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OT: French Polishing Advice?

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  • #16
    Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

    Originally posted by Herman Trivilino View Post
    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.
    I've improved my glue usage habits over the years and reduced the amount of squeeze out dramatically which helped cut down on these sorts of problems. I was surprised to see such a huge mess on this project. I think it may have been from my repairs of a few small edge chips. In any case... very frustrating.

    Originally posted by Herman Trivilino View Post
    To me it just screams "unprofessional and homemade".
    I should stencil that on the side of all my projects with a little (tm), right next to the biggest blemish :p


    • #17
      Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

      Thanks for the continued feedback everybody.

      I don't know why I tried this finish approach on my current project. It was supposed to be a Christmas present but now the timeline is gonna be pretty short. That video just made it looks so easy! Heh.

      I will probably try to strip the shellac and oil and then maybe just use my default simple shellac finish...

      The veneer is from a sampler pack. Can you guys ID it for me? My ID skills are weak. I can post a pic of the unfinished veneer later today if needed.


      • #18
        Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

        Looks like Cherry from here.
        and now that i look at the finish.. way too much shellac and maybe too much oil as well.
        Cut back to about 5-10% of shellac you have been using. Add more alcohol to get there.
        The film should be almost imperceptible at this stage. Probably too much pumice, too. Sand that off with 320 grit paper on a hard block and start again, you aren't too far off actually.

        Originally posted by lowpolyjoe View Post

        The veneer is from a sampler pack. Can you guys ID it for me? My ID skills are weak. I can post a pic of the unfinished veneer later today if needed.
        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


        • #19
          Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

          Originally posted by lowpolyjoe View Post
          I will probably try to strip the shellac and oil and then maybe just use my default simple shellac finish...
          That's the nice thing about french polish, if you screw it up just strip it off with an alcohol soaked rag.

          Too bad my one and only french polish was so long ago I don't remember the details, but you seem in good hands with Bob.

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          I didn't go all the way to full pore fill with that, the pores are still somewhat open. Given that I didn't fill the pores all the way it didn't take much time (couple days?), though it is only a single flat piece of wood.
          Copy of Lou C's speaker pages:


          • #20
            Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

            Although I'm confident you'll be happy with the advice you so far received, here's my relatively quick shellac method. I like it a lot. It may not be quite as elegant as french polishing, but it gets most of the way there in a fraction of the time and effort. The gloss is high-ish, not quite mirror, but as much as I ever want.

            No disrespect implied for those who are more accomplished and patient than me (r carpenter, I don't doubt your finishes are beautiful with that finishing schedule), but I find this process works well for me. Maybe it can be useful to you or someone else:

            Prep the surface.
            - Use a card scraper to remove any imperfections, tearout, and the like. The flatter your surface at this stage, the more uniform result you'll get.
            - Lightly sand with 220 grit only. The object here is to roughen the surface slightly but uniformly, to allow the surface to accept the finish. These first two steps are absolutely critical - skipping on surface prep is sure to compromise your end result.
            - Wipe down the surface with a tack cloth.
            - Follow by flushing the surface with denatured Alcohol. This will remove any dust stuck in the pores and expose any defects in the surface. Return to scraping and sanding if necessary.

            First Coat
            - Apply a coat of 1 lb cut of dewaxed shellac. I use Zissner/Bullseye Seal Coat. In the can, it's a 2 lb cut, so you'll need to pour some into a separate container, and add equal parts denatured alcohol. Apply with whatever method you like. I use a brush, applying in long, smooth strokes and overlapping minimally. But you could use a pad if you wanted.
            - Let it dry at least a few hours, overnight is better. Really. People sometimes say that you can muss with shellac immediately after you apply it because it dries so fast, and it does. But it continues to cure over the course of a few hours. And if you can let it sit, it will be easier to flatten in the next step.
            - Flatten the finish. Sand LIGHTLY with 320 grit. You're just trying to knock the grain down and flatten the surface. I find that one pass is all I need.

            Second and Third Coats
            - Apply a second coat with a 1.5 lb cut of dewaxed shellac. Again, pour some shellac from the can into a container, then add half as much again of denatured alcohol. Apply with whatever you like. Don't get too caught up on super flatness at this stage - as you apply more shellac, it will continue to dissolve the old layer and level some.
            - Let dry a couple hours
            - Apply a third coat, at 1.5 lb cut.
            - Let dry 6-8 hours.

            Final Coat
            - Before the final coat, you need to prep the surface again. Using a razor blade as a mini card scraper, I knock down any drips, drops, or uneveness. Again, get it as flat as possible at this stage. That said, you don't want to wear through all the shellac you built up. So if you need to do anything more serious than eliminating drips (which are easily removed with the razor), forego the sandpaper and stick to #000 mirlon. Use a tack cloth to remove any dust.
            - Apply a final coat of 1 lb cut. Apply it quickly and confidently and avoid any drips.
            - Wait 6-8 hours. Don't rush this - you want the finish to be cured enough to allow you to rub it out successfully.

