French polishing has been used for finishing musical instruments for hundreds of years, is still the preferred method of finishing classical guitars. The actual technique of applying french polish varies between people – everyone will find a way which suits them which may vary from how other people apply it. However, the basic technique is to apply a number of very thin layers in such a way that any remaining open grain becomes filled and the polish film is built up to a smooth finish. When wooden furniture is faded, scratched and covered in water marks, many of us either take it to the local second-hand store, the recycling centre, or we think we’ll be very good and upcycle it by painting it. Putting pressure onto the rubber allows the polish to seep through onto the surface.
The details of the French polishing process – its techniques and materials – actually vary slightly from craftsman to craftsman, culture to culture – different types of pads, shellac solutions, techniques, finishing schedules – but the basic elements are the same for them all. Norris makes the point that too many people give up on wooden furniture because it looks worn, and while more of us do now look to recycle, it’s estimated that in the UK alone (according to ) some eight million tonnes of wood is wasted each year. With the surface of the wood smooth and with a flat appearance from the papering it’s back to the rubber, slightly less charged with polish than before.
These pads are made in a variety of sizes and shapes and are called by many names – mouse, rubber, tampon, muneca – but we will refer to the French polishing application pad as the pad, or the polishing pad. The French Polisher applies the initial coats by polish mop in the direction of the grain. More shellac is added to the cabinet still using circular movements building up the thickness and when I’m happy with the result thin the shellac with meths making it quite thin and re-charge the rubber.
Finpol polishes are specially formulated, modified shellac polishes that let anyone achieve the finish of a professional yet have the toughness of a conventional varnish. The next time you need to make it wet, add a little of the shellac instead of the alcohol. I mixed up a new batch of Button Shellac and even this proved difficult; in the past I’ve used flaked shellac but this shellac was bought from eBay and was supplied like large buttons in the form of flat discs which I broke into smaller pieces using a hammer.
Avoid excessive moisture on the guitar and do not use any caustic cleaning agents when removing grime. Spread an even coat of polish over the entire surface with the charged polisher. As someone who has used shellac for years as a sealer and general problem-solver, I am beginning to think it deserves a serious upgrade in my finishing hierarchy. Occasional travel may be necessary to collect and/or deliver furniture or to carry out work on site.
The French polishing shellac recipe outlined below will yield over eight (8) fluid ounces of 2-pound cut shellac – more than enough to finish one instrument. This final stage of polishing is to apply very thin coats of French polish to burnish the surface to a high gloss. So, how about, rather than going out and spending money on some new wooden furniture you try and restore what you already have. Once the right color is achieved complete the finishing with the Pale blonde shellac.
Please refer, wherever you can, to the DVD that accompanies this, these notes are only a guide; our DVD will show you how the polish goes on. This mixture was applied with a cloth wrapped around a wooden block which was rubbed vigorously over the furniture for a period of around 30 days until a bright and durable finish was formed on the surface of the wood. Plastic polish, I have a special technique that I’ll be reveling step by step in my new French Polishing course when it is available, but its too complicated to explain here. If you mix the same Kusmi button shellac with some pure ethanol like Everclear, the color will be very warm, full of fire, and wonderful red hues.
We recommend the LMI Pale, blonde shellac flakes dissolved into solution with the LMI Denatured alcohol. French polishers sometimes apply other finishes such as lacquer, paint, varnish, oil and wax. Shellac flakes are secretions harvested from the lac bug, a comma-size creature found in the jungles of India near Calcutta. French polishers might carry out any simple repairs themselves, but more complex ones are dealt with by a cabinet maker or restorer. Additional layers of thinned polish can be applied using straight strokes along the grain. Several coats of French polish are applied until the desired finish is achieved.
The shellac flakes may dissolve easier and more thoroughly in the alcohol if they are crushed up into finer pieces. The fad is first used to put a thinned coat of shellac on, then thicker coats with small amounts of superfine pumice, a crushed volcanic glass. It also improves the appearance of poorer quality timbers which can make an inexpensive piece of furniture more desirable. If you spill a glass of wine on a French polished table it will ruin it. I began French polishing in the shipyards and went self-employed seven-and-a-half years ago. There are solvents formulated specifically for this work, such as the Wax & Polish Remover by Liberon.
Use of Oil during French polishing -The pad carries the shellac and distributes it onto the wood surface while padding, but the finish dries so quickly that the pad can easily stick to the freshly padded shellac surface and create a flaw in the fresh finish. The best for our use is called button polish by the trade and comes in a variety of forms, the paler being the most expensive but giving the best results in letting the grain of the wood show through. Squeeze out any excess polish by pressing the polisher onto a scrap piece of wood.
The method involved in the french polishing technique entails building up thin coats of shellac dissolved in alcohol on to a surface, for example mahogany, rosewood or walnut, by the use of a rubber. After tapping the muslin wad on the bottle or the back of your hand, apply the shellac to the guitar with longitudinal light strokes making sure consecutive strokes do not overlap. Start by sealing and French Polishing the soundboard according to the method below.