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The Wonders of Johnson’s Paste Wax

Last week I polished off my first can of Johnson’s Paste Wax.  I bought the can, over 20 years ago, before marriage and kids (barely).

At that time I was building shaker style furniture.  I was all about creating an authentic finish.  I began by dying the wood and following the dye with milk paint or oil rubbing varnish.  The piece was then distressed and painted pieces received a topcoat of rubbing varnish.  After the finish had hardened all was waxed and buffed to a nice, soft polish.

I love the stuff the moment I opened the can.  It smells of Mom’s and Grandma’s kitchens.  It smells of childhood playmate, Peter Anderson’s basement.  Peter moved to England before second grade.  With a little linseed oil it smells of the antique shops my mother haunted hen I was little.  These weren’t antique malls, but small shops in houses and barns across central Indiana, and mid-coast Maine.  These smells bring back intense emotional responses.

It feels good.  When applied by hand it softens and soaks into your hands an it covers the surfaces of floors, table and chairs.  When it drys it looks like wax.  It’s pasty and yellow and even a bit mealy.  With a spit (or spritz from a water bottle) and a buff it develops a soft, mellow, shiny protective surface.  If the surface wears or dulls, you simply apply more and buff again.  Finished surfaces develop a wonderful silky feeling that begs to be touched and stroked.

It brings colors live.  Milk paint is dull and flat when applied.  Under a coat of wax it POPS and glows under the shiny surface.

It protects surfaces from water.  It revives old dull surfaces.  It softens and renews leather.  It is a completely renewable surface that develops character as it is finished and refinished.

That first can has waxed dozens of chairs, tables, cabinets and picture frames.  It’s waxed shoes and countless ukuleles and guitars.  I can say with some authority that it has finished nearly 115 little carved birds.

Twenty years is a long time and my wax is gone.  Tonight I’ll pick up another can for my next twenty years’ work!

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