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  • OT: French Polishing Advice?

    Hey Everybody

    I've been watching French Polishing videos online for a while now and finally decided to give it a try this past week. Unfortunately, virtually everyone uses a different method and it was difficult for me to settle on a specific approach. I spoke to Roman at DIY-NY and he gave me some great advice. My memory is poor, however, and a bunch of the details disappeared into the ether by the time I was ready to begin my project.

    Things aren't going that well and I was hoping some of the experienced woodworkers among you could offer some advice.

    For those unfamiliar with the term - it generally applies to a labor intensive shellac finishing technique, but the details vary between different woodworkers.

  • #2
    Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

    I thought I did a thorough sanding job, but I guess not :(

    The first step of my polishing approach was to apply some mineral oil... which revealed these gems. Sanding them off after the oil soaked into the wood was challenging.

    A trace coat (so I've heard it called) is a light coat of finish applied to reveal issues like this before the real finishing work begins. Each time something like this happens (ie. glue improperly sanded) I promise myself i'll be more careful next time.

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    • #3
      Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

      These are my supplies. Please comment if any are inappropriate.

      I'm using a 2 pound shellac cut of super blond flakes with a Behkol alcohol mix shellac solvent. I've got some 4F Pumice and food-grade mineral oil. The heart of my pads are raw wool pulled out of dryer-b a l l s. I tried 2 different outer skins... first a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend wiping cloth from home depot. That wore/ripped very easily so I switched to an old bedsheet which is holding up much better.

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      • #4
        Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

        This is how things are looking during my polishing phase (this is after pore filling). I feel as though the surface is too wet? I believe this was after I tried diluting with more alcohol on the pad and using as little oil as needed to prevent sticking. From the vids I watched i expected the surface to be dry except for immediately behind the pad as I rub.

        It is a bit cold in the garage... maybe low 60s. I was reluctant to use my electric heater near the alcohol. How cold is too cold for this approach?

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        • #5
          Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

          This is a dried section. Looks worse than almost any other finish approach I've tried. I think this was after pore filling and two polishing sessions. It's streaky and has no gloss


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          • #6
            Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

            You should have asked on the last NY DIY. I am an expert in french-polishing.
            You are not doing it correctly, sorry. If you want, give a call sometime during a week.
            There are basically 2 methods for French polishing. One is with filling the pores using pumice powder and the other (used mostly by British cabinetmakers) with plaster of Paris. The oil is used at a later stages as a lubricant. Using it from the very start will trap it under coats of shellac. Also, superblond or dewaxed shellac aren't the best for the application.
            In the end, French polished shellac can give you mirror like gloss surface with excellent transparency.
            http://www.diy-ny.com/

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

              Originally posted by r-carpenter View Post
              You should have asked on the last NY DIY. I am an expert in french-polishing.
              You are not doing it correctly, sorry. If you want, give a call sometime during a week.
              There are basically 2 methods for French polishing. One is with filling the pores using pumice powder and the other (used mostly by British cabinetmakers) with plaster of Paris. The oil is used at a later stages as a lubricant. Using it from the very start will trap it under coats of shellac. Also, superblond or dewaxed shellac aren't the best for the application.
              In the end, French polished shellac can give you mirror like gloss surface with excellent transparency.

              Thanks Roman. We did talk about it briefly at the event.... I remember you saying you were an expert, but I didn't want to hammer you with questions.

              I was suspicious of the initial oil application. Several videos I watched applied oil first. A few others said *definitely don't apply oil first*. The people who did apply oil initially (at the start of pore filling) claimed it would improve the color of the wood (which it sorta does) and later bubble up to the surface and be wiped off. I will definitely skip this in my future efforts.

