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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 3


 The secret of French polishing is to carefully repeat the simple steps time and again to build up the layers and the shine.

 Practise using the rubber on a spare piece of wood or card before tackling the real job. It is important to apply the polish smoothly with a regular action. Allow each coat to dry for a few minutes before applying another. If you pass the rubber over polish which is not already dry, it will remove already applied polish.

 When sanding the surface of a piece of furniture, use a fine flour paper. Try using sheets that have already been used, as they will be gentler on the surface. Run your fingers over the surface first, to get the feel of any rough spots.
The rubber should slide on to the surface in a gliding motion and be lifted off in the same way. It should not be lifted from the work in the middle, nor applied to the middle, as it will leave a mark. On vertical surfaces, such as legs, be careful not to apply too much polish or it will soon run and form blobs.

 After a few coats, you will need to apply a few drops of linseed oil to ease the passage of the rubber. If too much linseed oil is applied, it will leave smears because it is not quick drying. Too much oil can also cause the surface to sweat. If the rubber itself becomes hard, discard it and make a new one.


 It is important to work in a warm, dry, dust-free room. Make sure you have all your materials to hand before starting. If you are going to use white or transparent polish, you should buy a small amount at a time, since both these types go stale and become usable after a while as both are made from short-lived bleach shellac.

 Surface preparation for French polishing is extremely important. Any slight imperfection in the wood, which might not be noticeable under varnish or oiled finishes, will be seen clearly under French polish. The surface must therefore be sanded, filled and stained before you start applying coats of French polish.

 Having practised using the rubber smoothly on a spare piece of wood it is time to apply the first coat.

 1. After applying the first coat, allow the polish to dry for a few minutes before proceeding with a second coat. Test
the surface very lightly with a finger to check for dryness. If the polish is not tacky if is safe to add another coat.

 2. If the wood has not been filled, the first coat of polish
may make short fibres stand up from the surface. Check for this by running a finger over the dry surface. Smooth the surface with well worn flour paper once the polish is hard.

 3. Apply further coats of polish with a circular or figure of eight motion of the rubber, quickly and lightly over the surface.  Allow polish to dry before applying again.

4. When polishing legs, keep the rubber fairly dry so that polish does not get caught in crevices and run. Make sure you go right round the leg turnings with the rubber.

5. After the first few applications of polish, the rubber will no longer slide easily over the surface. To prevent the rubber sticking, dip your finger in linseed oil and add a drop or two of oil to the base of the rubber.

 6. After applying about five coats of polish, take a break from the job and leave the polish to harden for 24 hours. To keep the rubber soft, store it overnight in a screw-top jar containing a little methylated spirit.

Furniture 1876
Furniture 1876
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