French polishing - how to French polish

By: Furniture Restoration  06-Dec-2011
Keywords: Steel Wool

How to make a rubber

French Polish is applied with a Rubber, A pad of upholsterers wadding or cotton wool wrapped in a 225 to 300mm (9 to 12 inch) square of white cotton.

  • Folding the wadding, tear off 150 to 225mm (6 to 9inch) square of wadding and fold it in half. Fold in the corners of the rectangle to form a triangle.
  • Forming the pad. Fold in the outer corners of the triangle to make a pointed sausage-shaped pad with a smooth sole.
  • Placing the pad. Place the pad of wadding diagonally across the centre of the cotton square.
  • Folding the cloth. Fold one half of the cloth to cover the point of the pad.
  • Wrapping the pad. Wrap all the triangular corners of the cloth over the centre in turn to form a neat package
  • Twisting the fabric. Gripping the wrapped pad in one hand, twist the loose fabric together to make a firm rubber.
  • Gripping the rubber. Fold the twisted ends of the cloth over the pad to fashion a handgrip, leaving a smooth, crease-free sole.

Charging the Rubber

At the beginning of the job, and each time the rubber begins to run dry, you should pour polish onto the wadding, never dip the rubber into the French polish, and do not pour it directly onto the sole.

Wetting the pad unfold the cloth and pour enough polish to wet the pad without actually saturating the wadding. Refold the rubber and press it against a piece of scrap wood to squeeze out any surplus polish. Smear a drop of Linseed oil onto the sole with your fingertip, this will lubricate the rubber.

Applying the Polish

ht jar to prevent it from drying out and going hard. Begin by sealing the wood with a slightly thinned polish on a pad of wadding, using overlapping parallel strokes.

  • Filling the grain with polish. The first few applications of full strength polish are sufficient to fill close grain wood. Make overlapping circular strokes with the rubber until you have covered an entire panel to the edges.
  • e s, this combination of different strokes will distribute the french polish evenly.
  • Finishing with parallel strokes. Finally go over the panel once more, now using straight and over lapping strokes. Leave this first combination of strokes to dry for about half an hour, and then repeat the whole process three or four times.
  • Rubbing out the blemishes. Leave the polish to dry overnight, then lightly sand out any blemishes or dust particles that have become embedded in the surface. Use 0000 fine steel wool, rubbing along the grain only and wiping off the dust with a clean duster.
  • Bodying up. Give the wood another four or five coats of polish, with half hour breaks between applications, and then leave it to harden once more. Gradually build up a protective body of polish over three to four days, until you are satisfied with the overall colour and appearance.
  • Spiriting off. Any linseed oil streaks should be removed by ‘spiriting off’. Dampen the pad with a few drops of meths if the rubber begins to drag. Repeat the process every two to three minutes until streaking disappears, occasionally changing the cloth to help remove the oil.

Gloss or Satin Finish

After spiriting off, leave the surface to harden for half an hour and buff it to a high gloss with a dry duster. Put the work aside for about week until the polish has completely finished the hardening process.

  • s h.
  • Flattening. Some restorers prefer a slightly flattened finish to a high gloss. Cut back the surface slightly with 0000 grade steel wool dipped in wax polish. Rub lightly along the grain until the polish is matted evenly, then wipe over with a duster.

French Polishing Carved Wood

It is not practical to polish carved work with a rubber. Instead use a soft fine brush to paint slightly thinned shellac on to carving, not too thickly in case it runs. When the polish has hardened, spirit off the high points with a rubber and burnish with a duster. Do not rub too hard, or you will wear through the polish.

Brushing French Polish

The furniture industry invariably employed traditional French Polishing methods, but other trades sometimes resort to simpler methods of applying Shellac, brushing it onto the work.

  • Building a protective coat. Apply the first coat with a paintbrush, allow to dry for about 20 minutes, then rub down with 0000 fine steel wool. Repeat the process twice more.
  • Rubbing with wire wool. Applying soft wax polish to the now hardened shellac with a 0000 steel wool. Rub gently along the grain, making sure you cover the whole surface.
  • Finishing with a soft duster.

Keywords: Steel Wool

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