Timber has immense beauty but it seems that many modern finishes are determined to hide it. We touched on this in the previous FAQ post What is French Polishing? FAQ Part 1 but in this post I wan’t to delve deeper into the reasons why French Polish is so amazing and should really be the choice for almost all wood finishing projects.
What is French Polish?
French Polishing goes back as far as the 15th century but started in earnest early in the 18th when the tools and techniques we use today where refined by the French, hence the name French Polishing. The make up of the French Polish product is simple, it’s main ingredient is Shellac, which is a resin secreted from the Lac beetle found in India and Thailand, this resin is mixed with alcohol to make a liquid Shellac which becomes the wood finish we know as French polish. Although a simple product, French Polish and the polishing art have taken hundreds of years to perfect. This long history of development keeps French Polish and the French Polishing trade at a point where modern finishes and techniques just don’t come close in quality.
Why is French Polish So Different?
Lacquer, when sprayed, often looks like plastic, Varnish looks like treacle and both sit on top of the surface of the wood rather than penetrate into it, thus hiding the true timber beneath. Over time, these finishes look worse and worse with wear and use. French Polish on the other hand is a window to the true beauty of the timber; as the layers and layers of finish are built up, it brings out all the subtle nuances and details in the timber and gets better and better with age as the colours become richer in the timber and shine through the finish. It’s the only finish that can achieve this.
One of the reasons French Polish is different is that applying French Polish properly doesn’t work in the same way as other products. We are often asked when we’re French Polishing, how many coats we will apply. The answer is, that we don’t really apply coats. French Polish is quite a thin liquid (much thinner than varnish) and this allows us to apply the polish with a tool called a Rubber. This is a pad made from soft cotton, similar to cotton wool, covered in premium grade cotton material. Polish is added to the cotton pad inside the Rubber and the cotton material placed on top. This simple tool, used correctly with a little oil as a lubricant, will work Polish deep into the timber and through different techniques and hand motions, will slowly build up a beautiful film of Polish on the surface, with no brush or spray marks. When this is done correctly it has an amazing effect; not only does it nourish and protect the timber from moisture and general use but produces a deeply lustrous finish that no other finish can touch.
Another reason French Polish is so fantastic, is the ease with which it can be repaired. Scratches can be touched up and new layers of polish will merge and bond with existing layers, which makes for much more seamless repairs. Lacquers and varnishes are much harder to repair. Lacquer, especially when sprayed, is unforgiving of repairs, as anything applied on top tends to show out, so generally if the finish is damaged it needs to be completely removed and a new one applied. French Polish also has a great affiliation to traditional pure beeswax and this can be applied on a polished surface to clean, revive and get rid of any minor scratches and wear.
French Polish has great environmentally friendly qualities; it lends itself well to sustainability as it allows us to restore many pieces of wooden furniture rather than throw them out, so saving valuable timber and reducing the need for trees to be felled. It’s a natural product (Shellac and alcohol) and through careful management the whole process can be kept safe for the environment (using water based wood stains, and natural beeswax) please see our environment section.
French Polishing is sometimes seen as a laborious and long winded process but for us, it’s a genuine joy to see the beauty of each different timber gradually begin to appear and know that the final finish is the best way to celebrate this. It can be labour intensive but the end result is definitely worth the effort.
If you’d like to know more about French Polishing or would like your own furniture restored/polished please contact us contact page.