            Rub Out
            - Hopefully, you didn't introduce any new drips. But if you did, you can level them again with a razor blade.
            - Rub the finish with #0000 (super fine) steel wool or mirlon to knock down the shine. I go over the whole piece once. Check for a uniform gloss.
            - If you want, you can now apply a coat of paste wax.

            I know it sounds like a lot, but it goes pretty fast. I can usually finish just about any piece over the course of two days. You might be able to polish with Rottenstone after the final coat; I've never tried.

            Anyway, I hope this was helpful. Sorry if this is redundant, and I wish you luck on your high-gloss journey.
            Last edited by justwill; 12-16-2014, 10:17 AM. Reason: Clarifying info


            • #21
              Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

              Originally posted by justwill View Post

              First Coat
              - Apply a coat of 1 lb cut of dewaxed shellac. I use Zissner/Bullseye Seal Coat. In the can, it's a 2 lb cut, so you'll need to pour some into a separate container, and add equal parts denatured alcohol.
              I've heard of people thinning it even more and calling it a spit coat. After it dries they follow it up with whatever finish they like. Shellac or poly. I prefer the warmer look of shellac. Plus, if it's ever damaged down the road it can always be renewed as new coats of shellac simply melt into and fuse with older coats.


              • #22
                Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                Not sure what bullseye is but, it's nothing I recognise as shellac. It even smells weird.
                As for application, I'm more of a brush it on kind of guy. I'll build up 12 to 15 coats of 1 to 1 1/2 lb cut over a couple weeks with sanding every few coats. its not as thick as it sounds. Let it rest for about a month then the work starts. Sand flat ( color will let you know film uniformity) then buff. Pumas and rotten stone's fine if your feeling nostalgic, I've given in to buffers (dewalt 5" vs sander is my favorite) and 3M car buffing compounds. Better results faster if your careful.
                Photos of projects and stuff
                My furniture web site.
                My gallery web site (Still trying to get that going)


                • #23
                  Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                  I'd like to mostly second justwill's comments on a "not really french polish" technique, and add a few tips:

                  1) Make a rubbing pad with nice smooth fabric. Bedsheet fabric can be a good choice. You can get even better results with a shiny, silky fabric from women's clothing, that you might find at Goodwill for example.

                  2) For a normal size pad (finishing a small area) take 6-7 cottonballs and tease them apart, then roll together into one larger ball. Cut about 8" x 8" of the fabric, wrap that around the cotton, and secure with a rubber band. Make it tight enough so there are no wrinkles on the working surface.

                  3) Use the rubbing pad instead of a brush, but without using a circular motion or any oil. At least use this approach for the first several coats, and consider a polishing after that. Work quickly, don't go back into a wet area, just make long passes across the surface, with the grain, edge to edge. Allow each coat to dry fully before repeating. Each coat is a very quick process. The rubbing pad is also pretty good about not dripping onto adjacent surfaces, compared to using a brush.

                  4) If you mix shellac from flakes you can use isopropyl rather than denatured alcohol. The advantage is it evaporates more slowly and will tend to level and flow together better, especially in the first several coats when the wood is still absorbing some finish. Call around to local pharmacies about 99% isopropyl. It's used for this purpose in Canada where denatured alcohol is harder to come by. In the wisdom of government they make ethanol hard to buy and only allow much more dangerous methanol instead. Isopropyl is much safer to work with than methanol, although it does have a pungent odor.


                  • #24
                    Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                    Since i'm under the gun I decided to try a light sanding with some 320 since I thought it would be faster than stripping shellac and then the oil.


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                    It went quick and looked like a reasonable rehab approach, so I went ahead and sanded both:

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                    Then I wiped on a couple of light coats of shellac. A bit streaky. Tomorrow i'll probably give a light sanding and a few more coats and see how things are looking. Need to finish this up by this weekend and I still have a good amount of baffle work to do :(

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                    Thanks for all the advice everybody. When I have more time on a future project i'll try a French polish again.


                    • #25
                      Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                      you can finish it off using french polishing method. It's just not going to stay as close pore.

                      So, let me just clear the confusion about alcohol and the speed of drying.
                      The second stage of french polishing (and BTW Paris hookers had it as a nick name for one of their services in early 1800s) is a build up. The build up is done with slightly thicker shellac, alcohol and either fine pumice or Tripoli abrasive powered.
                      The pad can be made from old shirt or linen bead sheat with cotton or wool filling. For polishing a flat surface the pad is formed sort of as a boat or just a sphere.
                      Small amount of alcohol is applied on the outside while some shellac is applied on the inside, in the filler. At this point a drop of oil is placed on the outside of the pad and a few small drops are sprinkled on the surface.
                      The pad should fill cold to the touch but not wet. The idea of padding is to start with very little pressure and increase the pressure as the pad becomes less saturated with shellac. As my teacher was telling me: Your furniture should start creaking by the time the pad is almost dry.
                      Also a very important technique. The pad is not lowered down to the surface vertically. It is landed in a smooth motion like a plane. The pad NEVER stops. If you need to stop, lift the plane of.
                      What you should see if the amount of shellac is sufficient is a cloud, disappearing behind the pad as you move it alone. This is the alcohol, evaporating. Quicker evaporating alcohols will allow you to work the surface longer without making it too soft. Slower evaporating alcohols will work in reverse. The motion of the pad is almost never straight. It is circular. The thickness of the buildup with each pass of the pad is practically nonexistent.
                      After 10 min or so, you will sense as the resistance on the pad from the surface is increasing. It's time to stop and let it rest.
                      If you are getting marks after the pad, you have too much shellac squeezing out.
                      After 20-30 min per ft^2 in total, you should see a very shiny surface with a layer of oil on the top.