              Thanks for the info

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                French Polishing dates back to late 1700s then Royalties and wealthy merchants became interested in collecting and ordering premium (to masterpiece) furnishings. It originated in France, Russia Germany and Hungary. Royal houses had polishers maintaining the pieces of furniture as shellac is not a very durable finish.
                The first stage is the pore filling stage. At this point your surface should be sanded and burnished. The wood itself should look slightly glossy if you'd look at it at an angle.
                The mixture of the shellac should be the same consistency of a strong tea. Shellac should not be dewaxed or bleached. You can pick various grades from shellac.net Orange or Lemon are normally used.
                Start with clean surface and sprinkle a small amount of pumice powder. It should be roughly the amount of a pinch of salt per ft^2 or less. Make a rubbing pud from cotton or better yet linen with cheese cloth filling.
                Infuse it with the mixture of shellac and alcohol and make sure that the mixture saturates the pad but it shouldn't feel wet. No oil is used at this stage.
                Start rubbing the pumice in to the pores with the pad. Do it in the circular motion and do not go over the same place repeatedly. if you do, you will "burn" the process and will see a completely dry spot that looks rough.
                If you are working on midsize speaker, 10 min is all you can do per session.
                Let it seat over night.
                Repeat a few times until the pores are filled and will not open up again. For woods like Mahogany it takes a couple of weeks and it's a very important stage of the process.
                You dont have to do filling every day but a proper waiting time between the sessions is important. The mixture of Shellac and Pumice will dry in the pores and create a very rigid filling that later on will allow you to build to high gloss.
                As the filling process gets to the final stages, the surface will be looking dull from the 90 angle but will start looking very shiny from the sharp angle. You will see the pores filled after a while.
                http://www.diy-ny.com/

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                  Originally posted by lowpolyjoe View Post
                  Hey Everybody

                  I've been watching French Polishing videos online for a while now and finally decided to give it a try this past week. Unfortunately, virtually everyone uses a different method and it was difficult for me to settle on a specific approach. I spoke to Roman at DIY-NY and he gave me some great advice. My memory is poor, however, and a bunch of the details disappeared into the ether by the time I was ready to begin my project.

                  Things aren't going that well and I was hoping some of the experienced woodworkers among you could offer some advice.

                  For those unfamiliar with the term - it generally applies to a labor intensive shellac finishing technique, but the details vary between different woodworkers.
                  Joe, I'm not an expert in French polishing but I did stay in a Holiday Inn. All kidding aside, it is a very time consuming process that is normally
                  done to refinish heirloom/antique pieces or to replicate finishes like that. I don't think you have to go to those extremes. Several coats of "Watco Danish
                  Oil" give good results also Minwax wipe on poly (multiple coats). Oil finishes take several coats and time to build up, they soak in instead of laying on the
                  surface. It is relatively easy to apply, just wipe on wipe off. Good luck whatever way you decide to go.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                    Originally posted by r-carpenter View Post
                    French Polishing dates back to late 1700s then Royalties and wealthy merchants became interested in collecting and ordering premium (to masterpiece) furnishings. It originated in France, Russia Germany and Hungary. Royal houses had polishers maintaining the pieces of furniture as shellac is not a very durable finish.
                    The first stage is the pore filling stage. At this point your surface should be sanded and burnished. The wood itself should look slightly glossy if you'd look at it at an angle.
                    The mixture of the shellac should be the same consistency of a strong tea. Shellac should not be dewaxed or bleached. You can pick various grades from shellac.net Orange or Lemon are normally used.
                    Start with clean surface and sprinkle a small amount of pumice powder. It should be roughly the amount of a pinch of salt per ft^2 or less. Make a rubbing pud from cotton or better yet linen with cheese cloth filling.
                    Infuse it with the mixture of shellac and alcohol and make sure that the mixture saturates the pad but it shouldn't feel wet. No oil is used at this stage.
                    Start rubbing the pumice in to the pores with the pad. Do it in the circular motion and do not go over the same place repeatedly. if you do, you will "burn" the process and will see a completely dry spot that looks rough.
                    If you are working on midsize speaker, 10 min is all you can do per session.
                    Let it seat over night.
                    Repeat a few times until the pores are filled and will not open up again. For woods like Mahogany it takes a couple of weeks and it's a very important stage of the process.
                    You dont have to do filling every day but a proper waiting time between the sessions is important. The mixture of Shellac and Pumice will dry in the pores and create a very rigid filling that later on will allow you to build to high gloss.
                    As the filling process gets to the final stages, the surface will be looking dull from the 90 angle but will start looking very shiny from the sharp angle. You will see the pores filled after a while.
                    Thanks a lot for the rundown. I will try your approach with my next project. My current project... I'm not sure what I'm gonna do to try to recover it.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                      Originally posted by Squidspeak View Post
                      Joe, I'm not an expert in French polishing but I did stay in a Holiday Inn. All kidding aside, it is a very time consuming process that is normally
                      done to refinish heirloom/antique pieces or to replicate finishes like that. I don't think you have to go to those extremes. Several coats of "Watco Danish
                      Oil" give good results also Minwax wipe on poly (multiple coats). Oil finishes take several coats and time to build up, they soak in instead of laying on the
                      surface. It is relatively easy to apply, just wipe on wipe off. Good luck whatever way you decide to go.
                      Heh.

