longer in those areas. This might seem like it would take forever – but it goes pretty quickly. (Note: if an area looks too dull and is not changing sheen with the steel wool – there’s a chance you might have missed that area. Just apply some more wax over the area, let it cure and go back to it with the steel wool. It will even out with the rest of the piece.

Step 5: Rubb

This really is the crucial step in getting an even finish. You can spend hours trying to buff with a cloth, but you most likely won’t get the same amazing results and you’ll spend 2 to 3 x as long doing it. (I’ve never personally been able to achieve the same results when skipping this step.)

Step 6: Buff

I personally buff with a mixture of Fiddes Pine Drill Buffing Brush and a microfiber or synthetic wool buffing cloth. The drill buffing brush makes it really easy on large surfaces. I also use it unattached to a drill to get out any chunks of wax that settle in cracks or crevices. Mostly I use a microfiber/synthetic wool buffing cloth. I buy these at Home Depot or Lowe’s over in the buffing section. (Usually right next to the tool section where they sell electric buffers). I use the pads that go on the electric buffers – even though I don’t have one because they work amazing just by themselves and they are more readily available. It comes in a pack of 2 – a microfiber pad and a synthetic wool pad. I don’t notice a difference between the two pads, so I use them interchangeably.

Step 6 Buff up the Shine

All you’re going to do is take one of the pads and wipe down the entire surface of the waxed piece. Because you’ve already evened out the sheen with steel wool, this step is really easy. You’re basically just wiping it as if you were cleaning it with a rag. If you notice a spot that is slightly off in sheen, you can focus on that area with the buffing cloth – rubbing back and forth – or you can go back over it with the steel wool if it’s a really difficult area. Buffing brings up the sheen from a satin sheen that is created with the steel wool to a more semi-gloss sheen. (You don’t have to buff if you prefer the sheen left by the steel wool). If you’re looking for a gloss sheen you will need to go over it with rubbing compound. This is a very advanced technique that I rarely ever use and I am not going to discuss it on this post. (Maybe a post for another day).

Step 7: Let it finish curing.

Even though you’ve let it cure overnight already ( hopefully). I would recommend after you’ve rubbed and buffed the piece to let it cure for another 24 hours.

Black Painted and Waxed Dining Room Chair by WhiteCottageBoutique.com

You’re done! I also discuss everything in this post in video format and demonstrate how to do each of the techniques.

{Video Tutorial}

Part 1: How to Apply The Wax

Part 2: How to Buff the Sheen to a Beautiful Even Shine

When not to use wax:

Even though I love, love, love wax and use it on almost everything… there are times when a wax top coat is a terrible decision. These include:

  • Any table top that will have any type of heat or oils on it on a regular basis. Specifically, I’m talking about dining room table tops! First of all, wax melts! Imagine spending all that time getting your table top to look beautiful with an amazing sheen and you go put a hot plate on it. When you’re finished you remove the plate and magically there’s a permanent ring in your wax finish. Even though this is pretty easy to fix – its time-consuming and there are better options out there for table tops! This doesn’t mean you can’t wax the sides of the table though.  
  • Any piece of furniture that will be outside. Again, wax melts, so it’s not ideal for furniture that is going to be outside. The last thing you want is to come outside to a drippy mess of a piece of furniture. There are finishes that have UV protection that are designed for outdoor use and will protect your color as well!

 

  • Jean Drennan

    Awesome waxing videos! I use fiddles but have really struggled with black furniture so am going to try the steel wool idea. Do you ever use dark wax after you apply the light? I love the look and assume that both light and dark would be applied then use the steel wool. Would love your opinion if you do this. Thanks

    • Kelsey Elaine

      Hey Jean, I’ve never tried using the steel wool with dark wax applied over it, but I imagine it would work the same… I’ve got this awesome hutch just begging to be refinished with dark wax, so I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.

      Thanks,

      Kelsey

  • http://www.togetherwegroh.blogspot.com Kelly Grohler

    BEAUTIFUL!!! Thanks so much for this! I’m new to the blogging world & am your newest follower 🙂 The waxes always made me nervous, but I will have to try the steel wool trick- thanks again! Kelly 🙂

    • whit0958

      Thanks Kelly! I love wax, and they seem a lot more intimidating than they really are once you start to use them. 🙂

  • http://www.estilofamiliar.com Mayra

    This is the best site I have found that explains step by step how to work with chalk paint and waxes. Excellent videos and illustrations. I just finished my first dining table (with a lot of mistakes included!!) and I am satisfied with it. Thank you for this excellent video that makes me feel more comfortable using waxes with dark colors. Do you use this technique with other colors? Red? Blue?