                      Contrary to the common believe, the oil does not become a "part" of french polish. If excessive amounts of oil are used during the build up, the "spiriting off" in the final stage will become more time consuming. The oil will continue to sweat and create cloudy areas. But that's the next step.


                      • #26
                        Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                        Originally posted by David Crewe View Post
                        I'll build up 12 to 15 coats of 1 to 1 1/2 lb cut over a couple weeks with sanding every few coats.
                        I visited your website, and there's no doubt that your method works, David. I wonder, though: why do you build up coats just to sand them down? What advantages do you find with so many coats and sandings?

                        I ask because my experience is that, if you brush on light-ish coats, the film levels itself, thereby eliminating most of the need for sanding between coats. My main goal is to build flat coats, which shellac sort of wants to do on its own (within limits of course) as applications dissolve into each other. With the method I described, I flatten just before the final, thin coat, which provides a pretty durn flat finish with sufficient build. I can do a final flattening with steel wool/mirlon.

                        I'm really not trying to pick a fight or say my method is better, I'm just curious about your method.

                        One day, I'll get around to ordering shellac flakes. By most accounts, I don't know what I'm missing out on. That said, I do find that Bullseye works well for me (granted, my supplier burns through a lot of it, which means that it's probably on the fresh side).


                        • #27
                          Re: OT: French Polishing Advice?

                          No worries, can't pick a fight with me. I don't have that kind of time or desire. In my experience as the layers build the shellac being suspended in the alcohol will tend to create ridges and settle into corners. It's not that I sand to remove previous film, only to knock of the ridges and even the film thickness. I only use shellac on the finer Queen Anne pieces and tend towards the darker buttons where varing thicknesses can become quite apparent. Lighter shellacs are less prone to this. French polish would probably give a much finer finish but, I have no where near the patience for that.
                          Photos of projects and stuff
                          My furniture web site.
                          My gallery web site (Still trying to get that going)


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by DeZZar View Post
                            I was wondering what sort of timber finishes you guys/gals use, particularly on speakers of course, but not limited to.

                            I generally just head for a non-yellowing water based polyurethane (multiple coats sanded in between) but its not really giving me what I want.

                            The project I'm working on at the moment is going to have side panels made from solid Jarrah and I want to achieve:
                            - nice rich color like what appears when you wet the timber
                            - really smooth finish (I have clear grain filler)
                            - durable high gloss finish (polished like glass)

                            Basically looking to achieve this sort of finish (example image, not my speaker):
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                            The poly doesn't really help bring out the color of the wood. In my experience, after sanding and apply the clear it looks sort of dull, or not as rich as just wetting the timber.

                            I was thinking that maybe a coat of a very light stain (like a sort of light rose color) would help bring out the natural color of the wood first and then poly but was curious as to what others might be doing?
                            Jim85Iroc recently did a project with a finish somewhat similar to what you are asking about.

                            I posted in this thread because "French Polish" has been a traditional technique for centuries. This thread touches on it. The participant Roman r-carpenter is an expert on the topic.

                            While I understand that you don't want low gloss, I think low gloss has a nice understated aesthetic and it is very much easier to do well. My own preference would be a low effort, low gloss wipe-on finish using a DIY mixture measured in equal proportions by volume, 1/3 spar varnish, gloss oil finish type (General Finishes is a good brand), 1/3 boiled linseed oil, 1/3 mineral spirits.

                            edit: I should have mentioned rubbing out the wipe on finish to achieve the low gloss sheen that I suggested. A cursory websearch found these links on the topic.


                            Last edited by JRT; 04-07-2021, 11:22 AM.
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                            • #29
                              Or not. French polishing was a technique to get a high gloss result with shellac. Modern finishes and tools can give a better result with a lot less work.


                              • #30
                                Right, if you're restoring circa 1800's antiques, french polishing is something you'd do. But a better and easier high gloss will come from rubbing out a lacquer or varnish. Though I suppose you don't need to wait the cure time for French Polishing so you could have it complete in less time, even if it is more effort.

                                I've tried it semi-successfully.

                                Varnish (phenolic, acrylic, poly) curing time for rubbing out a good gloss is Zzzzzz.