What is hardwax oil?

Hardwax oil is the standard wood finish that we use to keep our tables and table tops protected from food and drink spills and the cleaning that may occur with normal daily use.

Without any kind of protective finish, bare wood surfaces will begin to stain and look messy and dirty within a short space of time, sometimes within their first use.

With an effective wood finish the surface will be wipeable and return to a clean and fresh condition even after contact with powerful staining agents like coffee, red wine and food colouring.

What hardwax is, and is not

As the name suggests, it is a blend of wax and naturally occurring oils that work to enrich the wood from within by partially soaking into it, while also leaving a protective film on top.

This is as opposed to a traditional varnish that simply sits on top of the wood and hardens into what is effectively a thin plastic film.

One of the features of hardwax oil compared to varnish is that it is generally considered to look more natural, enhancing the appearance of the wood in an organic looking way.

Another aspect is that over time it will not turn slightly yellow as many varnishes tend to after prolonged exposure to UV light.

The amount of protection that the oil provides against spills and so on is directly linked to how many coats are applied, and crucially how thick they are.

The level of protection it offers

We apply a minimum of two coats of oil to our tables and table tops as standard and have established through testing the ideal thickness that offers excellent spill resistance while keeping the wood looking natural.

A piece of oak with red wine spilled to test the hardwax oil
The appearance of the test piece when cleaned gently four hours later

For example, in our tests, red wine was able to be removed in a matter of seconds with a light rub of a sponge despite being left on the surface for around four hours. This was comparable to only the toughest polyurethane varnishes on the market that we tested and far better than any of the water-based varnishes.

Other substances like olive oil, butter and coffee also came off with little effort. It should be noted that we cannot offer a guarantee of such performance outside of our tests, but simply that is what we strongly expect. The reason we cannot guarantee it is because it is possible that a particular foodstuff may have a different effect, perhaps if it had a high acid level we are not aware of. We can only offer this as a prediction of the performance.

Some of the products we have tested the hardwax oil against, all successfully

As with any wood finish, the length of time it stays effective depends almost entirely on the conditions it is kept in and how it is treated. The most common reason why a hardwax oil could fail is that it has been cleaned with a harsh chemical and/or rubbed vigorously with an abrasive.

The only safe way to clean table tops that have hardwax oil – or indeed varnish – is with a mild detergent like soapy water. If you have ever been to a restaurant with sticky tables you will have experienced what happens to varnish when it is regularly wiped with cleaning chemicals like those that are in typical anti-bacterial sprays or disinfectants.

Hardwax oil is unlikely to become sticky as a result of harsh cleaning, but it will simply wear down so some areas are no longer protected, and therefore become prone to stains from spilt food and drink.

If looked after well, it is our belief that a hardwax oil coated tabletop could last several years before it starts to wear and be in need of re-oiling. Even with careful cleaning, natural UV exposure and the wear and tear of daily use will take their toll eventually. The good news is that with a solid wood table tops like ours, it is straightforward to sand and re-oil the surface time and again. This is not so much the case with a thin wood veneered furniture that can potentially be ruined once the finish fails.

Colours that hardwax oil comes in

The brand of hardwax oil we prefer is available in several tints but some are very similar and so – as well as a clear coat – we have selected two we felt offer a distinctive and attractive tone as our standard options:

To see larger pictures of these tints and examples of them on tables see the hardwax oil colours FAQ.

If you are looking for a different tone, please contact us about a custom order and we can discuss options.