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How to Tell If Furniture Is French Polished

Updated February 21, 2017

French polishing draws out the colour and grain of wood. Tables, chairs, ottomans, bed frames and other furniture can all receive French polishing, leaving the wood as smooth and shiny as glass. Because French polishing is an old, artisanal art dating back to 1590. The process requires hours of labour and up to 100 coats of shellac, a resin processed and sold as dry flakes that can then be dissolved in denatured alcohol to make a liquid wood finish. To verify whether a piece of furniture is French polished, observing the wood's smoothness is an ideal way to start the inspection.

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  1. Check for depth of shine. A French polished piece of furniture should look so shiny it resembles glass. Stand back and observe how the light hits the table. Move closer to look for your reflection in the wood's shine.

  2. Feel the smooth texture. Run your fingers gently along the furniture's wood surfaces. With so many thin coats of shellac applied in the polishing process, you should feel an extreme smoothness on your fingertips.

  3. Inspect the quality of wood. If you cannot tell the type of wood, ask a salesperson or other furniture expert. French polishing is generally used on wood that has an attractive appearance even without polishing, such as mahogany, oak or cherry.

  4. Check that the wood is properly sanded by searching the surface for splinters or ridges. Because French polishing requires a 600-grit and then a 400-grit sandpaper scrub, you should not find any rough spots. If you are inspecting a table, check the base of the legs to make sure the polisher reached all parts of the table.

  5. Check for shrinkage. Examine sections of the wood that look tighter or shrunken in some way. Shellac fllakes dry faster on the wood's top surface, shrinking the layer underneath. A proper French polish will not have these imperfections.

  6. Tip

    Inspect the piece of furniture in strong, even natural light.

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About the Author

Noelle Carver has been a freelance writer since 2009, with work published in "SSYK" and "The Wolf," two U.K. literary journals. Carver holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from American University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing from The New School. She lives in New York City.

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