How to Polish Shellac Finishes


To polish with a shellac finish, you must use a procedure commonly referred to as French polishing. This method results in a deep wood color with a beautiful, glossy shellac finish. The shellac polish can be used on light, medium and dark woods alike to provide a gorgeous luster. This clear coating also helps to protect your wood from damage and fading. With the right tools and some care, you can shellac polish your wood products to ensure a long, healthy life.

Things You'll Need

  • French wood polish kit
  • White spirits
  • Methylated spirits
  • Fine steel wool
  • Painter's drop cloth
  • Painter's tape
  • Paintbrush
  • Soft, clean cotton fabric
  • Cotton wool
  • Light sandpaper
  • Rubber gloves
  • Clean the wood before polishing. Use a small amount of white spirits on the fine steel wool and run the wood. This will remove any dirt deposits. Use a vigorous rubbing action to remove any imperfections in the wood and leave a smooth finish. Allow the wood to air dry thoroughly after this procedure.

  • Place the wood to be stained onto a painter's drop cloth. If the furniture is large and immobile, place the drop cloth around the object. You may also want to secure the drop cloth to the surrounding floor area with painter's tape.

  • Open your French polishing kit, which will contain burnishing liquid and shellac. Dip the paintbrush into the shellac and begin painting your wood. Use long, even strokes while applying the shellac. Apply an even coating and allow it to thoroughly dry. This may take up to one hour.

  • Apply a second coat after the first is dry. Apply the same way, with long, even strokes. Allow this second coating to dry thoroughly.

  • Use a light grit sandpaper made for wood surfaces to lightly sand the entire surface of shellac. A grit of 900 or higher is recommended. This will remove any uneven areas or thick runs in the shellac surface.

  • Dip the soft, clean cotton fabric into the methylated spirits. Twist the cloth to wring out excess moisture; you want the cloth to be damp not soaked.

  • Soak a piece of cotton wool into the shellac. Wrap the cotton wool inside the cotton fabric from the previous step. Rub this bundle onto the wood with firm pressure, forcing the shellac through the cloth, out onto the surface of your wood. Apply with a circular motion, keeping your cotton wool moist with shellac. Open up your bundle and dip the cotton wool into shellac as necessary if it is drying out. Apply several layers of the shellac according to your preference. Many people will apply up to five layers depending on the luster they want.

  • Allow the newly shellac-polished surface to dry overnight.

  • Dip another bundle of soft, clean cotton fabric into the burnishing liquid that was included with your French polishing kit. Work the liquid into your wood, rubbing with firm, even pressure. Coat the entire surface of your wood with the liquid and allow this to dry.

  • Polish the dry surface with a soft, clean cotton cloth to buff or shine it. Use small, circular motions to achieve a beautiful, glossy look.

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