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The lazy man's approach to French polishing

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The lazy man's approach to French polishing

Postby RogerS » 13 Feb 2016, 19:38

Thought I'd share my approach to getting a reasonable (but non-Piano!) finish using shellac.

Sand the substrate down to 240 grit. We're sanding down lacewood veneer here and so we don't need to be too heavy-handed.

Apply the first coat of shellac. I used to wipe it on with a 'rubber' made out of some muslin but this latest project I thought I'd try painting it on using a mop. I like the Zorino mops like these. It actually worked out rather well as I was able to get a thicker coat in one go. Shellac dries pretty quickly - 30 minutes or so.

(As a small digression, Zinsser make a great shellac product called BIN 1-2-3 and will stick to virtually anything and so if you have a tricky surface and need some sort of sealing barrier before you apply normal paints then BIN 1-2-3 is the boy.)

When it's dry you will see the brush marks like this

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Then you start to knock back the high spots by going through the grits. Shellac is quite soft and so you don't want to go any coarser than 120 - ideally stick to 180 as a starting point and use very light pressure. I like using this sanding pad from Mirka which plugs into the vacuum cleaner and so all the dust gets sucked away and you don't run the risk of a bit of grit scoring the surface.

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You can see the highest spots starting to go here

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Just keep lightly sanding in circles, working your way up to 240. As you can see here we're starting to get there.

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As you gradually remove the high spots, you'll see shiny indentations here and there which is the shellac in the valleys of the brush strokes. The idea is to end up with something like this - a uniform matt finish.

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and finally

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Repeat, gradually building up the thickness of the shellac. Six or seven coats with a 'rubber' is good but with the paint brush you can build up a comparable thickness with two or three coats.

Then to finish, I'll load up some 0000 steel wool with wax, and polish it up. OK - the end result is not a piano-type finish that you'd get with French Polishing but it's a reasonable quick'n'dirty way of getting a reasonable result.

One other tip is to get a pack of these waxes. The wide colour range lets you pick a colour very close to your wood.

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They are absolutely brilliant for filling in those very tiny gaps where we didn't quite get the joints to meet up as tightly as we'd have liked. You just rub the stick hard over the gap, letting the wax fill it and then use some steel wool to blend it in then polish as before.

And lastly, I couldn't resist posting up this picture which I think is rather fun.

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Well, it made me smile :)
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Re: The lazy man's approach to French polishing

Postby DaveL » 13 Feb 2016, 20:54

That looks like electric bass man meets double bass.
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Re: The lazy man's approach to French polishing

Postby mailee » 19 Feb 2016, 23:40

Just to add too this post Roger, if you used a good rubbing compound in place of the wire wool you would get a high gloss finish. (being careful not to apply too much pressure due to the soft nature of Shellac.)
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Re: The lazy man's approach to French polishing

Postby RogerS » 20 Feb 2016, 06:24

mailee wrote:Just to add too this post Roger, if you used a good rubbing compound in place of the wire wool you would get a high gloss finish. (being careful not to apply too much pressure due to the soft nature of Shellac.)


Thanks Mailee..I'll give that a go. Any compound you'd recommend?
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Re: The lazy man's approach to French polishing

Postby Robert » 20 Feb 2016, 10:31

About a month ago I was talking to the partner of my wife's friend at a party and he was a fully skilled french polisher. He told me there is just no work now for his skills. People will not pay the cost that would be incurred for a french polish finish even on antique restorations. Those that would pay for high end pieces are so rare there is no way to make a living at it.

He now runs a business sanding and varnishing floors.

Nice finish btw :)

Think I'd have gone for polishing to a gloss too from that nice flat and even sanding you achieved. There are probably specialist polishing products but I'd have just use car rubbing compounds - the stuff you 'sand' off overspray with.
I keep some coarse rubbing compound just for cleaning UPVC window sills - takes the ingrained dirt off easy and leaves a smooth finish.
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