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fatty substances of animal or vegetable origin, chiefly consisting of esters of the higher fatty acids and high-molecular (usually monatomic) spirits.
Waxes are amorphous, plastic, and readily softened by heating, and they melt at temperatures of 40°-90° C. Their physical and chemical properties are those of fats; they have low reactivity and are very resistant to the action of various reagents; some of them can be preserved for many years without change.
Waxes are divided into animal, vegetable, and mineral types. Animal waxes include beeswax, produced by the wax glands of bees and other insects; wool or lanolin, obtained by washing sheep’s wool; and spermaceti, isolated from the fat of the sperm whale. Vegetable waxes include carnauba, which is obtained from the leaves of the Brazilian wax palm, as well as candelilla and palm wax. Mineral waxes include ceresin, a by-product of cleaning ozocerite, and montan wax obtained from lignite or peat. Production of synthetic waxes has developed since 1939. These products are received by hydrogenation of carbon monoxide (so-called Fischer-Tropsch wax). They are also made from low-molecular polyolefins, for example, from polyethylene with a molecular mass of 2,000-10,000.
Practical applications in various technical fields are largely limited to animal, mineral, and synthetic waxes, which are utilized in the preparation of polishing compounds and emulsions for fabrics, tanning of hides, processing of resins, paper-making, and pressure molding of polymers. Vegetable waxes fill the important biological function of regulating the water systems of plants.
Waxes are employed as a plastic for separate works of art, such as the bust and statue of Peter I by B. K. Rastrelli, in the Hermitage, Leningrad, and the bas-reliefs of F. P. Tolstoi, in the Russian Museum, Leningrad. They also serve for modeling various artifacts of bronze (sculpture, medals, and so on). Wax coatings of undecorated wood—for example, the furniture and carved panels of the 17th and 18th centuries—impart a natural shine and emphasize its structure. A thin coat of wax protects marble sculpture from moisture, and wax serves as the basis of wax painting.