My favorite finish (for now)

About two years ago, I hatched an evil scheme: I intuited that Chris would be writing about polissoirs within the next six months. I also figured that he would eventually invite me to write on his blog. And so I slipped him a small mahogany board that I had finished to look like it had been polissoir-ed, but was in fact finished using more modern techniques. Last week, my plans finally came to fruition, as he mistakenly put forth my sample board as an example of polissoir-ization. It was all very reminiscent of Armand LaMontagne’s Brewster Chair.

Actually, it didn’t go down quite like that, and I apologize for inadvertently leading Chris astray. The irony is that I really did give him the board because I thought that the finish I used looks a lot like a polissoir-ed finish, but I didn’t intend for him to get his boards mixed up.

So what is this miracle finish? It’s something that you’ve probably never heard of: Polyx-Oil, from Osmo (a German manufacturer of wood flooring and wood-finishing products). Polyx-Oil is one of a number of finishes known as hardwax oils. As the name suggests, hardwax oils are a blend of a hard wax (typically candelilla and/or carnauba) and a drying oil (soy, tung, linseed, etc.). Hardwax oils have become popular in Europe in recent years, but they’re still relatively unknown in North America. Until very recently, the only products imported to the U.S. were those from Osmo, but some of the other manufacturers have started to show up. My experience is only with the Osmo products, so from now on that’s what I’ll be talking about. There’s a list of Osmo dealers available on their web site (you can also buy through the company named after a mythical female warrior nation).

While Polyx-Oil hardly qualifies as a Lost Art, it’s interesting that it really isn’t that different from old-time finishes: just oil, wax and a pinch of drying agent. It would seem that much of modern finish chemistry uses the same materials as always, and that the main differences are in molecular micromanagement.

Polyx-Oil was originally developed as a finish for wood floors. While neither “Foolproof!” nor “The Last Finish You’ll Ever Need!” it is easy to use and does a good job of protecting wood against everyday spills and such, but it isn’t truly waterproof. I think it’s fine for most furniture, with the possible exception of dining tables. I wouldn’t use it on bathroom cabinets, and I’d think twice about it on kitchen cabinets. It’s also not recommended as a finish for oily tropical woods. (Osmo recommends against using it on mahogany, but I haven’t experienced any problems with either real mahogany or its African relatives.)

Osmo makes three variations of Polyx-Oil, the original Polyx-Oil, Top Oil and Polyx Pro Oil. All three are very similar, with the only significant difference being the amount of solvent. Top Oil contains more solvent, and is supposedly optimized for furniture and countertops (as opposed to floors). Polyx Pro Oil contains virtually no solvent, for situations that call for a very low-VOC finish.

I’ve used both original Polyx-Oil and Top Oil, and have to say that if there is a difference, it’s hardly noticeable. Top Oil does come in a container with a screw top, making it a bit more convenient for touch-ups. I haven’t tried Polyx Pro Oil, mainly because it only comes in very large containers and is therefore rather expensive.

Through trial and error, I developed a finishing schedule that deviates from the Osmo instructions but is well suited to furniture and casework. The resulting finish is silky and semi-matte. It looks and feels like paste wax over oil, but is more durable. You can download a PDF of my finishing schedule here.

Osmo Polyx-Oil

Four out of five African Hoopoes endorse the use of Polyx-Oil (the fifth is currently busy trying to eat a beetle)

–Steve Schafer

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17 Responses to My favorite finish (for now)

  1. Nice! It works great on Kitchen worktops, floors and furniture. It had been a go to finish for our interior products for many years (UK based). We use Fiddes version, they all seem very good.

  2. I’ve specified the OSMO finish on restaurant floors and it’s held up great.

  3. Nick Webb says:

    Osmo also do a product they call Wood Protector (http://www.osmouk.com/sitechaptern.cfm?bookid=Products&chapter=82&page=254) which is meant to be used as a prep coat for wodd deployed in damp environments. I did a bathroom with it (and PolyX on top) about 8 years ago and haven’t had a call back to it yet. :)

    • steveschafer says:

      Interesting. It would appear that Wood Protector is not available in North America. Reading between the lines of the MSDSs, it might be similar to Wood Wax, but without the tint.

      • Nick Webb says:

        It is pretty much the same colour as “clear” PolyX but a lot thinner so it penetrates much better. In doing this though it does tend to darken the wood a little more. As it does not sit on the surface it might be the answer to those looking for a gunstock finish, but I have no experience of these so I may be wrong.

  4. rpwoodwork says:

    Steve,

    Very helpful info, thanks. Is there any residual odor, pleasant or not, from the finished piece? I’m thinking of the awful odor that lingers when conventional oil-varnish mixes are used on the interior of cabinets and drawers, which is an application that I therefore don’t use.

    Also, any experience with Osmo’s Wood Wax Finish and One Coat Only HS (sure sounds good)?

    Rob

    • steveschafer says:

      Polyx-Oil is definitely less malodorous than most oil-based finishes, but I would still be very hesitant to use it inside a closed case. Shellac and/or wax is all I trust for that.

      I haven’t had experience with either Wood Wax or One Coat Only HS because they both only come in tints, which I tend to avoid.

  5. Cordell Roy says:

    What do you think of Osmo’s potential as a sanded-in finish, such as for gunstocks. What about work time and pore-shrinkage or dry-back, as it is sometimes called?

    • steveschafer says:

      Polyx-Oil has a very high solids content, so I think it would work well as a sanded-in finish, and seems to be more effective at filling pores than conventional oil or oil-varnish mixes. However, it does end up feeling like wax rather than oil, and might be too slippery for a gunstock.

  6. handguitar says:

    These types of finishes are great to work with. Here in the Netherlands I was introduced to a similar product, called Auro wax. Apparently its also available in the US: http://www.aurousa.com/onlineshop/auro-produits/interior-wax-classic/interior-wax-classic/981-liquid-wax-2
    It smells a bit like oranges when you apply it, but the smell disappears after it hardens.

  7. John Rowe says:

    How is this different from Tried and True’s oil/wax finish?

    • steveschafer says:

      None of Tried & True’s finishes contain driers, so they all take a very long time to dry (weeks, in my experience). Their oil/wax finish uses beeswax, which is softer and also more water-permeable than carnauba or candelilla wax, so I would expect it to be less sturdy overall, although I haven’t done a side-by-side torture test. I think the harder waxes give the surface a nicer feel, too, although that is probably a matter of personal preference.

      The only one of Tried & True’s finishes that I can say I’ve been really happy with is the varnish oil (with the caveat that it takes forever to dry). The other two just don’t seem to be worth the effort.

  8. rpwoodwork says:

    Thanks, Steve.
    Rob

  9. rotimber says:

    Reblogged this on rotimber and commented:
    Osmo products, the best.

  10. What about bowls or spoons? Is it food grade?

    • steveschafer says:

      Osmo considers the finish to be safe (it is certified in Germany for children’s toys), but they have not submitted it to the FDA for approval, so it does not have any official food safety status in the US.

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