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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
French Polish is an ancient technique for putting a fine finish on fine furniture. People are very often intimidated at the prospect of attempting a French Polish but with care and patience you can do this! It’s not like rocket science or brain surgery. The preparation and process must be done with care, patience and the understanding that this is not a fast finish; it takes time.

The basics of french polish can be learned with a lot of practice but do not start with prized objects. Wait until you have confidence in the finishes you produce. It is not as easy as YouTube makes it appear!

French Polish, being a shellac/alcohol based finish, is subject to damage from such things as spilled beverages and spilled water that is not promptly removed.

Shellac resin is sold as dry flakes and come in many different shades from a deep brown and up to a pale amber Shellac flakes can be found for sale online.

To Start, assemble the following:
Shellac flakes, Denatured Alcohol, a few large, glass, “Mason” type jars; a litre size would do nicely, No METAL CONTAINERS! You also need rotten-stone, vegetable oil, gauze, gloves, clear-coat filters or cone paint strainers. ( white T-shirt material will also work)

Work in a dust free room at standard room temperature. (70f) Cold will make the shellac cloudy. Grind up the shellac flakes and mix 3 ounces of shellac flakes into1 pint of denatured alcohol, shake well. Keep the mixture in a tightly sealed container and allow it to rest for at least 24 hours, after which, you must filter the mixture into another clear jar. If straining through a T-shirt material, be sure the piece is large enough it will not fall into the jar. The shellac is now ready to use. This mixture can be stored in the air tight container for a maximum of 3 months.

The surface to be polished must be very smooth and absolutely dust free. Any imperfections will obviously, mar the finish. I sand surfaces by going from 100 grit and work up to 600 grit, wiping with a damp cloth between sanding to raise the grain. The final sanding needs to not be damp wiped but be sure all dust is removed. Go all the way to 800 grit if your aim is a high gloss finish. For a guitar finish go all the way up to 1000 grit.

Pour a small amount of the prepared shellac into a small glass or china bowl and refill as needed. Soak a wad of gauze in shellac, then place it inside a a piece of your white T-shirt material. Tie up the ends of the cloth with cord and squeeze it out to remove most of the shellac. Then, using an eye-dropper, add a few drops of vegetable oil to your pad; this will prevent the shellac from sticking and drying out as you apply it.

Shellac dries very quickly so hesitations in movement will leave ugly mars on the surface. Use a smooth, sweeping motion to apply the shellac pad to the surface. Work about 2 square feet at a time, then change to a circular pattern and then finally, a figure 8 pattern. Every pass of the shellac pad leaves a thin layer. You want to leave at least 100 layers in the first session.

Next session: Soak a fresh wad of gauze in shellac, then place it inside a a piece of fresh, white, T-shirt material. Tie up the ends of the cloth again. Add a few drops of shellac and a few drops of alcohol to your pad. This time you will do the application in long even strokes from side to side. This application will insure the shellac is even on the surface. Be careful not to remove any shellac.

Leave the work for a few hours to allow any and all oil to rise to the surface, then soak another fresh wad of gauze in shellac, then place it inside a piece of fresh, white, T-shirt material. Tie up the ends of the cloth again. Add a few drops of shellac and a few drops of alcohol to your pad. This time you will do the application in long even strokes from side to side. Repeat this step several more times, leaving a few hours between applications.

After several hours,you are now ready to rub the finish with rotten-stone. Again, a fresh wad of gauze placed inside a piece of fresh, white, T-shirt material. Tie up the ends of the cloth again. DO NOT SOAK IN SHELLAC! Sprinkle the surface lightly with rotten-stone and a few drops of vegetable oil. Working along the grain pattern, keep rubbing the surface in long even strokes until you reach the level of gloss you want to achieve.

Finally, apply a thin coast of furniture paste wax to help protect all that hard work. You have now applied a French Polish.

Notes:
Shellac can be purchased ready mixed, but freshly made is devoid of commercial additives, the finish will be easier to work and produce a nicer result. Use gloves when working with shellac.

French Polish ideal coating for dining room tables tops, fancy boxes and cases. It is only suitable for interior surfaces.

It is important that all traces of previous finishes have been removed.

