Why Wax?

When you buy a seal stone, especially a cheaper stone, you’ll sometimes find it covered in a layer of wax. I’m most familiar with qingtian stone like those shown below, which usually come covered in wax to bring out the color. Very hard stone can be polished to a mirror-like shine but, in general, the softer the stone the less likely it is to take a good polish. Soft stone like soapstone can be sanded very smooth but will seldom take a high-gloss shine without some outside help. One way to bring out the color of the stone and give it this shine is to rub the stone with oil (I like to use non-perfumed baby oil). The trouble with this technique is that the oil eventually dries out, the stone once again looks flat, and you need to put more oil on it. This is one reason to handle your stones often—the oil from your hands will eventually give it a glossy patina. Another method is to apply something like car wax which can then be buffed to give the stone a “false” shine. The method popular with seal stone dealers in China is to use beeswax. It doesn’t dry out quickly, brings out some of the color of the stone, and can be polished to make the stone more appealing (and therefore easier to sell). The more expensive the stone the less likely you are to see this (since the less likely it is to need it) or the less obtrusive it will be. There’s no reason to remove the wax but sometimes it’s applied unevenly, in which case you can sand it down until smooth. You do need to remove all the wax from the seal surface where you cut your design into the stone since you won’t be able to make any marks with ink on the stone to guide your cut—the wax won’t hold the ink—and you may not be cutting as deeply as you thought. Even if you were to leave the wax and successfully cut your design, the seal ink won’t stick to the wax and you won’t be able to get a good impression from your seal. Be sure to sand off all the wax from the bottom until you reach stone bedrock before you begin your next masterpiece.

Student quality qingtian seal carving stone.
Typical student quality qingtian stone.

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