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I have a piece of walnut I finished with Danish oil then poly. After it cured I sanded it with high grit sandpaper then applied a small amount of wax and polished. I did the whole process on the bottom of the piece in order to test the finish. I didn't have any issues so I followed the same steps on the top. This time, however, it seems the wood grain was still somewhat exposed somehow and bits of wax remained in the grain. The white spots in the pictures are bits of wax.

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I have tried many ways to remove the wax -

  • Wiping/scrubbing with mineral spirits on cotton cloth, shop towel
  • Sanding with high grit sandpaper and mineral spirits
  • Wiping/scrubbing with naptha on cotton cloth, shop towel
  • Using a blow dryer to heat the wax and wipe away

None of these solutions really seemed to work. The most effective one seemed to be naptha, but it still could not remove all of the wax.

I have read that sanding this down to re-finish could actually worsen the issue because it will melt the wax into the wood?

Any ideas on how to resolve this issue?

  • If that much wiping with mineral spirits has not removed the white spots I'm strongly suspecting it's not wax. Smaller wax deposits are easily soluble in spirits and with heavy abbrasion they'll come off without too much bother. Are you sure there isn't some sanding residue or something else in there? – Graphus Aug 2 '17 at 6:16
  • Re. sanding, you shouldn't sand to remove previous finish anyway, it's the worst way to do it by far. Planing or scraping are much to be preferred. If you do have no choice but to sand you won't have to worry about sanding the wax into the wood, this can happen to a small degree but you'll be working in stages and cleaning up as you go, by the time you're largely done the piece will have been wiped down a handful of times (with MS is needed) and there won't be any trace of wax remaining. – Graphus Aug 2 '17 at 6:18
  • @Graphus Why is sanding the worst way? Just in terms of efficiency? – acurcie Oct 9 '17 at 20:47
  • Sanding is the worst way to remove most finishes because it 1) converts the finish (and any crud on its surface) to a fine powder which is then a potential health hazard and 2) because there's the greatest chance of damaging the workpiece. Also on old pieces it can remove age patina, ruining the value. Solvent cleaning is far better on all 3 points. Now with wax specifically, there's an additional problem in that sanding can drive wax into the wood surface making it even harder to thoroughly remove. – Graphus Oct 10 '17 at 6:59
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Walnut has an open grain so unless you fill it with grain filler or some other material, it will never be perfectly smooth.

From your pictures, I'm wondering if it's not actually wax build-up but rather poly that has been scuffed. I might first try applying another layer of poly. If it is actually wax, you will have adhesion problems likely and at that point you might need to further remove the finish and start over. If it adheres fine, then the finish should look as good as new.

As for removing the finish, you can sand, use a card scraper, stripping chemicals, heat + scraping or any combination of these.

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