What is the difference between wax polish, oil and varnish?


A wax looks really good but it is not very durable. It is ideally suited to furniture, such as wardrobes or wooden areas such as skirting boards and bannisters, that do not require as much protection. Some customers do use wax on floors but do bear in mind that it needs more maintenance.


Offering more durability than a wax polish, Oils are easy to work with, very easy to repair (sand down scratches then re-apply) but they do have slower drying times.


Forming a seal on the surface of the wood varnishes are the strongest of all wood finishes. There are two categories of varnish available, solvent-based (lacquers) and water-based. Water-based varnishes are more commonly used and are every bit as good as solvent-based varnishes these days. A 2 pack varnish is the strongest form of varnish and is ideal for high traffic areas where durability is of the utmost importance such as bar tops (the more coats the better). For most projects, such as a shop floor, our extra tough clear varnish is more than adequate and we consistently receive excellent feedback for this product.

How can you tell if the wood has been waxed, oiled or varnished?

If a wooden surface looks like it already has been finished with a product it is always a good idea to find out what that finish is as it may affect which product you should apply to the wood. For example, you could not really apply an oil over a varnished floor, but an existing floor that has been oiled can be re-coated with an oil (once it has been cleaned of course!). Here's a few pointers to find out what your wood has been finished with:

Waxed surfaces 

If it has wax on it you can scrape it lightly with your finger nail (once it has been cleaned). You may get a little wax under your nail. Also you can try buffing it with a cloth. Most surfaces will become shinier once buffed, but a waxed surface will substantially increase in shine.

Oiled surfaces 

Generally speaking oiled surfaces are not that glossy. If you stand something on the surface of an oiled surface it will not have much of a reflection. Instead you are likely to see a fuzzy image reflected. You can also try putting a little white spirit on a small unnoticeable area and if it dissolves the surface coating then it is likely to be an oil, please note however that this may leave a white spot. White spirit will also dissolve most wax polishes so check the above advice (waxed surfaces) before trying this.

Varnished Surfaces 

A varnished surface will be hard to the touch (it will make a clicking sound when you knock your nails on it) and will have a reflective surface. Even a matt varnish will reflect the light more than an oiled surface. If something is stood on the surface (with a window in view behind it) then the reflection is clearly visible. A satin or gloss varnish will have a very clear reflection of anything that is held up to the surface. 


What is the advantage of an oil?

The main advantage of oil is that they are the easiest of all wood finishes to repair. A patch repair, for example, where a drink's stain has occurred can easily be removed by simply sanding just the affected area and applying more oil.

What is the advantage of a wax?

A wax looks really nice, with more of a sheen than a gloss. It can be re-waxed as many times as you like and buffed until the required sheen level is obtained or indeed not buffed if a low sheen is preferred.

What is the advantage of a varnish?

It is hard wearing and easily wiped down with damp cloths.

Is there a difference between a lacquer and a varnish?

No, the trade tend to refer to them as "lacquers" and the public tend to refer to them as "varnishes".

What type of wood stain do I need?

How do you choose the right wood stains for the job? It's something we're asked all the time. Thankfully there are some awesome products specially designed to cater for different wood types, finishes and situations.  

What is the best way to match different coloured woods?

By using a product from the same range on each type of wood, that needs to be matched, you can obtain a closer colour match. Where possible, it is best to use a clear coating on the darkest wood and a coloured coating on the lightest wood. Oil is a good option because it penetrates well into the wood, colouring it and protecting it at the same time. With an oil, you can also apply a second coloured coat if the match is not close enough after the first attempt. Hard wax oil is a superior oil that is also available in colours. 

Which product offers the clearest finish?

Bona or Junckers range lacquers, there are other brands but we tend to use between the two. 

What if a wax isn't durable enough and I want a clear finish?

Osmo Hard Wax Oil offer a clear alternative to the wax products. The difference is that they will slightly darken the colour of the wood, applying a little water to the wood will give you an indication of the final finish. We have had samples of varnishes that claim to keep the wood "Looking exactly as it is before applying the varnish" but they don't actually work. If you know of a product that does keep the wood looking the same but protected then we would love to hear from you. N.B. There is a product called Bona Naturale that is as clear as you can get but it is well over £100 for a 5L tub which will cover about 3 coats on an area that is 15 square metres. We can obtain this product if it interests you, roughly speaking it will make your wood look somewhere between how it is before anything has been applied to it and how it looks once it has been wetted with water.

