If this is your first visit, be sure to
check out the FAQ by clicking the
link above. You will be required to register
before you can post: click the register link above to proceed. To start viewing messages,
select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.
I don't claim to be an expert, but I'd guess you either go with a good urethane with several coats, with light sanding (220 grit paper) in between, or something like tung oil, well buffed and several coats, or real varnish. The last takes a good touch to get a good finish. In none of these cases is a subsequent coat of paste wax recommended.
Waxing furniture is older than the hills, as is varnish. But, it won't particularly make it shinier. It makes it feel a little nicer, and dust cloths slide better, which hopefully will keep folks from using evil "stuff" like Pledge. If you want to wax, give the varnish (any kind available on Earth, by the way) a couple or more weeks to cure.
For that deep shine, you need to "finish the finish", a process of sanding and polishing the finish. Long descriptions required, check out any reputable finishing book from the library. "Reputable", in this context, can be taken to mean authored by Jewitt, Dredsner, Flexner, Charron. Possibly others I cannot vouch for.
I'm no expert and haven't read any books but here is my 2 cents. I think the shine will ultimately depend on the species of wood. Maybe someone with more knowledge could chime in here. Also, you will need to sand very smooth, maybe all the way to 600 (would this be overkill?). I have gotten some good results, in my opinion, with polyurethane really thinned down to the consistency of water. Three or four coats with fine steel wool in between.
Dave: I am not now, and probably never will be, skilled or patient enough to do a real varnish job myself. My only experience is on the boat, where the brightwork is done by the yard. The topside brightwork is done in high gloss, and all we do is rinse it off with fresh water once the hook is down and then gently dry it with a terry-cloth towel. It is re-varnished each year.
Belowdecks, the bulkheads (walls) and sole (floor) are done in a semi-gloss. Besides cleaning up any spills quickly, what we do is wash the surface a couple of times with a terry-cloth towel and warm water, then dry it with another towel, then buff it with a third towel. This is re-coated about every 3 or 4 years.
"I am not now, and probably never will be, skilled or patient enough to do a real varnish job myself"
If you are skilled or patient enough to build a "fine woodworking" project, a varnish job is easily within your reach. Stories of it being hard to do are rather overrated. French polish, now there's a taxing finish job...
My knowledge of boat-finishing is zilch. Everything is different there.
[add]After having written this, it occurs to me. As a boat guy, when you see "varnish", are you translating to "spar varnish", like is used on boats? That's only one category of varnish, and one that is not often recommended for ordinary indoor furniture use.
I just finished a magazine rack, 24h x 12w x 14l in oak. Sanded, sanded and sanded some more 600gr. Minwax golden oak stain, recoated with stain to get coloe as wanted and then..minwax 8 coats and you can see yourself. Looks deep to me, my wif and mother-in law who will be using it. I am among the ones who can not apply poly or varnish either.. keep on sanding until you think that there is no more energy left. that is my 2 cents worth...dd