French polishing has been around since the 15th century but only gained a broad appeal in the Victorian era when it was used to finish fine wooden furniture and musical instruments. Can a traditional wood finishing technique still have a place in the 21st century with all the advancements that have been in the last 500 years? We take a closer look at the process the benefits of French polishing.
What is French Polishing?
French polishing is a finishing technique used to give wood a high gloss surface and a deep and rich colour. It is a lengthy process that requires numerous very thin layers of a hard-wearing substance being applied. The technique takes time to perfect and should only be performed by experienced and fully trained French Polishers.
The French Polishing Technique
French polishers use a natural substance called Shellac that comes from the Lac beetle when it forms a cocoon. The resin is dried and mixed with alcohol to create a liquid mixture.
The Shellac is applied to the wood’s surface using either a polish mop or a Fad, a pad made from wadding and wrapped in cotton or wool.
The first coats are applied in the same direction as the wood grain, and once dried, they are lightly sanded using fine abrasive paper.
Using very light pressure, further layers of Shellac are applied, again in the direction of the wood grain using a figure of eight movement.
Each layer of Shellac is only applied once the previous layer has had time to harden. Before applying the new layer, the uppermost part of the last layer is melted using an alcohol solvent. The helps the two layers to bond, providing a long-lasting and hard-wearing surface.
If the French polish has been applied correctly, the end result is a flawless finish with a high shine that brings out deep, rich colours of the wood.
Where Can French Polish be Used?
The French polishing process is best suited to darker woods with a fine grain such as Rosewood, Walnut, and Mahogany. Oak and Pine, and other wood varieties with a coarse grain respond better to oil and wax-based finishing techniques.
The benefits of French polishing can be most obviously seen around the home on items of furniture. Both antique and more modern furniture respond beautifully to the finish French polishing provides.
Aside from furniture, musical instruments such as pianos, violins, and cellos can be treated, giving them a classic and expensive look while also protecting them against bumps and bangs.
Flooring and staircases that have been French polished benefit from a warm and elegant look as well as a hard-wearing finish that will stand up to even the busiest of homes.
The Benefits of French Polishing
On the right wood, French polishing provides numerous benefits that can simply not be matched by more modern techniques.
- The finish that French polishing achieves cannot be matched by lacquers and varnishes
- If damage does occur to the polished surface, is it easy to repair
- The process creates very little dust, and there are no unpleasant smells which means most French polishing jobs can be carried out in peoples homes
- Shellac is a natural, non-toxic substance
The Benefits of French Polishing Summary
French polishing may be a traditional, 500-year-old technique, but if you want to protect and make the most of your wood surfaces, it is unmatched by any modern process.
French polishing is a difficult skill to master, and it should only be carried out by people with relevant training and expertise. At Major Oak Polishing, our team have years of experience in both domestic and commercial settings. For a no-obligation quote or for more information, please contact our team today.