  • sparklingmel

    Great information, I have never used the steel wool, however, I am
    going to try it. Appreciate your knowledge…..

  • http://myhomesweetblog.com Elizabeth

    Hi! You said you mixed the chalk paint with the latex paint? Have you ever used wax over JUST latex paint? I’d love to smooth out some brush strokes on cabinets that have been painted with latex paint and I don’t want to use poly because I do not want a super shiny finish. Your expert opinion would be much appreciated!!
    Many thanks!

    • Kelsey Elaine

      Hi Elizabeth,

      You can use wax over regular latex paint, but it will not smooth out the brush strokes that are already in the finish. The only benefit of using wax over poly is that it will be slightly less plastic looking or shiny, and you could possibly make more brush strokes when applying the poly. You could sand down the current finish to get it a bit more smooth, then finish it off with wax. The other thing to consider with wax is that it is generally not recommended for kitchen cabinets. The oils commonly found in kitchens can ruin the wax finish, making it look smudgy over time, and causing you to have to re- wax in a few years! I hope this information helps you in making your decision!

      Kelsey

  • Jill

    Hi,
    Love your work! I was just looking for your advice on what to finish my table top in ( dinning table ) i read you said that waxing it is not a good option. Also I have put one coat of wax on already do I need to remove this some how or what do I do? I appreciate any advice you may have.

    Thanks

    • Kelsey Elaine

      You can use wax to finish a dining table top, it’s just not the best option and I personally do not recommend it. Because a dining table has so much traffic on it, the wax get’s worn down quickly. It’s also easily ruined with the oils that are commonly found in kitchens, meaning you might end up having to re wax every year or so to keep the table looking good. Poly is a much better solution, at least for the top. You can try cleaning the wax off using mineral spirits.. You might not be able to get all the wax off, and polyurethane generally will not adhere to the wax. The best solution would be to repaint over the wax.

      I hope that helps!

  • Rosie

    Absolutely beautiful. Your instructions are spot on. Attempting to paint dining room chairs black (org. Wood is light). Getting a streaky final chalk paint coat (pre-wax). First coat was ASCP Provence (turquoise), then her Graphite. Graphite not dark enough so I switched to Shabby Paints Licorice. Can’t seem to get smooth enough finish even though it covers well. Even using fine grade sandpaper leaves me with a streaky mess. Maybe Annie and Shabby don’t play well together? I am so happy to find your waxing toot. Now if I can just get there. Your pictured finish is what I envisioned. Silly me.

  • Sandi Hensley

    thank you!! Hopefully I can now finish a black piece and feel good about it!!

  • Barbara

    Your tutorials have been SO helpful, as I am attempting my first chalk paint project – painting sheaf back dining room chairs black (and hoping for a finish like the dining room chairs in your project). Using the steel wool is definitely key, just as you stated. I do have one question, tho, I hope you will be able to help me with. After I have used the steel wool and then do some buffing with a buffing cloth, I am ending up with black marks on the cloth. Is the to be expected or am I doing something wrong to end up with black marks on the cloth? Thanks so much for your help.

    • Kelsey Elaine

      It’s been a while since I did anything black, so I’m not 100% sure if I had black marks on the cloth. If I did, they were not very noticeable. If you feel like you are taking off paint while buffing you could be either buffing to hard, or most likely, removing too much wax with the steel wool. Try putting on another coat of wax before doing the steel wool to give yourself a more even coating and little extra layer.

      I hope that helps!

  • PaulPalermo

    Hi Kelsey,
    You’ve done a great service for the furniture preservers of the future. Your home video was very well done but here’s a few recommendations for future productions. I imagine you’ve already picked up on in these post production… Anyway, I’d shut off your AC/Heater which periodically kicks in; the noise distracts from your lovely dulcet tones 🙂 You may want to be facing your window, or other bright light source that doesn’t cast so many shadows that you can’t see the finish in progress. A mid waist shot of you and the work would be better than the wide pan of your entire room, this way we can see the finish close up (by the way I love that white side board behind you as well as your choice of chairs). On the plus side: I could watch and listen to you polish furniture all day. It’s not just the knowledge you share but the love of what you’re doing. Even though you repeated yourself here and there, I think it was because you were lost in your work. For someone who doesn’t have the luxury of a professional Hollywood production crew, you did an excellent job! Your thoughts were clear, organized and detailed. I didn’t feel like you were talking down to me and you are down-right cute and charming. P.S. I’m going to try using synthetic 000 steel wool, I hope it will be easier to work with, not so messy, might even last longer. Paul Palermo, Austin, Texas

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/ResinMusings Tanya

    I wish I had read this two days ago!!! I had already applied one coat of clear wax to a desk and probably wiped most of it off. The drawers got 2 coats. Now i’m wondering if should do a second coat of wax and just wipe it gently?

