I tried your suggestion and it worked like a charm.
The solvent removed many, many years of grimy dirt. The grain of the wood became clear with no impact on the patina of either the wood (the original finish remained intact) or metal. The wax provides an air tight coating and, if anything, improves the grip over the old dirt covered and thorugholy rubbed wood finish. It still clearly looks its age, but the handling is now clean and secure.