How to Refinish Furniture

How to Wax and Seal Furniture

Paste wax, often used to protect finishes, is sometimes used to finish bare wood furniture. This is most successful on hard, close-grained woods, such as maple, that have been sanded absolutely smooth.

Some waxes have color added for use on dark woods such as walnut. These waxes add color to the wood, and are especially helpful if the finish on the wood is blotchy, but they do not stain the wood or restore the finish.


Paste wax is easy to apply, and is nonsticky and heat-resistant, but it is easily damaged and liable to wear. It must be reapplied periodically. Paste wax is more commonly used over a sealer stain to color, seal, and finish new or stripped wood.

Sealer stain finishes, including commercial systems, are available in several colors. Sealer stains produce a very even color, with no lap marks or dark spots. They are fairly tough and are very easy to apply. They are not very water-resistant and must often be recoated periodically. But before you begin the project, it's important to know the type of wood you are working with.

Special Requirements

Paste wax can be applied directly over prepared bare or stained wood; thinned shellac is recommended as a sealer coat. Sealer stains should be applied directly over prepared bare wood; no other sealer is required. Open-grained woods should be filled before a wax finish is applied; any paste filler is compatible. Wax and sealer stain finishes can be used on new or stripped wood.

How to Apply Paste Wax

Wood to be finished with paste wax must be thoroughly sanded and sealed with a coat of thinned shellac. When the sealer is completely dry, rub the wood along the grain with No. 0000 steel wool; then clean the piece of furniture thoroughly with a tack cloth.

Apply paste wax sparingly with a clean, lint-free cloth pad, rubbing the wax on with a circular motion to form a thin, even coating. Work on a small area at a time. Some manufacturers recommend that the wax be applied with a damp -- not wet -- pad. If you use water, make sure the surface is dry before you polish it.

Let the wax dry completely, as recommended by the manufacturer. Then wipe the waxed surface firmly with a clean cloth to remove excess wax. When the waxed surface is even, polish it to a shine with a clean cloth. To complete the finish, apply one or two more coats of wax, as above. Polish each coat completely before applying the next coat.

How to Apply a Sealer Stain Finish

Wood to be finished with a sealer stain finish must be properly prepared and sanded; no other preparation is necessary. Thoroughly mix the sealer stain. Apply the stain evenly along the grain with a clean brush or cloth, and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes; then wipe off the excess with a clean cloth. Let the wood dry for 24 hours and apply a second coat of stain, as above. To complete the finish, apply one or two coats of paste wax, as above. Polish each coat thoroughly with a clean cloth.

For a natural finish look on your wooden furniture, learn how and when to use Danish oil and other modern finishing oils in the next section.