All You Need to Know about French Polishing

Cleaning antique furniture

The key to the sheen on some of your most valued wood furniture may be hundreds of layers of hand-applied shellac. Discover about the high-gloss finish and how to apply it to any wooden item.

If you’ve ever appreciated an ancient wooden piece of furniture or a wooden instrument like a guitar or violin, you’re probably gazing at French polished wood. You may admire the exquisite polish as much as the good aesthetics. This time-honored approach for obtaining a beautiful finish that shows off wood grain to perfection is hard to beat.

What is French Polishing?

To achieve a high-gloss, glass-smooth surface with a deep depth that elegantly accentuates the grain of the wood, French polishing involves applying multiple thin layers of shellac to wood furniture, musical instruments, or ornamental accents. Because to its labour-intensive procedure, French polish has fallen out of popularity since the 1600s.

Tempting as it may be, a true French polish finish requires no sprays, brushes, or sponges. The same goes for new hard-and-shiny wood sealers like polyurethane. Instead, a cotton dabber and a few additional items will be used to apply the shellac.

Shellac, a material generated by the lac bug, an Asian scale insect, is suitable for all woods, although it’s easiest to obtain a glossy, faultless French polish finish on closed grain hardwoods like maple, spruce, and cedar. A stage is added to the process if used on open-grain woods like walnut, mahogany, and rosewood.

While other glossy wood finishes exist, such as varnish, polyurethane, and high-gloss stains and paints, none match the depth and richness of French polish.

Pros and Cons of French Polish

Before committing to the multi-day French polishing process, consider the following benefits and drawbacks. After all, while it is lovely, it may not be ideal for all wood furniture or accents.

Fortunately, French-polished shellac is resilient and requires little polishing once dried. Its flexibility prevents cracking, scratches, and wear, which is useful if you drop your keys on a shellacked table. Quick drying and nontoxic shellac. It won’t yellow like varnish, and it’s easy to restore a French-polished object without leaving visible marks. While natural shellac is amber to orange, bleached shellac is useful over light woods like maple.

However, shellac burns when exposed to extreme heat, like a hot plate without a trivet. High humidity or liquids might cause white rings or patches, so don’t French polish a coffee table or any other piece of furniture that collects drips or condensation. You also shouldn’t French polish anything near a high-humidity location like a bathroom or kitchen. Before you start French polishing, check the weather forecast and postpone if it’s going to rain or be humid. Finally, alcohol damages shellac, so don’t use it on your home bar’s counters or furniture.

You should also consider your personal experience. French polishing isn’t for beginners or those who lack patience for a lengthy process. Instead, stain or paint your work before sealing it with a glossy polyurethane. While the completed product lacks the depth and lustre of French polish, the technique is significantly simpler and faster.

Contact our team at the Abbey Group for more information on 01708 741135.

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