    I have the #0000 steel wool, now i just need to go get a buffing pad.

    Thanks for this tutorial btw, it’s awesome!

  • Melanie

    Won’t a power buffer be faster and more efficient?

    • Kelsey Elaine

      You could definitely use a power buffer, but I’ve tried multiple power buffers and found that they are not my favorite to use. One reason being that they create these ugly swirls in the finish on large flat areas that I don’t love. It’s also impossible to control the level of sheen that you get. You’re basically going to be buffing it up to the highest sheen your wax allows. And the biggest issue I have with them is that they rip down the paint along the edges. It’s really difficult to control your level of pressure around corners and edges, especially if your working on something like a chair. If your not going for a distressed look, this becomes a major issue.

      I’ve tried so many different products and techniques for waxing furniture, and especially on dark colors it can be extremely frustrating. This is my favorite way to get the most even and most control over the finished look of your project that I’ve found!

  • http://www.pamfalbophotography Pam

    I want to really thank you for addressing the issues of painting black furniture. There IS a difference and I am glad you have a solution for it. I ended up with that “splotchy-ness” you mention. It is only after combing MANY articles on chalk painting & waxing that I FINALLY came across your article. There IS hope for painting black furniture (that I love) and getting the results you wound up with. I love the finish on your black chairs. While I have not tried using the step of sanding the surface with 0000 steel wool, it sounds like a solution.
    I am a bit concerned after reading your viewpoint of NOT using wax on dining room table tops – the piece I JUST chalk painted & waxed is my kitchen table! (boohoo)
    Anyway, THANK YOU for a very useful article!

    • Kelsey Elaine

      Hi Pam,

      I’m glad my tutorial could provide some additional insight into fixing this common issue! As for waxing a table top – this is just my preference/opinion. The oils in your fingers eat away at the wax finish, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It just means that you might need to apply another layer of wax a few years down the road!

  • sarah stephens

    Dear kelsey elaine,
    I bought expensive bedrm. Suite (distressed) in the store with the lights it looked fine. But when I saw it at home, it looks soo dull. I regret buying it. I waited 25 years to buy a new suite.
    is there anything I can do to put some shine. someone suggested butchers wax?
    I am soo disappointed That I could cry!
    thank you,
    sarah

    • Kelsey Elaine

      I would recommend trying hemp seed oil. I don’t have any experience with butchers wax, so that might be a good solution as well! I would imagine Hemp Seed Oil is easier to apply though.

      I hope it works out well for you!

  • cammy2014

    One comment on your technique and that is that the reason your unbuffed pieces look blotchy and streaky is probably the result of two factors:
    1. Applying too much wax
    2. Not wiping the piece immediately to remove excess wax
    If you let the initial brush application of wax dry overnight, you will have to do the extra step of sanding to take down any excess and smooth out the uneven application. If you wax on, wax off ala Karate Kid to begin with, after overnight drying, the buffing is all you need to do. HTH.

    • http://www.vintagestorehouse.com Kelsey @ Vintage Storehouse &

      Hi Cammy, thanks for your comment! I have tried applying the wax and immediately wiping off the excess like you say and I personally didn’t find that worked well. Maybe it’s my environment, but it just wasn’t working. I felt like that created a hazy look in the finish no matter how much I wiped off, especially on dark pieces. I agree that streaks and blotchiness is a result of having too much wax on the surface of your piece, but I feel that using steel wool (at least on darker pieces) to remove that excess wax prior to buffing works best!

  • Hilary

    Great article! Very helpful, thank you! What do you recommend for a table top instead of wax?

  • Rachel Schmitt

    If I have a piece that I did a few months ago can I re-wax it using this technique?

    Thought maybe if I waxed it again this way it would have more of a shine! (Or it could be a disaster but I figured I would ask!)

    • http://www.vintagestorehouse.com Kelsey @ Vintage Storehouse &

      I don’t see any reason you wouldn’t be able to re-wax it to give it a bit of an update!

  • Colleen Cooley

    My piece was blotchy but the shiny areas were the spots that I distressed prior to waxing. After waxing…. Still shiny. After steel wool….still shiny. Steel wool didn’t make a difference on these spots no matter how much I rubbed. My dresser top is a mess. Not sure how to proceed. I did 2 coats of wax where I probably used too much wax. Then I did a final coat and let it cure over night as per your instructions. Steel wool not helping! May have to begin again and skip the distressing