French polishing is one of the oldest finishes for wood. It is believed that French polishing came into existence in the late 19th century, but the tradition of using shellac is as old as 3000 years.
French polishing is mostly used on antique furniture. It is often misinterpreted to be the finish that is applied on wood, but it is in reality the technique of applying shellac to the timber surface. The result of this process is a solid surface which is formed with a highly glossy and mirror like finish.
The pieces I polish with the shellac is dulled down with fine steel wool and then polished with Beeswax furniture polish.
This helps protect the surface and also gives it a more natural and warm look.
French polishing became popular in the Victorian era, but it was not given as much importance in the 20th century as it was a more tedious and a time consuming job.
This is also when modern finishes start to arrive which were considered more durable. But the fact remains true that this “lost art” provides the best finish for wooden furniture.
The art of using shellac for furniture has been followed by woodworkers since the early 1800’s. It is proficient in many ways, shellac is non-toxic it can be utilized as a sealer before applying a stain, it can be mixed with almost any color and it is very simple to repair when it is damaged after use.
Apart from the positive aspects there are also some negative aspects to it. Shellac has the ability to dry up very quickly hence it cannot provide the wood protection against water or heat. This makes people believe that applying shellac is a very difficult process.
What is Shellac?
Shellac is actually obtained from the resin of an insect that are mostly found in South East Asian forests. The resin which is secreted by the insect is collected from the bark of the trees and when it is refined and takes the form of light brown or orange flakes. To form a usable finish, it is mixed with alcohol and then applied.
What’s the quickest and easiest way to make antique furniture look great?
The most effective way to make antique furniture look as good as new is the application of either polish or wax.
When you are selecting the polish, you must also know what was the original finish used.
The furniture polish which is typically applied on Antique pieces of furniture are, lacquer, shellac, urethanes, varnishes, oil, French polish and bees wax.
Not sure what polish will do?
You have to try it first and make sure you are happy with the results.
You can try using it first on a furniture leg or the lower sections of the furniture that are not as noticeable. This will enable you to examine how the furniture polish will react to a given piece of furniture.
For determining this, inspect the piece of furniture from various angles. Look for any kind of dark blotches or stains. This might be a sign that the polish is being absorbed in areas where the finish is damaged.
To make sure that you are using the right polish in future, checking to see if you are happy with the results is especially important.
Is it a polish or a finish?
The answer to this question is quite simple, most of the furniture polishes do not act as an overall finish. So to determine this fact, you have to read the labels carefully before purchasing the product. You might come across some finishes that utilize the word “polish” in their name, like for example – Liberon Easy French Polish, a great product used to apply a finish, but not something to clean your dining room table with.