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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 4

 French polishing is a process of building up coat after coat of polish; it is important to rub down any flaws as you go and to bring out the gloss with a final application of meths.

After applying several layers of polish, small flaws may on your piece of furniture, due to an uneven distribution of polish.  These should be smoothed down.  Use the finest grade of wet-and-dry paper around a cork or wooden sanding block and lubricate the paper with linseed oil rather than water.  Sand down any bumps with a light, even pressure, making sure you work with the grain in the wood.

 Wipe the area clean with a dry natural sponge or a chamois leather. Carry on adding new layers of polish, again patiently sanding down any flaws when the layers are dry. A high gloss finish will soon build up. When the surface has a thick and even coating of polish, it is time to apply the finishing touches.

 Let the final coat of polish dry for 24 hours. To buff the surface to a really high gloss you need to go over it with a coat of methylated spirits. Some people use a new rubber dipped in meths but most professionals use the existing rubber after thinning the polish with meths and squeezing it out until the rubber is almost dry. Either tip the bottle of meths on to the rubber three or four times or open the
rubber and pour methylated spirits on the cotton wool, making sure that you dilute the French polish sufficiently well to work with.

 Go over the surface with firm and then light pressure, using circular or figure-of-eight movements. Finish off with firm up-and-down strokes, working with the grain. If need be, the process can be repeated later. To complete the job, once the surface is hard and dry, you can seal the high gloss finish with a coat of wax polish.

 If at any stage you wear a hole in the rag, either make a new rubber or refold the rag so that the hole is not on the base of the rubber. When french polishing crevices on legs or carved areas, the most effective method of applying the polish is with a soft-haired brush, using a flowing action. The best way to clean the polish off your gloves is to use a solution of hot water and washing soda.


 1. When the surface is smooth and filled with hardened polish, either dampen the base of the rubber with meths or open the rubber to pour meths on the cotton wool.

 2. Squeeze the rubber until it is almost dry, getting rid of most of the polish and leaving meths. Use the jar in which you stored the rubber to hold the surplus liquid.

 3. Before using the rubber, check for the correct consistency by pressing the rubber on a piece of white paper. It should leave a damp impression with a faint hint of colour.

 4. Move the rubber over the surface in circular or figure of eight movements, with a firm, then light pressure. Finish with straight sweeps back and forth with the grain.

 5. Leave the surface to harden for a few days. If necessary, finish by using the same rubber containing a little methylated spirits. As before, pour in methylated spirit, and squeeze the rubber until it is almost dry.

 6. When the surface is absolutely hard and dry, you can then add the final touch by polishing your piece of furniture with wax paste polish. Get into any crevices on legs and carvings by applying wax polish on a toothbrush.

Furniture 1876
Furniture 1876
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