French polishing is the furniture refinishing process of applying many thin coats of shellac dissolved in denatured alcohol using a lubricated rubbing pad.
Take yourself back to the scene in The Karate Kid where Mr. Myagi asks Daniel Son to “shine the floors”. The Master uses this analogy to teach the student how to concentrate when guarding an attack. An Antique Restorer would apply a similar level of concentration and motion when French Polishing to ensure that each coat of shellac increases the mirror-like finish.
The result is a very high gloss surface with a deep color and chatoyancy (or cat’s eye effect). It is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful ways to finish highly figured wood.
During the Victorian era, French polishing was commonly used on mahogany and other expensive timbers. It was considered the best finish for fine furniture and string instruments such as pianos and guitars. The process was (and still is) very labor-intensive, and many furniture manufacturers abandoned the technique over 75 years ago, preferring the cheaper and quicker techniques of spray finishing lacquer and abrasive buffing.
Spray-finishing methods, typically using a lacquer finish, also have their merits. Here at BS&R we offer our clients various finishing techniques using either shellac, polyurethane, varnish or lacquer. Call or visit us to ask about the various finish options we offer, and whether French Polishing is the choice for you when restoring a loved item.