How to apply a traditional French polish

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How to apply a traditional French polish
The French polished finish is hard to achieve. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

A French polish is one of the most beautiful finishes available. It takes a lot of patience and a very clean work area - a little bit of dust can ruin hours of work. Here's how to do it right.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Denatured Alcohol
  • Clean Cotton Rags
  • Cotton Wool
  • Shellac
  • Silicone Carbide Papers
  • Steel Wool Pads
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Natural Hair Brushes
  • Shallow Bowls
  • Newspaper
  • Linseed Oils

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  1. 1

    Put down a layer of newspapers over your work area.

  2. 2

    Make sure there is no dust floating around the room. Dust will show up in the finish and ruin the shine.

  3. 3

    Clean the wood to be treated with a steel wool pad dipped in about 237 ml (1 cup) of mineral spirits mixed with 2 tsp. linseed oil.

  4. 4

    Use a clean rag to dry the wood.

  5. 5

    Make a polish applicator by filling a 30 cm x 30 cm (1 square foot) piece of white cotton fabric (an old T-shirt is ideal) with a little bit of cotton wool. Pour a few tablespoons of shellac on the wool and bring the four corners together.

  6. 6

    Twist the rag to wring out the excess shellac and create a smooth spot on the balled-up end.

  7. 7

    Apply a couple of drops of linseed oil to the working end of the applicator.

  8. 8

    Apply a single coat over the entire workpiece by alternating circles and figure eights. Don't stop moving the applicator, or you'll leave a mark ' whisk it on and off the surface at a sharp angle. Make the last swipe straight along the direction of the grain. Don't cover the same area more than once.

  9. 9

    Add a little bit more shellac to the cotton wool inside the applicator and a drop of linseed oil on the outside as you feel it drying out and dragging.

  10. 10

    Wait 30 minutes and apply four more coats.

  11. 11

    Let the shellac dry in a dust-free environment for 8 to 12 hours.

  12. 12

    Apply more layers the same way - 10 to 15 is typical.

  13. 13

    Pour a little bit of denatured alcohol on the polish applicator.

  14. 14

    Wipe across the wood's grain, sweeping on and off the workpiece as you did when polishing.

  15. 15

    Polish the wood with a clean piece of cotton rag and let it dry completely for a day or two.

Tips and warnings

  • Keep the room fairly warm. Cool temperatures will cloud the polish.
  • If you notice debris in the polish, go over the area with a piece of silicone carbide paper.

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