What is the difference between a dye and a stain?

Essentially there is no difference between a stain and a dye, they are both coloured liquids that don't offer a sheen or protection, they simply colour the wood. Dyes are very concentrated & a longer process to apply than staining would be, both are available in the primary colours. Sometimes a product may have the word stain in the title even though it is a protective mixed with varnish coating, however we believe that a professional floor stain should simply stain the wood and not do anything else because a better result will be achieved if clear coats of lacquer is applied on top of a stain.

Is tinted varnish good?

Many of the large DIY stores sell a varnish and stain combined because it cuts out the process of staining the wood separately. We are very negative about these types of finishes because the colour tends to be suspended in the varnish on the surface of the wood, rather than being in the grain of the wood. This means that the grain becomes obscured and the beauty of the wood is taken away. A better look, with greater grain enhancement is achieved if a stain is applied firstly with clear coats of varnish on top.

What is the benefit of a water-based stain?

They are well priced and very easy to apply. They have very little smell and a large range of colours are available.

What is the benefit of a solvent-based stain?

They are quick drying (about 5 minutes) and the grain of the wood is not raised.

Is grain raising (with water based products) something to be concerned about?

In short - no, but it is a question of personal taste. The grain doesn't feel rough to the touch, it's more of a textured feel. In other words the pattern of the wood can be felt through the wood finish. Some customers really like to be able to feel the wood. If several coats of varnish are being applied then grain raising is not really an issue because the varnish tends to seal over the grain that has been raised, thus creating a smooth surface. 

What if my floorboards are contaminated?

No need to worry, we will examine the floorboards & take moisture readings. Once we have assessed the findings we will advise you accordingly if any boards require replacing with reclaimed, we can supply made to measure reclaimed boards of similar age & install for you with traditional brad nails. 

My floorboards, subfloor or joists creaks!

We can carefully lift up some floorboards to assess the joists & subfloor, however the majority of the time it's just the nails coming away from the floorboards which we can easily secure back down for you. 

Sanding my floor(s) is it disruptive?

No, we will always advise you our schedule as we go along. Only when the lacquering process is being applied is when we do not want any foot traffic until dried out thoroughly, this could take up 6 hours per coat. We also provide a furniture moving service, protective sheeting & existing floor lift & disposal. 

How much dust from sanding machines?

There will always be some dust but not as much as you think, even though all our sanding suction machines are dust free sometimes dust does escape. However no need to worry we will always vacuum up once completed. 

Is your sanding machines noisy?

Simple answer... Yes

Can parquet be fitted onto floorboards?

The rule of thumb is you cannot have joints on top of joints. In addition the subfloor has to be within a tolerance level for the parquet to be fitted on to. We would advise you to have at a minimum 9mm plywood secured onto your floorboards then primed & all joints filled in.

My subfloor is concrete? 

Your concrete subfloor has to be applied with a damp proof membrane barrier in a liquid form (latex maybe required to level subfloor) prior to installation of your parquet flooring or glued down of solid flooring planks. Engineered or laminated flooring will have to an underlay that incorporates a damp proof membrane barrier.

Do you provide samples?

Yes, we can provide & apply in-situ stain, oil & lacquer samples. We can also provide any flooring samples & accessories. 

Is your site visits & quotes free?

Absolutely... anytime/day visits are available we will endeavour to arrange at your convenience. All our quotes are itemised giving you a clear understanding to what you are being charged for. 

Is your work guaranteed?

Yes, we give you in writing your 12 month workmanship guarantee along with your Addendum to our works. Manufacturers guarantee is by no way affected. 

Why choose you?

We do not claim to be builders & master of other trades, we are strictly a hardwood flooring specialists & dedicated to our requirements, we are proud to have a 100% feedback score from our previous clients (can be viewed from a well known independant website)

Payment Terms?

We will prepare our method of payment details in writing for you to approve. A small deposit payment is required initially to confirm your start date in order for us to order the required materials, the final balance is due upon completion of your project. The final sum will always be more than your initial deposit value, meaning that the ball will always be your court.


All the above information mentioned is for guidance purposes only & should not be adhered to until a site inspection has been carried out, should you have any questions please feel free to contact us.