Wax carving, smooth finish

I recently received this email and I thought I would share my

I have just started to learn wax carving. Well i am trying to
teach myself is more like it. I have made a few shapes and basic
beginning things I am wondering if you could tell me how you
smooth work your work after it is finished? I rough the shape out
and try to smooth as best i can but it is not smooth at all. Then
when i try to put detail on i cant because it is too rough still.
Any help? If is was wood i would sand paper it but i tried and that
does not work too good. 


I get this question frequently. I do work my waxes to an unusual
degree of smooth finish. Well, there is no magic, the smooth finish
is a result of working a piece down. I can give you a series of

  1. I use hard smooth green wax (Ferris), special order 5mm sheets

  2. file the wax semi smooth with a wax file so that you can see your

  3. use a skip tooth saw blade to cut out your design

  4. make your tools, or modify others (Kate Wolf makes an excellent
    tool set, too large for my work) going from large (customize pen
    knives, gouges, knitting needles, whatever) to very fine (discarded
    burs, surgical blades and cutting needles,… I go down as far as
    common pins that I put edges on)

  5. always keep an extremely sharp edge on your tools, or if they have
    a wider, more gradual bevel for burnishing, keep them very smooth

  6. work very slowly from larger tool to smaller tool, eliminating
    roughness as you go

  7. you should scrape and very rarely cut

  8. you should scrape some more

  9. keep scraping

I lied, there is, in fact, a magic ingredient: time. My waxes take
from a week and a half to over a month working off and on. I make
mostly all my own carving tools, I use a Foredom wax pen with a
modified tip (sharpened and reduced in size) for initial shaping and
molding (hot wax technique) and a cheap MaxWax pen for detail add on
and finer hot shaping. I use a spring gauge to measure thickness. I
work the wax to a thickness of 0.9mm up to 1.2mm around the joints
where breakage can occur. I will go to a thickness of 2-3mm for
places where clasps are soldered or for bails. At this level of
precision, the piece automatically becomes smoothed. However, it does
take much time.

I occasionally do use sand paper with a toothpick as a backing.
Again, it is a very slow and precise operation going from 220, 320,
400, to 600 grits.

hope this helps


In addition to Sumner’s sandpaper, use the 3-M Wetdry Polishing
Paper for a great finish on your waxes.


Smoothing a carving wax model depends upon the design of the model.
If the desire is to smooth the surface of the model filing and
sanding the wax will work. It takes some time.

The steps I take in carving a model:

  1. Cut the rough shape our of a block of sheet of carving wax. I
    usually buy the blue Ferris carving wax in one pound blocks. I use a
    band saw to cut the block into smaller blocks or sheets of various
    thickness. I mill the sheets and blocks to the final thickness I
    want with a large metal cutting burr with teeth on the bottom mounted
    in a cable driven handpiece that is mounted in a Foredom Drill press.

  2. I cut the shape of the design with a round wax cutting jewelers

  3. Use a large burr in a handpiece to grind the wax to the final
    shape. Smaller burrs may be used to grind the shape to closer detail.

  4. Use a fine file to file the grinding marks away. Move the file on
    the wax in a direction so as to not cut grooves in the wax from the
    file. If the file is moved on the wax incorrectly the file teeth will
    leave deep grooves in the wax.

  5. Use 1000 grit wet sandpaper to smooth the wax.

The process of smoothing the wax takes time.

I can provide photos of the steps to anyone interested. I am working
on an illustrated paper on the subject which I will submit to
Orchid’s “Tips from the Jewelers Bench.”

The following paper described how to modify dental tools into wax
engraving tools and how they are used.

Lee Epperson

I have been carving waxes for about 27 years and here is how I get a
fast and smooth finish: After working the shape down with a rough
file and/or large cylinder burr I sometimes use sandpaper or a finer
file to get the surfaces level. At this point, I scrape with a
somewhat dull mold cutting blade that has been ground down at the
point for fillagree work. I use this blade for nearly all of my final
shaping work. Its both fast and precise. When I am satisfied with the
dimensions I use lighter fluid on a rag to polish the wax, being
carefull not to take away the crispness of the carving. After this, I
sonic the wax in a lukewarm ultrasonic to get the rubbed off wax bits
out of any lower areas in the design. If you have the commercial wax
solvent you can use this as well. I wash my hands after using these
chemicals but you may find some sort of rubber gloves usefull
depending on your own skin sensitivity. I avoid the use of these
chemicals whenever possible unless I believe the use of them will
help sell the piece or make any fillagree carving easier to lay out.
Hollowing underneath the model is absolutely neccessary to allow
easier carving. I use a three bladed wax burr for this and a
fiinishing ball burr. A cue tip with solvent works to polish
underneath when used in your flexshaft or simply by hand. I use
drills or burrs to cut away any areas and the mold cutting blade for
final crisp shaping. I don’t use sawblades because I think they are
imprecise in wax and leave too rough of a finish. Because I am a
working custom jeweler with many tasks at hand I don’t often spend
too much time making the wax spotless. Much of this is wasted time
and will be polished away in the metal. The only time I obsess on a
wax is when doing so helps the sale with a difficult to please
customer or if I am making a model for production. My waxes take
from between 20 minutes on simpler designs to as much as twelve
hours. Most are in the 2-4 hour range. Since most of my work is more
complex than the average piece of jewelry I must use every trick in
the book to get the wax roughed out fast so I may take the neccessary
time to make it look right. I’d say 20% of my time is rough out and
80% finish. I don’t try to save much time in the finish stage because
that is where you are refining the look of the design and trial and
error come into play here more often than not. There are lots of
little tricks involved in making wax carving faster and better
quality. The above statements are based on years of trying to beat
the clock and maintain my personal standards for quality while still
carving the piece by hand.


On Wax Carving Tools and Techniques:

Many of us know that a piece of panty hose is great to hand
rub/smooth the larger surfaces of a wax model. So, I found an old
worn out round burr that measures about 4mm… took a small piece of
pantyhose and wrapped it around the burr and used a twist tie to
secure it just below the round part of the burr. When used at a
medium speed with your flex shaft it does an amazing job at smoothing
concave or hollowed out areas of a wax. I can also use it on detailed
areas that need a slight softening before casting. I will happily
email a pic of it to any of you who request !

My tools are simple and very inexpensively made with pieces of steel
rod or coat hanger wire attached to wooden dowels (a very inexpensive
way to make your own tools!) You can shape and sharpen them as you
please. My students are thrilled to spend about three dollars on
supplies instead of investing in wax carving tools that may never be
what they need or want. You can see my wax models on my websites.
Sewing needles or pins are terrific tools when used in a pin vise

Marge Mersky - “I touch the future, I teach”

When I am done carving the wax I use sand paper then to give a nice
polished finishing to the piece I use a piece of nylon and use it
like I used the san paper.

David Kopp