How to Apply a Basic French Polish


A French polish is an alcohol and shellac polish for wood - the finish is an exceptionally high gloss. This is hard work but is well worth the effort.

Things You'll Need

  • Burnishing Liquids
  • Denatured Alcohol
  • Clean Cotton Rags
  • Cotton Wool
  • Shellac
  • Silicone Carbide Papers
  • Steel Wool Pads
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Natural Hair Brushes
  • Shallow Bowls
  • Newspaper
  • French Polish Kits
  • Linseed Oils
  • Pick up a French polishing kit at your local hardware store. These kits contain premixed shellac and a bottle of burnishing liquid. If you cannot find a kit, see "How To Apply a Traditional French Polish" under Related eHows.

  • Lay down a layer of newspapers over your work area.

  • Make sure there is no dust floating around the room. Dust will show up in the finish and ruin the shine.

  • Clean the wood to be treated with a steel wool pad dipped in about a cup of mineral spirits mixed with 2 tsp. linseed oil.

  • Use a clean rag to dry the wood.

  • Put the shellac in a shallow bowl.

  • Dip a paintbrush into the shellac and apply a single coat over the entire workpiece. Don't cover the same area more than once.

  • Cover the bowl of shellac with plastic to keep it from drying.

  • Wait 30 minutes and then apply another coat with the paintbrush.

  • Wait an hour and then sand the entire surface lightly with silicone carbide paper.

  • Make a polish applicator by soaking a 1-square-foot of white cotton fabric (an old T-shirt is ideal) with denatured alcohol.

  • Wring out the rag, fill the inside with a little bit of cotton wool, pour a few tablespoons of shellac on the wool and bring the four corners together.

  • Twist the rag to wring out the excess shellac and create a smooth spot on the balled-up end.

  • Polish the workpiece by making circles and figure eights. Don't stop moving the applicator, or you'll leave a mark - whisk it on and off the surface at a sharp angle. Make the last swipe straight along the direction of the grain.

  • Go over the wood about 10 times, and then add a little bit more shellac to the cotton wool inside the applicator. You will feel the applicator drying out as you work.

  • Repeat these steps until you have put on three coats of polishing shellac. Let the work sit in a dust-free environment for 12 hours.

  • Pour a little bit of burnishing liquid on a clean cotton rag.

  • Rub hard along the wood's grain. When the cloth becomes stained, set it aside and buff out the section you just worked on.

  • Start with a clean section of rag and repeat until the entire piece is glowing.

Tips & Warnings

  • Keep the room fairly warm. Cool temperatures will cloud the polish.
  • The difference between a basic and a traditional French polish is the amount of work. The kit makes the work easier by supplying you with premixed, thinned shellac and burnishing liquid. The traditional method requires much elbow grease and patience - and results in an even more mirror-like finish.

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