barb blairbefore & after basicsbefore and after

before and after basics: waxing tips

by Barb

hello friends, and welcome to this week’s edition of before and after basics! today we are going to discuss the process of using wax to add age and character to your painted pieces. i will cover a few basic waxing principles as well, but want to focus on using waxes for more than just wood protection alone. i personally love a good wax finish for its look of authenticity and beautiful matte shine that differs entirely from a poly sheen. are you ready?….let’s do this… barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

what you will need:

* wax {fiddes is the only wax i will use}

* lint free rags and a china brush

* disposable gloves

* piece of furniture {painted}

* drop cloth to protect the surface underneath your project

* sanding sponge

* pair of nylon tights or hose

how to:

1. since i’m choosing to focus on wax as an aging technique over painted furniture, have your piece painted and sanded to your personal taste. {please note that if you are waxing an unfinished piece of furniture you will want to use a sealer before applying the wax to ensure even distribution}. make sure that all of the sanding dust has been removed from your piece by vacuuming and wiping it down with a lint free cloth.

2. take a clean cloth or brush and apply wax evenly in the direction of the grain {this is really important!}. now, here is where i will interject that i usually apply with a cloth, but there are times that i do use a brush especially if there is a lot of fine detail on the piece or large flat surfaces. i personally make this decision with each piece, depending on the size and how fast i think i can apply. wax dries very quickly and does not leave a lot of room for error.

3. work on one section at a time, using an even amount of wax. if you feel like you have too much wax in one particular area, take a clean cloth and remove it as quickly as possible . you want the finish to look natural and not forced. apply the wax with your brush , and then immediately work it in and smooth it with a clean rag. this is the very reason i only use fiddes wax, because it is super creamy and easy to apply. no other wax, {and i have used PLENTY!} even comes close.

4. allow the wax to dry. fiddes wax can dry in as little as three minutes, but other waxes may vary. i always wax the entire piece, let it dry for about 20 minutes and then buff it out.

5. i personally use my old pairs of nylon tights that have holes in them for buffing projects. i don’t know where i read that tip at, but i am so glad that i did years ago! you can buff with a lint free rag, but i find that the nylon just gives the finish a great look. i know….go figure right? it’s just one of those things….it works!

6. if you get to the end of your project, and you step back and say “whoa, i went a little crazy on that drawer” and feel like the wax is a little dark or saturated in a particular area….never fear! take a sanding sponge and lightly sand the area that you feel is too dark until you are happy with the color. if you are still not satisfied, you can go back in using a dry brush with just a tiny bit of paint on it and do some blending. it’s just as if you were painting on a canvas, and you didn’t like the particular shading in a certain area….you would take your fingers or a brush and add light or dark to make it appear more natural. same thing with furniture, layers and dimension add character.

i have a story, and as you all get to know me better…. you will learn that i am full of stories! seriously though, i feel like this story will help you understand my love of wax finishes! i painted and finished a massive buffet that was going in the foyer of a clients’ house, and this particular piece was very ornate. in order to stay true to to the period of this piece i used a wax finish over two different colors of paint. i delivered the piece, and all was well. i got a phone call a few months later and my client told me that she just had to find out what i put on her buffet, because she had a plant on the top of it and without thinking had watered the plant and let it sit on top of the piece! when she thought of it a few hours later, she ran back in a panic to find that there was indeed a beaded ring where the plant had been, but once the plant had been removed and the surface wiped…. it dried and disappeared completely! whew! i love me some wax.

have fun with your waxing projects! see you next week…

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  • Fiddes has several different kinds of waxes – which one do you like to use? Also, it looks like the color you chose is brownish. Can you talk a little bit about how you choose wax colors? Thanks! And the chest looks very nice!

  • I’m unfamiliar with furniture refinishing, so please pardon my ignorance…I have a quick question Barb….If one wasn’t going for an aged look, but would like the protection and finish of wax, would one paint the piece (acrylic?) and then lightly sand it before adding the wax? Thanks!

  • Hi,
    I am in love with these tutorials! I have already redone 2 pieces of furniture in our house and have another 2 waiting to be done this weekend. Does anyone know where I might be able to get Fiddes wax in Canada, either shipped or around the Toronto area? Thanks!

  • Oh, Barb! You are just absolutely fantastic! Your gorgeous pieces, your love of wax & your cute red converse poking out in the tutorial! Thanks for this hun, you are one talented lady!

  • Thanks – I’ve always wanted to know how to do this properly. This is a great step-by-step guide!

  • great post! i’m about to finish some dressers, and i’ve been wondering about wax vs poly. i have a bunch of questions:
    – do you have to reapply wax periodically? or do you just clean it somehow? i have a dresser that was waxed 5 (10?) years ago and it’s looking a little splotchy. how to clean it up?
    – can you find fiddes wax at a place like home depot/lowes/local hardware store or do you have to order online?
    – can you wax stained (not painted) furniture?
    – would it be a good finish for a dining table? sounds like yes if it resists water stains from plans!

