Asked on Jun 10, 2015

Can I remove or thin wax on stained/painted wood panels?

by Donna
Let me start by saying I am new to staining and painting wood craft and furniture projects. My husband replaced the side door on our house; and I wanted to keep a couple of the original wood door panels to decorate. I figured this would be a good and inexpensive starter project. I thought I could strip off the old paint, give them a grey finish, and then apply some wood appliques.
Problem 1: I used paint stripper to remove 3 layers of paint, only to discover there was stain under the paint. I then used a palm sander to completely take the panels down to the bare wood. Problem 1 solved.
Problem 2: I wanted to turn the wood a weathered grey using a vinegar and steel wool stain. After reading several tutorials on this, I learned that this method works well on hardwoods like walnut and oak. Hardwoods have a substance called tannin in them that reacts with the steel wool. Softwoods like pine do not have tannin in them. The door panels were spruce, so I figured it's like pine. You can put tannin in softwoods by brushing brewed tea on the raw wood. So, I brewed some tea, brushed it on the panels, and let it dry. Problem 2 solved. (But, not exactly)
Problem 3: I have read so many tutorials on making the steel wool and vinegar stain, that I wasn't sure what strength or ratio to mix. So, I settled on a pint of distilled white vinegar and half a 0000 steel wool pad. Opinions seem to vary on how long to let the mixture sit before using. I let mine sit for 3 days, then filtered it and brushed it on the panels. My panels turned black!!!! I really couldn't solve that problem. Should I not have used the tea? Did I let the vinegar/steel wool sit too long? To fix this, I first sanded the panels with some steel wool to tone down the black. Then, I mixed a white wash with about 1/2 acrylic white paint and 1/2 water. I painted this on the panels in small sections and immediately wiped it off with an old sock. FINALLY...the grey color I was trying to achieve.
Next, I very lightly dry brushed some white paint on the appliques and distressed them a little with steel wool. (I had also applied the vinegar/steel wool solution to the appliques. They turned a dark brown, which came through nicely after distressing with the steel wool.) I glued them on the panels and was satisfied with the results.
Final Problem: I wanted to put something on the panels for protection, but wasn't sure what to use. I decided to try paste wax. I have never waxed a project, so I followed the instructions on the can. I applied with a clean cloth, in what I thought was a thin layer. I was working in my kitchen, which has awesome lighting. After allowing the wax to dry around 20 minutes, I buffed it with another clean cloth. I was happy with the results....while still in the kitchen. When I hung the panels in our bedroom, which has very soft lighting, they look too dark. I can also see dark spots around the appliques, where I either applied too much or too little wax.
Does lighting normally impact the look of waxed wood?
Is there anything I can do to lighten, thin out, or remove the wax?
Any other suggestions or tips would be greatly appreciated.
NOTE: While I probably botched just about everything I tried here, it was a fun learning experience!!!
UPDATE: It's been about 3 weeks now. Once the wax had cured longer, my uneven application was less noticeable. The dark spots above the medallion on one of the panels did lighten after giving the wax 3 weeks to cure. I did a light sanding with 400 grit paper today on the panels. I sanded those dark spots a little more than the rest of the panel. Then, I buffed with a clean cloth. It seemed to make those spots look darker. But...there is a streak of darker wood grain there, so that's probably the reason.
q removing or adding thin wax on stained painted wood panels, painted furniture, painting, wall decor, Stained and white washed panel before wax
Stained and white washed panel before wax
q removing or adding thin wax on stained painted wood panels, painted furniture, painting, wall decor, Waxed panel in heavy lighting
Waxed panel in heavy lighting
q removing or adding thin wax on stained painted wood panels, painted furniture, painting, wall decor, Waxed panel in soft lighting
Waxed panel in soft lighting
q removing or adding thin wax on stained painted wood panels, painted furniture, painting, wall decor, Panels 3 weeks later and after 400 grit sanding and buffing
Panels - 3 weeks later and after 400 grit sanding and buffing
  6 answers
  • Eloise Eloise on Jun 11, 2015
    I really can't answer your question; I just wanted to tell you that I think they turned out beautifully! I have yet to attempt a project such as yours, and your narrative about your experience is very helpful.

  • Great Nan Great Nan on Jun 11, 2015
    I think maybe mineral spirits would work

    • Donna Donna on Jun 11, 2015
      @Great Nan Hello, Great Nan. Will mineral spirits thin out the wax or completely remove it?

  • Kate Kate on Jun 11, 2015
    Donna-- First off, you've done a great job...particularly since you're new to working with wood. From your detailed description, I can tell you're patient and methodical--very good characteristics for woodworking! I see what you mean about the blotchiness that shows up in the light. You didn't say how long you let the wax cure. I see you're in Virginia--very humid. Before I started messing with it, I'd give it another week or even two. Buff it with a soft, lintless cloth whenever you think of it. . If, after giving it plenty of cure time, you've still got blotchiness, try a very fine grit sandpapering--finish grade, 400 and up, or a 000 steel wool. You'll want to "wipe" the surface in one direction. Don't "scrub" in circles, and be very consistent with your pressure, which should be fairly light. When you're satisfied things have evened out, wipe down really well with a tack cloth. Then, with a soft, lintless cloth, buff buff buff. Oh...and if you use steel wool, be very sure you have good quality furniture grade product. The cheaper stuff sloughs off little metal pieces into your finish. But don't be afraid of steel wool. The right stuff gives a wonderfully smooth finish. All of this is going to be much more difficult with the medallions there. Any way to carefully remove them until you get the sheen the way you want it?

    • See 1 previous
    • Kate Kate on Jun 11, 2015
      @Donna So glad to hear that! In wax-curing time, 4 days is nothing, particularly in a humid climate. You may have nothing to worry about. You probably just got a little more wax going in spots, so it's drying a little more slowly in some places and faster than others. Let us know how the waiting turns out.

  • Kate Kate on Jun 11, 2015
    Donna-- In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a pro. I've just done a fair amount of wood refinishing and am passing on what I think will work from my own experiences. Good luck!

  • Bsfergen Bsfergen on Jun 15, 2015
    I think this looks great. I wouldn't do anything too drastic.

  • Carol R Carol R on Jun 17, 2015
    This might be the wrong place to ask this question, but I used chalk paint for the first time, then waxed. I hate the end results! I used a 100% cotton sock to adhere the wax & the same to buff it. It is full of lint! What should I use to clean this mess up? TY xoxoxo