In this tutorial I teach how to mix melted beeswax, boiled linseed oil, and turpentine to create a lovely historic wood finish and furniture polish. This recipe was taught to me by both the furniture makers at Colonial Williamsburg and the Frontier Culture Museum.
How to Make a Historic Beeswax, Oil & Turpentine Furniture Polish Finish
Step 1: Melt Refined Beeswax
The first step to make this beeswax furniture polish is to start melting some refined beeswax in a double boiler setup. Just break up pieces of beeswax and place them in a clear glass bowl (like a Pyrex bowl). No need to use a cheese grater. That’s messy. Then place the glass bowl on top of a pot of boiling water and let the beeswax melt.
It is important that you use refined beeswax so particles of debris won’t scratch your furniture. In one of my recent videos, Don Williams (retired Senior Furniture Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution) shared a tutorial on his simple method for refining raw beeswax (watch it here). This is more-or-less the method that I now use.
Step 2: Mix Turpentine and Boiled Linseed Oil in a jar
You will not be heating the boiled linseed oil or turpentine in my method, as I prefer to keep my face intact. Please don’t try methods that recommend heating the entire mixture. There is no need. Get a small canning jar, and mix equal amounts of turpentine and boiled linseed oil. I like the small 6 ounce canning jars because the jars have a 2 ounce mark, 4 ounce mark, and 6 ounce mark. This is perfect for adding an equal mixture of all three ingredients (1/3 of each).
The boil linseed oil acts as a penetrating agent to bring out the figure of the wood. Turpentine is a solvent derived from pine tree sap, and is used to keep the beeswax from hardening. Some of the historic polishes use just beeswax and turpentine, when surface penetration is not desired. But I like the addition of boiled linseed oil because I use this as more of a finish than just a furniture polish. I like how the oil darkens the wood over time. But don’t use raw linseed oil, because your finish will take weeks to dry. Modern boiled linseed oil isn’t actually boiled, but uses chemical dryers to accelerate the drying process of the oil. Go ahead and use a clean stick or spoon to mix the boiled linseed oil and turpentine.
Step 3: Add the Melted Beeswax
Next you will use hot pads to carefully pour the melted beeswax from the hot glass bowl into the jar that contains the turpentine and boiled linseed oil. You can add the same amount of beeswax as the other ingredients (1/3 oil, 1/3 turpentine, 1/3 beeswax) or you can add slightly less beeswax. This just depends on how you prefer your finish. There really are so many variations, so that’s why it’s good to just start off with this simple recipe of three equal parts. I’ve found that adding slightly less beeswax will give you more time before you have to buff the finish out. If you add 1/3 beeswax or more, then be sure to buff the finish out in about 10-15 minutes or else you’ll have a difficult time getting it buffed. It’ll be sticky instead of smooth.
Stir the mixture together immediately after pouring in the hot wax and put the jar lid on. The beeswax will clump up a bit, which is normal for wax hitting cool liquid. The turpentine will dissolve the beeswax clumps.
Step 4: Set the Beeswax Finish Near a Window
Place the jar near a warm sunny window and let it sit for at least a day to dissolve the beeswax and thicken the polish. This is what the mixture looks like the next day:
Step 5: Apply and Buff the Finish
Of course, the finish will be thin and creamy at first because it has been sitting near a warm window, but it gets more solid when it’s stored out of the warm sunlight. In the winter months it will be hard and you’ll have to soften it up in a heated room before using it.
Apply the finish with a clean cloth (like an old T-shirt), then buff it out with a clean cloth after 10-15 minutes, or else the wax will become too hard. This will be even more important if you use more beeswax in your mixture. An even better method is to use a French Polissoir. I created another video of Don Williams teaching how to use a French Polissoir to burnish a beeswax finish (watch it here). Please leave some comments below!