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by Simon Gilboy
If you have a British £2 coin in your person right now, check out the inscription around the edge. It might read "STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS" and is taken from a letter by Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, in which he describes how his work was built on the knowledge of those that had gone before him. "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Newton was Warden and later Master of the Royal Mint.
You might be asking what this has to do with Myrica wax and the picture of some strange berry. Well, in our line of work (antique furniture restoration), Newton's giants would be the ancient luthiers and furniture makers who discovered the amazing preservation properties of beeswax and pine sap and created lacquers, varnishes and polishes to protect wood and present a deep shine. When we stand on the shoulders of our giants we understand the importance of using ingredients that nature provides, that natural selection has endowed with properties that work in harmony with the environment. Standing on the shoulders of our giants allows us to see as far as the South American Andes mountains and, sharing the same thirst for knowledge and improvement as our forebears, investigate the properties of the waxy covering that protects the berries of a shrub named Morella pubescens.
Morella pubescens is a member of the wax laurel family of trees and shrubs and was originally classified as Myrica pubescens until 2002. It is known locally as "Laurel de cera" or Wax Laurel. It is easily confused with the Myrica cerifera (Wax Myrtle or Bayberry) that is found on the east coast of the Americas from the caribbean to New York. Morella pubescens however, grows at high altitudes (above 1,800m/6,000ft) in the Andes and can only be found in Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. The wax covers the small, greyish berries to protect them against the moisture loss and extreme environmental stresses that life at such altitudes demands.
Wax Laurel is a fast growing, resistant and adaptable tree that colonises areas with poor and eroded soils. This makes it an ideal species for environmental restoration in places that have been degraded. In fact it has been used by humans for centuries:
Of course our interest is in its properties for the protection and preservation of wood and wood finishes. Myrica wax is very unique as it has no double bounds and is a rather naturally hydrogenated solid. Due to its chemical structure it is very stable against oxidation. Very untypical is the low melting point while having an exceptional hardness. This combination leads to an outstanding spreadability that means Gilboy's Gold beeswax furniture polish will be even easier to apply.
Testing in the workshop on our own furniture, we found that it improves the ease of application and depth of shine with a slightly harder resistance to dust and atmospheric conditions. The wax protects the berry from the increased UV exposures at high altitude and this property should afford your wood finish similar protection from the sun. UV light has the most impact on colour change of the actual wood. Wood is extremely photosensitive – which means it reacts to sunlight. You only have to put a piece of unfinished wood out in direct sunlight for a short time with part of it covered to see how the sun’s ultraviolet rays affect it. How fast a timber reacts to UV light depends on the species.
For example many tropical, exotic woods like Brazilian Cherry or Tigerwood, react to UV exposure very fast and they turn a much darker shade. On the other hand woods like Red Oak, Maple and Hickory generally bleach out and become lighter at a slower rate.
And it’s not only the wood itself that is subject to discolouration. The type of finish can also play a big part in how the wood will react. Infrared light, combined with UV light and visible light, reacts with the finish and can slowly it darker or yellowish.
Anyone with a hardwood floor knows the effect the sun can have on colour
When applied to more modern, hard lacquers it will struggle to penetrate past the finish and will be less likely to be an effective colour restorer.
Myrica wax is harvested and produced through sustainable methods by local farmers in a process monitored by the Union for Ethical BioTrade. The UEBT promotes sustainable use of biodiversity in Colombia, fair and equitable sharing of benefits, regulatory compliance and social and environmental responsibility. The myrica wax is extracted via boiling and then skimming the surface, and is processed without the use of solvents or additives.
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by Emma Gilboy
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Staverton Works, New Lane, Staverton, Devon, TQ9 6AQ, UK
Tel: +44(0)1803 762 763
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