How to French polish an antique furniture is always one of the great secrets of restoration and cabinet making. Old masters refuse to reveal the method, but there are few handbooks that teach you how to do it step by step. I have described how to French polish with shellac using a rubber in the handbook “Restoring antique furniture: a step by step guide”.
Let’s look together how to French polish with shellac step by step for excellent results.
Shellac and shellac varnish
Shellac is a natural resin that allows you to obtain beautiful results. The shellac fills the pores of the wood and allows light to enter deeply. The light that penetrates deep into the wood reveals all the veins, roots burls, feathers and marbled making every wood look particular and different. The shellac varnish is a very simple alcoholic varnish and is obtained by dissolving 7 ounces of good quality shellac in flakes in 2 pints of 99.9° ethylic alcohol. Use denatured alcohol.
The shellac varnish has a very simple structure and is not suitable to be used with a brush. The best French polish with shellac varnish is obtained by using the rubber. The rubber is constructed in different ways varying from restorer to restorer and from region to region. There is not a right or a wrong way to craft it and each person finds, with practice, the “most appropriate rubber”.
I personally craft a rubber with an inner layer made of wool and the outer one made of cotton. The wool should not leave fluff and the cotton should be soft. I use only old bed sheets.
The preparation of the wood before applying the shellac varnish
The preparation of the wood before French polishing is important if we want to obtain an optimal result. The furniture must have been paint-stripped with a methylene chloride free stripping gel. The furniture should not have been paint-stripped with aggressive sandpaper, such as yellow or red ones, but with stearated sandpaper that does not spoil the wood of the antique furniture. Remove the gel from the surface with thick steel wool.
After you have paint-stripped, wipe out the residues of paraffin. The paraffin is present in paint-strippers in order to avoid the solvent to evaporate too fast. Solvents of the paint-strippers dissolve the old varnishes respecting the wood.
The first coat with shellac varnish
The first coat must be carried out by using a brush or a rubber, which has the function of improving the preparation of the wood. I pass a brush to spread the shellac varnish on the surface to fill the pore of the wood and to fix the raised wood grain. The raised hair grain is formed by the fibers of the same wood.
The presence of these fibers makes the wood rough to the touch and does not allow the light to reflect properly. After the first coat with the brush you must pass a 400 grit sandpaper and some synthetic wool. After removing the raised hair grain with the sandpaper and the synthetic wool, pass a second coat of shellac varnish with the rubber, followed by a second sanding or scrubbing in order to remove permanently the raised hair grain from the surface.
After passing the first two coats and after eliminating the raised hair grain we can start the real French polish. French polish is composed of a series of steps:
- Application of the shellac: in which the rubber spread the shellac on the surface of the furniture.
- The use of oil: when the surface does not allow the rubber to slide easily apply a few drops of mineral oil to allow the rubber to slide without removing the deposited shellac.
- Filling the pores of the wood: after having filled the pore of the wood with round movements and figures-of-eights movements, we remove the oil with a rubber containing very diluted shellac varnish and changing often the external cloth.
- Wax coating: after few days a little wax is applied to the cabinet in order to protect the shellac and to give a smooth patina. You can use a good wax ready-to-use or prepare it yourself by mixing beeswax and carnauba wax. The last one gives you a better finish.
You find all the recipes in the “Restoring antique furniture: a step by step guide”.
For any information leave your comment and I will answer you as soon as possible.