Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a dispute to settle. My husband and I recently bought the most beautiful, rustic acacia wood dining table. However, a couple of days ago we noticed that it is starting to crack here and there. Yes, we are young and with a house full of Ikea furniture it did not even dawn on us that we would have to take special care with our new lovely table in this dry, desert climate (we live in Las Vegas.) We did some googling and found that it is recommended to use a wax on acacia wood. However, my husband’s parents said NOT to use a wax but an oil instead. Help!
Confused in Las Vegas
Do you know what I love about Home-Ec 101? I’ve been running this site for just about 4.5 years and I learn things almost every week, researching answers to reader questions.
I had heard of acacia trees, but I only pictured them as the scrubby trees seen in movies like The Gods Must Be Crazy. I was trying to picture how these trees would be useful for furniture, so I began to research. It turns out there is an Australian species of acacia that is quite large and useful for timber and furniture. Neat.
The important thing to remember about all wood is that it was a living organism. Just like you, plants are made of cells that contain a lot of water and just like you would dry out in Las Vegas, so will your table. We coat wood with different protective coatings* to try to keep the moisture at the proper level. Too much moisture and the cells will swell, too little and they will shrink to the point cracks, that can lead to splitting occur.
The interesting thing about your argument is that you are both right, just not at the same time. It doesn’t really matter whether you choose an oil or a wax, just that you don’t switch between the two.
Furniture oils and waxes both create a protective barrier between the wood and the air and as with any debate on the Interwebz, people tend to defend their choice with vehemence.
So, how do you choose?
Furniture oils must be applied often, but the application is quite painless.
Furniture wax or paste wax creates a harder finish that can last up to a year on high-use furniture (like tables) and much longer on items that serve a more decorative function. However paste wax is a pain in the rear to apply and you’ll probably spend a good morning or afternoon on the application, but a quick buffing will keep the piece looking good between applications.
Finally, keep in mind we are discussing furniture polish, not finish. The finish of a piece of wood is the stain or varnish and that also acts as a protective barrier for your table. The furniture wax or polish also helps preserve the finish.
Whatever you do, stay far, far away from any product with silicone. You’ll thank me later when it comes time to strip and refinish your table.
*It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again.
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