  • Great tutorial and perfect timing! I’ve been really wanting to wax a piece I’m painting. Thanks for the step-by-step :)

  • Perfect timing as usual Barb! I just waxed a piece last week and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. (i used a clear wax so it was even harder to tell:) ) I’ve got another piece going now and I think I might give this a try! I normally use a glaze I make myself to ‘age’ my pieces but i’ll try the wax too! thanks

  • I love this! Thank you *so* much for sharing this information with us… I’ve always been fascinated by this technique, but never felt sure about trying it. Thank you for taking the mystique out of it. I’m excited to try it myself. :)

  • Ahh thank you for posting this! I recently repainted a dresser a color that I love, but it just needs a little aging to fit into my room.

    I’d also like to know more about choosing wax colors and where to by Fiddes.

    I love all of your tips! Thanks for the help!

  • I am loving these tutorials – I’ve tried a few different aging tech. but not been totally happy with the look. I can not wait to try the wax. Keep em comming.

  • Thanks for the info. This may be a silly question, but I have 2 pieces that are not real wood. They have a cheap laminant surface. The laminant is in good shape and the shape of the pieces are nice, but I don’t like that fake wood look. So, I was thinking of painting and maybe waxing them. Would that work to paint or paint and wax furniture with a fake laminant surface? Any advice would be really helpful…I’ve been stuck on this one.

  • Does anyone know what this wax technique would do to a stained oak table? Would it give it a similar aged look?

    Thank you!

  • hey friends,

    i will be back in a bit to answer all of the questions…..i’m off to grandmom’s for dinner! i did want to say that the brown color that i used on this piece is rugger brown, and i can only get fiddes at one antique/refinishing shop here in greenville, but you can order it online through their site as well.

    as far as i know you cannot get it at local hardware stores like lowes and home depot. but that might be just here locally….it may be different where you are.

    i’ll be back soon! promise, and i will answer all of the questions!


  • I really appreciate the before and after basics – they are such a great resource!! I would love to see a segment on re-upholstery!! : )

  • Thank you! I’ve used wax often when playing with finishes on my custom “creatively restored” jewelry and recipe boxes, but haven’t found a wax I’m happy with, can’t wait to try Fiddes.

  • Hi Barb,
    Question for you- can you use wax on top of flat paint? I find that sometimes it’s difficult to wipe stains off flat paint, I am wondering if I should even bother trying wax or if it is impossible! THANKS! Great post!

  • i cannot wait to try this – GREAT tutorial!! thank you! my question is – does the wax wear off or scratch off over time? will the wax color fade if you touch the same spot over and over (i.e. pushing a drawer closed or throwing your keys down on a table top)?

  • I get Fiddes at Woodcrafters. I think you can only get it at specialty shops.

    As always, Barb, an excellent post. Thankful you are a contributor! :)

  • Love your blog!!!

    I got a question though… I have a wood piece that has been spray painted with flat paint… Can I use this technique on it over the sparay paint? Thanks!!!

  • julie, i use the supreme wax polish in light {clear} and rugger brown. i tend to be a creature of habit and those are the only two that i prefer, but feel free to experiment with other colors! :)

    summer, if you did not want an aged look, i would paint your piece….{ i would prefer a satin latex paint}…. and you would not have to sand before applying the wax. i would however use the clear wax which will give you that wonderful wax look, but add no color or aging.

    brynn, i love your name { it is my daughter’s name too!} i use the rugger brown and clear supreme waxes.

    gk, in my experience you do not have to re apply wax periodically unless you want to, and i would suggest lightly sanding your piece and then reapplying your wax as a refresher. you have to buy fiddes at specialty wood stores or refinishing type stores only, and you can apply wax over stained pieces for that great wax look, it just won’t have the depth it would have on a painted piece. a layer of wax on top of your dining room table would be great as well! :)

    madison, this is a tough one! i personally prefer not to paint pieces that are not solid wood, but a big part of that is that my work is for sale. if i were painting a piece of my own, i would probably try it. i would prime before painting and then you could totally wax right over the painted surface.

    shea, if your wax of choice is darker than the base color of your table it would add age and character. if the colors are pretty much the same it will not add color per say but rather that beautiful waxy shine. you would want to make sure that there is a good color blend going on .

    lacey, i would not suggest wax on top of flat paint. it will not blend, and will turn into a nightmare! stain is really hard on top of flat paint as well, but the trick there is to apply it with a brush very evenly …so that the whole surface is covered and then wipe immediately! but be prepared for it to alter the color drastically as the surface is very porous.

    elle, the finish that wax gives is truly an authentic look and any wear and tear just adds to the goodness. a wax dries to a very hard finish, and so in my experience the finish stays great looking.

    lisette, thank you so much for reading! on your piece of furniture that has been painted with flat paint, i would not suggest this type of wax finish. the wax will not spread evenly and you will create a lot of work for yourself. i would suggest trying this on pieces that have been painted with a satin or eggshell finish.

    thank you all so much for the sweetness! you are awesome! i can’t wait to see what your projects look like!


