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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Furniture > Expert Tip: French Polishing

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All the hard work that goes into preparation and applying several coats of polish is ultimately worth it.

French Polishing pt 2

The main 'tool' in French polishing is a rubber that you make yourself and it is important to make a good one to get a perfect finish.

 French polish is applied with a 'rubber', which is made by wrapping a piece of unmedicated cotton wool in a lint-free piece of soft cotton or linen cloth, such as a man's cotton handkerchief or a piece of cotton sheet.

 The rubber should sit comfortably in the palm of your hand - so its size depends upon what suits you, as well as upon the surface being polished. A large rubber is best for working on a large chest of drawers or a dining table, for example. For small items, such as a coffee table or box, it makes sense to use a smaller rubber.

 The bottom of the rubber must be perfectly flat with no creases. If you are using a piece of stitched cotton, such as a handkerchief, make sure that the stitching does not fall on the rubber's base. Practise making and using the rubber - the better the rubber and your polishing technique, the easier it is to get a perfect finish.


 1. Place a pear shaped piece of cotton wool on a square of cotton or linen cloth.

 2. Fold the end of the cloth, about a quarter of the way along its length, over the cotton wool.

 3. Fold a corner of the resulting rectangle into the centre over the cotton wool.

 4. Fold the other corner of the rectangle to meet it, so that a point is formed on one side.

 5. Twist together the free end of the rubber, so that it makes a flat-based shoe shape.

Any piece of wooden furniture will benefit from repeated coats of French polish that bring out the best tones in the wood and give it a fine shine.


 The golden rule in French polishing is to move the rubber on and off the surface in a continuous sweeping motion.  Apply the polish sparingly on a clean rubber, working with very light pressure. Each stroke of the rubber should leave a thin film of polish. Check from time to time that your work is even. Never allow the rubber to stop on the surface.


 Gather your materials together, and practise polishing on a spare piece of wood, until you are completely at ease with the technique. On no account should the polish be poured on the outside of the rubber, nor should the rubber be dipped in the polish.  Pouring the French polish into the cotton wool and squeezing it out through the cloth strains any grit, ensuring no scratches are made.

 When coating a large area, work in an uninterrupted sweeping motion, going from one end to the other. The first part may well be dry by the time you reach the end.

 French polish will not only stain the wooden surface you are working on but will also stain your hands. It makes sense to wear protective rubber gloves and sensible old clothes, but avoid woollens that may drop hairs.

 1. Hold the rubber in one hand and unwrap the cloth carefully, then pour the French polish info the cotton wool. Pour in enough polish to saturate the cotton wool.

 2. Wrap the rag around the cotton wool again to make a pear-shaped rubber, twisting the ends. The pointed shape of the rubber controls the flow.

 3. Press the rubber on to a piece of cardboard or spare wood on the work surface to squeeze out the excess polish. If the rubber is too wet, ridges of polish will form as you work.

 4. Rub up and down the surface quickly with the rubber. As you work, press the sides of the rubber with fingers and thumb to force out the polish.

Furniture 1876
Furniture 1876
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