                      Well, I'm often interested in old school techniques. I spent a good deal of time trying to learn veneering with hot hide glue . I'm also a huge shellac fan because the smell of all other finishes (except tung oil) are just awful. I've tried multiple shellac application and buffing/waxing approaches but have never quite gotten the level of gloss I want. French polishing seems to be the way to get the mirror like shine I'm after.

                      I know it's labor intensive, but I watched the video below and the guy makes it look relatively quick to get to a good level of shine. I know there's a couple of cuts in the video so it's impossible to tell how much time passes, but I get the impression he's doing this all during a single presentation in a class. My projects are so small that I thought I would be able to get a good level of gloss within a couple of days using this technique (he uses oil up front).... but alas, it's not working out for me. The lines in my finish sound like what he calls "roping". I find this puzzling because he says that's a problem that develops from working the finish for too long and I was never on a single piece more than 5-10mins at a time. In any case, no oil for me in my next effort

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ParX4-dOf1s

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                        Originally posted by lowpolyjoe View Post
                        My current project... I'm not sure what I'm gonna do to try to recover it.
                        You should be able to remove the shellac with denatured alcohol. Work fast because the alcohol will evaporate and leave a shellac residue behind. After it dries follow that up with mineral spirits to get rid of the mineral oil. Then some light sanding.

                        By the way, I saw that glue residue in your first picture and I can tell you I've been there. It won't sand away because it's embedded in the grain. I always keep a wet rag and a bucket of water handy when I'm gluing. I'd rather run the risk of raising the grain with a wet rag than leave behind a glue residue. To me it just screams "unprofessional and homemade".

                        What kind of wood do you have there? It looks like it could benefit from blending with a dark stain. If you've given up on the French polishing for now, that is. Maybe follow that up with a wipe on poly and be done with it.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                          I learned to oil first if using the pumice method.
                          If filling with plaster then no oil.

                          You will need oil or the tampon will stick.
                          More is added as needed during the process (most of the oil initially put down is forced out during the first filling step).

                          Most problems can be corrected by adding more alcohol to the tampon. A common mistake is too much shellac.

                          Brits and Americans used linseed oil, a lot of it apparently. Their finishes were also much thicker and less refined than the French. Less durable, too.
                          ~99%
                          Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
                          Make me a poster of an old rodeo
                          Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
                          To believe in this livin' is just a hard way to go

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                            You are welcome to stop by then around my neck of the woods, Bob.
                            Properly done French polishing is fairly thin (in regards to the thickness of the coating), very lively and translucent. It's a closed pore finish. The surface is like a mirror.
                            BTW, Baby Oil is my preferred one. No need for anything special.
                            Joe, the pores on your surface are not filled. You build up a gummy coat of shellac over and in a few days, alcohol will evaporate and the finish will shrink, showing open pores again.
                            Don't give up. It'll take sometime to get it going but after you do, you'll appreciate the results. Myself, I've practiced with a European master for 6 month before I could do it from beginning to the end. All tho, polishing complex pieces of furniture is more difficult then polishing a simple box.
                            http://www.diy-ny.com/

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                              Would love to, Roman!

                              Yes, the finish is exceedingly thin if properly done. That is what makes it so special.
                              The French did it properly! ;)

                              I also use baby oil. Easy to get and cheap. The stuff sold as medicine/laxative is too thick.

                              Never tried linseed oil myself, not how I learned. I just know it had been used historically by Brits and Americans where the French used a fine mineral oil. Not to say all Brits and Americans used it, or use it now, just that it was common when French polishing was a common high end finish.

                              I have done without the first oil coat. It can work. I found it more difficult to control the process.

                              Originally posted by r-carpenter View Post
                              You are welcome to stop by then around my neck of the woods, Bob.
                              Properly done French polishing is fairly thin (in regards to the thickness of the coating), very lively and translucent. It's a closed pore finish. The surface is like a mirror.
                              BTW, Baby Oil is my preferred one. No need for anything special.
                              Joe, the pores on your surface are not filled. You build up a gummy coat of shellac over and in a few days, alcohol will evaporate and the finish will shrink, showing open pores again.
                              Don't give up. It'll take sometime to get it going but after you do, you'll appreciate the results. Myself, I've practiced with a European master for 6 month before I could do it from beginning to the end. All tho, polishing complex pieces of furniture is more difficult then polishing a simple box.
                              ~99%
                              Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
                              Make me a poster of an old rodeo
                              Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
                              To believe in this livin' is just a hard way to go

                              Comment

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