  • Great how to! I was once told that if you use a solvent based wax as your final layer, you will need to prep/remove this layer if you ever want to refinish the piece again. What would you recommend for this?
    Would a quick wipe down with mineral spirits on a rag suffice?

  • What a great article, questions and answers. I can hardly wait to use the wax on my next painted piece as well as add wax to already completed pieces. Thank you Barbara and D*S!

  • very merry, this is one of three “secret sauce” colors for knack. so i don’t give out this formula. i’m so sorry, but there are a lot of gorgeous turquoise shades to choose from….you are right….it is everywhere this season:) i like that!

    kathleen, i have always recommended sanding the piece down before repainting or even re waxing ….depending on the results there, i don’t think you would need to use mineral spirits to remove old wax.

  • Could you explain how you apply wallpaper and decorative sheets (and what those are) inside drawers? I read something about you using double sided adhesive to the corners, but are those the only spots? Also, where do you find unique hardware?

  • Somebody PLEASE explain that moose head to me! Is it a DS prop? Is it an inside joke? Is it a trend that everyone has and I somehow missed out on? I’ve seen it in images on her staged by DS but I’ve also seen it in Sneak Peeks. Do you take props to people’s places for shooting? I really am dying to know!

  • Help! I really want to try the Fiddes but it seems it is only available in England. One company that did carry it here no longer does due to OSHA labeling problems. So how does one get Fiddes in the US?

  • Maureen: anthropologie.com has lots of really unique hardware.

    And I agree with Alisha: Whats with the papier maché moose head i see everywhere on D*S and knack????

    These are great! thanks so much :)

  • maureen, i cut the wallpaper to size for the insides of the drawers using a craft knife and a ruler and then i use double sided mounting tape on all four corners to keep it nice and smooth in the drawers. also about the hardware…anthropologie is a great source for knobs especially when they are on sale. i use trade sources for all of my hardware since i order in bulk, but you can also try local craft stores as well.

    debbie, fiddes is available at woodcraft stores or specialty antique stores in the u.s. you can also google it and buy it online.

    alisha and stephanie, the moose head is not a d*s prop or a practical joke or a trend…..it was made for me by a friend…..and hangs on my studio wall where i shoot all of my photographs. so he is in every shot i take pretty much unless i use a different prop setting. i use him because i like him…..period…..no fooling…..no pulling your leg….just pure and simple ” i love the moose head at my studio”…..but i am glad he has garnered so much attention……so much so , that my friend molly from royal buffet who made him will be doing a tutorial soon:)

    right on!

  • didn’t read thru all the comments, but with a lot of experience in finishing painted finishes, I feel you left out some important points…the type of paint you use is critical to the success of waxed finishes…a matt finish will soak up the color wax that apparently you were using in your demo. Also milk paint will do the same, and the wax will remain part of the finish…to counteract too much color remaining…a clear wax can be used “dilute” the color wax…also, paint thinner can be used to lift excess color left in waxing with a colored wax…sorry, I’m possibly a perfectionist, but most people trying something for the first time need really need very detailed instruction, just as I would have appreciated when I first started down the path of furniture restoration 45 years ago…thanks

  • gayle, wow….45 years! you go! that is so awesome….i would love to see some of your work! as far as the paint i was using….it was an eggshell finish not matte, and the wax was intended to “remain part of the finish”. i was instructing on how to use wax as an aging technique, and therefore chose the brown to add definition and depth. i have previously posted about milk paints…here http://www.designspongeonline.com/2010/08/before-and-after-basics-aging-furniture-using-milk-paints.html and how porous they are , and how to finish them. i totally think that the clear wax and the paint thinner solutions are great for getting rid of excess….however in my personal experience, i like the method i discuss here the best. i always say there are no “mistakes” in furniture re finishing just learning experiences…..and there are so many different ways of doing things ….you just have to find your groove and do what you like best. i appreciate your insight .

    • Thank you so much! Although I have never personally used this technique on wood floors, the fiddes products would work fabulous on them! :)

  • Barb,
    i just discovered these tutorials… i’m so stoked! i can’t wait to get some wax projects going! got more great posts to read so i will head on…
    your amazing really…. i can’t wait to see what comes next… inspiration i’m sure!
    Thank you so much!