French Polish should never be applied to kitchen or bathroom surfaces
 

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Why everything out of ordinary is called French x? like

French drain
French doors
French cabinets
French fries
French kissing

Now French polishing? lol
 

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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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261 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Why everything out of ordinary is called French x? like

French drain
French doors
French cabinets
French fries
French kissing

Now French polishing? lol
OK, you asked:
As the term indicates, French polish was used extensively in France by Victorian era furniture makers.
French doors came into popular use in 17th-century France. Symmetrical design is one of the elements that defined the Renaissance, which informs French doors as we know it today. French architects refer to it as porte-fenêtre (“window door”) and they were used merely as oversized windows.
French cabinets is a style of interior design that is inspired by country homes and farmhouses in rural France.
French Drain comes from Henry French, a judge and farmer in Concord, Massachusetts, who promoted the idea in an 1859 book about farm drainage.
French fries: 2 possibilities, 1- they were made first by french speaking Belgians. Belgians made the food popular in World War 1. 2- Because of the Irish word for cutting was to french something and the term came with them to America. I am inclined to think it best explained by the Belgian theory.
French kiss: French people had a reputation for being very adventurous and passionate when it came to making out. So, when you kissed with tongue and did so passionately, you were said to be doing it like the French.
 

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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I French polished some musical instruments a long time ago. It was satisfying work. OP what are you French polishing?
Not much these days. I did it, extensively in the 1980s through the 1990s. I lost my studio when I moved to a new city over a decade ago and am mainly retired. I do a few interior paints a year now and only for special clients.
 

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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Why French Polish?
The process is lengthy and repetitive and is achieved by applying thin layers of shellac with a material pad called a rubber or a brush (called a mop). The thin coats are cut back between layers often with fine wire wool before the next layer is applied. Each coat must be fully dry before the next application, to avoid lifting out the softened finish. The end result of often up to 20 coats, is a phenomenal finish that compliments the furniture piece beautifully.

In an age when synthetic material use and type has never been so diverse and this includes furniture polish and lacquer finishes, why use a product that is as old as the hills and relies on the vagaries of insect reproduction to create it? – the answer here is two fold – the history bit is a clue, for restoration work we want to use a product that has a history that is as old as the furniture it is being applied to is very sympathetic to the application; any restorer will tell you it just feels right to use it ! But it also has many properties that also make it the correct product to use – these include;

UV resistant – and it does not color with time • It will withstand exposure to water for short time periods – especially if maintained • It is not a ‘brittle’ product so does not scratch like hard modern finishes • It will adhere to almost any surface • Its non-toxic and hypoallergenic • It is odorless once the carrier solvent has evaporated • It is an all natural product harvested from the insect secretions and as such is from a renewable resource.

Great, if you don't want to be adding more plastic to the world!
 

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A couple notes.

The palest shellac is called patina or ultra blonde.

There can be some variations on the technique.

Due to the insane amount of labor involved and poor characteristics of shellac finishes, this isn't really a commercial finish any more. Hobbyists may enjoy it.
 

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Radical Basement Dweller
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A couple notes.

The palest shellac is called patina or ultra blonde.

There can be some variations on the technique.

Due to the insane amount of labor involved and poor characteristics of shellac finishes, this isn't really a commercial finish any more. Hobbyists may enjoy it.
...and the smooth bundle of cloth used to apply the shellac is called a tampon.
There ya go. Now ya know.
 

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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
A couple notes.

The palest shellac is called patina or ultra blonde.

There can be some variations on the technique.

Due to the insane amount of labor involved and poor characteristics of shellac finishes, this isn't really a commercial finish any more. Hobbyists may enjoy it.
Hobbyists and furniture restorers.
 

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Hobbyists and furniture restorers.
I suppose the line between restoring and refinishing can be drawn in different places. I always considered restoring leaving the original finish mostly on the piece, and restoring the finish by touch up and going over it. Otherwise, taking the finish off and starting over is refinishing to me.
 

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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I suppose the line between restoring and refinishing can be drawn in different places. I always considered restoring leaving the original finish mostly on the piece, and restoring the finish by touch up and going over it. Otherwise, taking the finish off and starting over is refinishing to me.
Restoring the finish by touch up IS the preferred option but sometimes there is no option but to refinish. At that point, the biggest concern is not destroying the old patina. Thus, I think it is somewhere betwixed and between refinishing vs restoring. (again, just IMHO!) To do that, I use toluene to 'wash' off the old finish, that seems to leave the antiquated patina while providing a clean surface to apply the new finish. (NOT TO BE DONE IN A CLOSED SPACE!!! I do it outdoors!)
 

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Just Jennifer - The Paint
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Something I might mention here that 18th & 19th century French polishers were true masters of the art and added various gums or resins to their shellac varnish "recipe" to create particular characteristics they wanted in the finish. I once had an antique book that covered various recipes for French Polish. I lost it somewhere during a move. I don't know anyone today that does more than the basic method as outlined in the OP. (That does not mean there are none out there!) I certainly stayed with the basic process.
 
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