French Polishing using Shellac

I often receive enquiries concerning French Polishing and how you can achieve a high gloss finish on furniture. Here's some detailed information on French Polishing.

French Polish is suitable for use on all dark woods and light woods, when a light to medium brown tone is required. The process of French Polishing involves the process coating wood with a solution of shellac dissolved in alcohol applied using a rag and cotton wool as opposed to a brush. As the alcohol evaporates the shellac is deposited on the surface of the wood.

Shellac is an encrustation surrounding an insect known as Laciffer Lacca, which is a parasite living on certain trees in India and other Eastern countries. The shellac is gathered by cutting the infected twigs from the trees and is scraped off the twigs and washed with water to remove impurities and when dry, is known as Seed Lac. After a heating and refining process shellac is then ready to use for French Polish.

Preparation for French Polishing

Preparing the surface for French polishing is extremely important, as any slight imperfections not noticeable under varnish or oil finishes will be apparent under French Polish. The surface must be fine sanded and absolutely clean and any furniture being renovated needs to be cleaned with white spirit and fine steel wool to ensure it is free from wax and grease.

Wood that is badly stained can be bleached with wood bleach. On woods that are open grained and a smooth mirror-like surface required, the grain will need to be filled with a grain filler before French polishing.

It should be noted that wood can only be stained to a darker shade than its existing colour. If the wood is required a lighter shade, then it must be bleached first with Wood Bleach and then stained to the required colour.

Holes and cracks should be filled with Wood stopping before polishing, but it should be noted that where Wood stopping has been used, it will always be noticed, as the pattern of the grain has been broken.

The area filled with Wood stopping can be made less noticeable by painting a grained effect over the Stopping with artists colours and a fine artists brush.

This information is courtesy of Roger England Antiques.