    • thanks man! i’m so glad that you are inspired and trying your own projects! YOU are awesome! :)

  • Hi Barb;
    I share your love of wax ! Have you ever experimented with paste shoe polish? Lots of nice texture and sheen when polished wet. I’ve been fooling around with wax finishes for a long long time-might wanna mention wax can not be painted over, although if you do, an interesting peeled and aged finish will result. Wax on :)

    • hey lu, i have not experimented with shoe polish, but you have peaked my interest!! i may have to give it a whirl! thanks for the tip! :)

  • Can anyone point me towards some before and after pics of stained furniture with wax?

  • You mentioned using a sealer before waxing an unfinished piece. Could you explain a little more about that? Thanks!

    • hey emily, the reason for a sealer would be because the wood is super porous in it’s unfinished state and the wax would not go on evenly, but instead blotchy and a big mess! So either use wax on a painted surface or a wooden surface that has been sealed with poly or wood sealer. hope that helps! :)

  • Hi everyone! I love love love the paint color used here — and I understand that the formula is not available. Has anyone tried to get the color result on their own product? I would love a paint recommendation. Thank you!!

  • Just re-finished an old desk using Barb’s technique…and wow, amazing! I had painted it a similar teal to the demo awhile back, but it was just to loud for my studio. Thanks to Barb and the rugger brown fiddes wax, it now has an aged, sophisticated, yet fun air to it. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise and easy instruction. YEA!

  • I have the perfect ice box end tables to try this on! We painted them a teal (ha!) a few years back but they really need some character and ‘aging’ considering their history to begin with. Husband and I were just talking about distressing them, but this will be perfect! And fun! Thanks!

  • Barb…I was curious where you purchase your Fiddes in Greenville? I too am from Greenville and have been looking for this stuff forever locally! Thanks!!

    • chris, well hello there my fellow greenvillian!! :) that is so awesome!…. I get my wax at greystone antiques on augusta road. mystery solved!

  • Barb…beautiful work! I was curious where you buy your Fiddes in Greenville? I too am from Greenville and have been looking to buy this locally for years. Thanks!!!

  • I realize this is an old post, so I don’t know if you’ll get this, but …. I’m doing a small chest that has a leather top that’s not in the best shape, but since I’m distressing the piece, it stays in character. Can I rub the Fiddes wax over the leather too? Or should I tape it off and finish the leather top with something else? Thanks, Barb – these guides are fantastic!

  • Just discovered this post in the middle of a furniture rehab – decided the color I painted my secretary was just too yellow for me, and was wondering about how to knock it back and stay true to the piece.
    The answer is clearly right here! Thanks!

  • Have you ever applied the wax over a crackle finish? Would that work? I love the aged look this wax technique creates – do you suggest clear or colored wax to age a cream colored paint? All the information here is great!

  • I am 5 years new to this, started out doing my own stuff. I have my own hair salon but it is just me in my space and I did all my furniture fot the shop from freebies and side of the road, plus my husband made me shelves. I needed it all to match and had all different wood. I painted all black then used shoe polish to match all the wood that showed through. I then painted a piece a of white but hated that it look to new. I then used shoe polish over the whole thing and it was awesome. I then had people ask me to redo some stuff for them. I have just finished a 112 year old vanity I got for $30 bucks. I used shoe polish over a brown then did a black glaze over that, then got a bronze metalic craft paint from Walmart and mixed it with a clear glaze. I am now going to use wax to finish it up ( first time) I think sometimes trying stuff can work well. I found you can paint over shoe polish and it is a cheap alternative. I will add that I do not do this add a profession like Barb, I buy stuff and then redo my way, them sell. So yes shoe polish works well

  • Could I apply fiddles clear wax over a stained sign or do I need to seal the piece first? You had mentioned that if a piece was unfinished that it would need to be sealed. Is stained considered unfinished? Thanks.

  • I would like to use the rugger brown wax on top of a crackle lamp project (red over white) to give some age and character, but the top layer of crackle is flat paint. Does that mean it will not work?

  • I used this technique on a standard, 80s issue, oakish bathroom vanity that was really ugly. I painted it black and then used Brie Wax (it was what I had at thee time). With some new drawer pulls and cool matching mirror — it looks great and still fresh 8 years later.

  • Learning these waxing basics are perfect for me to know to restore some old furniture that I have. I’ve had the same wooden desk and dresser since I was really little. I want to find a way to restore it, so waxing the wood could be a good way to protect it and give it an nicer aesthetic for my room. I’ll make sure to use an even amount of wax to make my work look natural. Thanks for the tips!

  • I used Fiddes and Sons wax over chalk paint. It came out very splotchy so I used 0000 steel wool with no luck. Do you have any suggestions on how to remove the wax?