Preventing Paste Wax Creep

These waxes all seeped out of
their tins during storage

Paste Wax Overview: Waxes are a popular topcoat finish with many woodturners. They are very easy to apply and offer an extra layer of protection for your woodturnings. Like all finishes however, waxes should be stored in cool, dry place when not in use. Herein lies the rub… Many woodturners have their studios or workshops in garages that lack consistent climate control.

Some may run a window air-conditioner when they're in the studio, but turn it off when they leave for the day. Others have no climate control in their studios at all, which can result in wide temperature fluctuations throughout the day. These temperature fluctuations can cause problems for some stored finishes like waxes.

If you've stored paste waxes before, you might have noticed a bit of seepage coming from around the lid when you pick up the can to use it. Seepage of wax from a sealed tin is known as "wax creep." This seepage can make a real mess in your finish storage area, not to mention causing you to waste some of your expensive finish.

Some waxes seem more susceptible to creep than others. In addition, the specific design of the tin can play a role as well. Here are a few tips to help eliminate wax creep in your studio, so you can keep your wax in the tin until you are ready to use it.

Storage Tips for Paste Waxes

What a mess! You can see how the wax
has seeped from this tin around the lid area

Heat: It's best to try to store your paste waxes in rooms where the ambient temperatures are less than 85 degrees. If you're like most woodturners who have their studios/workshops in a garage/outbuilding that is not climate controlled, this can present a problem.

In the Houston area where I live, garages without air conditioning can easily reach 100 degrees or more in the summer, especially if there are vehicles parked inside, as the heat from the engine adds a significant amount of heat into the room. Keeping your paste and liquid waxes stored below 85 degrees will help to prevent creeping and will keep your wax ready for use when needed.

Another reason that your wax might creep is due to overfilling at the factory. If the factory overfills your wax tin and it is stored in temperatures above 85 degrees, the resulting expansion of the wax may cause the wax to seep out from under the lid. This condition usually corrects itself when a sufficient quantity of wax is removed from the tin. This is not a hard and fast rule however, as I have had waxes creep when less than 50% of the wax remained in the tin.

Fortunately, my studio is air-conditioned now, so I no longer have a problem with wax creeping. Several years ago when my studio was not air-conditioned, it was a big problem for me. I solved it by storing all of my paste wax tins inside my home, instead of in the studio. Another option might be to store your wax tins in an insulated container, or a basement.

Putting Away Wax Tins After Use: Sometimes when using a paste wax, the inset groove on the rim or the area around the edge of the lid can collect wax residue. Before you replace the lid, take a clean paper towel and wipe the lid and the rim on the can (if it has one), before storing the wax away. Excess wax in the recessed rim or on the edge of the lid may contribute to creeping, so you want to always clean your lid and the top of the tin before replacing the lid.

Another benefit of keeping the lid clean is that it will prevent wax residue from attracting dust and debris. If dust forms around the lid, it can compromise the quality of the wax finish if any of this dirty wax gets on your application pad. I keep my wax tins in a cabinet now, with a sealed door on the front to prevent dust from accumulating. This has worked very well for me for several years. The cabinet keeps the tins clean and ready to use, without any supplemental effort on my part.

Tin Designs

Waxes with screw on lids seem to experience
much less creep than other designs

Some wax tins seem to be more prone to creeping than others. I've had the best luck with screw on lids, but few paste waxes are available with screw on lids these days, save some English waxes like Renaissance Wax and a few others. Most tins feature some type of press in/friction fit lid, or one that fits inside a recess in the top of the lower portion of the tin.

Semi-liquid waxes with screw on
lids are very resistant to creep

Tins that feature straight walled sides, with a press in lid (without a recessed channel) and some with a recessed channel have suffered from creep in my studio in the past. Some paste waxes seem to creep easily, others don't creep at all. It can be frustrating! The best advice here is to check your wax tins, open them all up and thoroughly clean the lid and the top of the tin with a clean paper towel. If necessary, use an appropriate solvent to insure a clean mating surface on the upper lid and top of the tin.

When properly stored, most paste
waxes will not experience creep

Once every tin is clean, store them away again. The next time you use a wax, check for any creep around the lid. If you cleaned them all as mentioned above and you see wax seeping out from around the lid on one, chances are that your wax is creeping. Try storing it in a cooler location and see if that helps. Most of the time, this (in addition to keeping the rim clean) will solve your problems.

Applicator Tips

I use several different applicators to apply wax onto a finished turning. My favorite applicator is a small folded piece of paper towel. The advantage here is that each time you apply the wax, you will be using a new paper towel. This prevents any issues with using a rag that may not be clean and free of debris. Using old rags to apply or buff your wax finishes may result in scratching your finished surface. Always use a fresh, clean applicator for best results.

For larger projects, I use a piece of synthetic wire wool (the white variety) cut into small pads. This holds more wax than the paper towel applicator and speeds up the application of wax onto the finished surface. Although this applicator could be used multiple times, I prefer to use a clean piece with each project to prevent damaging the surface of the turning with any debris from storage.

Some of the waxes I use are in liquid form and I will usually spray these with a small airbrush onto the surface of the project before buffing. Few turners use spray waxes, but they can be useful with some projects where applying a paste wax would be difficult, or time consuming – on a textured surface for example.

If you would like to know more information about waxes for woodturners, take a look at this article that gives detailed information on various waxes and offers tips for using waxes on woodturnings.

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.

Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.