French Polishing: A Timeless Craft for Timeless Furniture

French Polishing

Table of Contents

French polishing is a traditional wood finishing technique renowned for its deep, lustrous finish that enhances the natural beauty of wood. This method, which has been around since the 18th century, involves applying many thin coats of shellac using a rubbing pad. Simons Staircases and Furniture specialises in this meticulous craft, offering top-notch French polishing services in Stockport, Cheshire, and throughout the Northwest of England. In this article, we’ll delve into the history, process, benefits, and modern applications of French polishing, highlighting its enduring appeal and relevance.

The History of French Polishing

French polishing gained prominence in the early 19th century, particularly in France and England, where it was used to finish fine furniture and musical instruments. The technique became synonymous with high-quality craftsmanship and was the preferred method for achieving a mirror-like finish on wood. Despite being labor-intensive, the method’s ability to produce a stunning, deep gloss made it a favourite among artisans and furniture makers.

The Process of French Polishing

The French polishing process is intricate and requires patience, skill, and attention to detail. Here’s a step-by-step overview:

  1. Surface Preparation: The wood surface must be thoroughly prepared. This involves sanding to a smooth finish and ensuring the surface is clean and free of dust and grease.
  2. Mixing the Shellac: Shellac flakes are dissolved in denatured alcohol to create a shellac solution. The concentration of this solution can vary depending on the desired finish.
  3. Making the Pad: A French polishing pad, or ‘fad,’ is made using a wad of cotton or wool wrapped in a soft cloth. This pad is used to apply the shellac.
  4. Applying the Shellac: The pad is soaked in the shellac solution and then squeezed to remove excess liquid. The shellac is applied in thin, even coats using a circular or figure-eight motion. Each coat must be allowed to dry before the next is applied.
  5. Building the Finish: Many thin coats of shellac are applied, with each coat lightly sanded or rubbed down to remove imperfections. This process can take several days or even weeks, depending on the desired depth of finish.
  6. Oiling: A small amount of oil, such as linseed oil, is sometimes used to lubricate the pad and reduce friction during application, which helps achieve a smooth finish.
  7. Final Buffing: Once the desired number of shellac coats have been applied, the surface is buffed to a high gloss using a clean pad or soft cloth.

Benefits of French Polishing

French polishing offers several benefits that contribute to its continued popularity among craftsmen and furniture enthusiasts:

  1. Aesthetic Appeal: The finish achieved through French polishing is unparalleled in its depth and richness. It enhances the natural grain of the wood, providing a warm, glossy finish that other methods can’t match.
  2. Repairability: One of the unique advantages of French polishing is its repairability. Scratches and blemishes can be easily touched up without needing to strip and refinish the entire piece.
  3. Non-Toxic: Shellac is a natural, non-toxic resin, making it a safe choice for finishing furniture, especially items like dining tables and children’s furniture.
  4. Versatility: French polishing can be used on a variety of wood types, from softwoods to hardwoods, making it a versatile finishing technique.

Modern Applications of French Polishing

While French polishing is often associated with antique furniture, it remains relevant in contemporary settings. Here are some modern applications:

  1. Restoration of Antiques: French polishing is the go-to method for restoring antique furniture to its former glory. At Simons Staircases and Furniture, we specialise in bringing aged pieces back to life, preserving their historical value.
  2. High-End Furniture: Luxury furniture manufacturers still use French polishing to finish high-end pieces, ensuring a superior, handcrafted look.
  3. Musical Instruments: The technique is widely used to finish fine musical instruments like pianos and guitars, where a high-gloss, resonant finish is essential.
  4. Interior Woodwork: French polishing is also applied to interior woodwork, including panelling, doors, and staircases, to create a sophisticated, elegant look.

French Polishing at Simons Staircases and Furniture

At Simons Staircases and Furniture, we pride ourselves on our expertise in French polishing. Our skilled craftsmen have over 30 years of experience in the field, ensuring each piece we work on receives the highest level of care and attention. Whether it’s a treasured family heirloom, a bespoke staircase, or a piece of fine furniture, we are committed to delivering exceptional results.

Our French polishing services extend to various areas, including Heaton Moor, Heaton Chapel, Heaton Mersey, Hale, Bowden, Sale, Altrincham, Didsbury, Winsford, Knutsford, Prestbury, Marple, Marple Bridge, Romiley, Mellor, New Mills, Disley, Congleton, Sale, Hazel Grove, Manchester, Whalley Range, Urmston, Poynton, Macclesfield, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow, Mottram St Andrew, and more.

Case Studies

Antique Dining Table Restoration

A client from Altrincham brought us an antique dining table that had been in their family for generations. The table had significant wear and damage, including scratches, water stains, and faded areas. Our team meticulously repaired the damage, sanded the surface smooth, and applied numerous coats of shellac using the French polishing technique. The result was a stunning, glossy finish that revitalised the table while preserving its antique charm.

Bespoke Staircase

In a modern home in Didsbury, we were tasked with finishing a bespoke wooden staircase. The client wanted a high-gloss, sophisticated look that would make a statement in their home. We applied our French polishing expertise, resulting in a staircase that not only looked stunning but also added significant value to the property.

Restoration of a Victorian Chest of Drawers

A Victorian chest of drawers from a client in Knutsford required careful restoration. The piece had intricate details and carvings that needed to be preserved. Our craftsmen cleaned and repaired the wood, applied the shellac with precision, and brought the chest back to its original splendour, showcasing the beautiful grain and craftsmanship of the Victorian era.

Our French Polishing Service

French polishing is a timeless craft that continues to be valued for its ability to produce a deep, lustrous finish that enhances the natural beauty of wood. At Simons Staircases and Furniture, we are dedicated to preserving and promoting this traditional technique, ensuring that each piece we work on receives the highest level of craftsmanship and care. Whether you’re looking to restore an antique, finish a bespoke piece, or add a touch of elegance to your home, our French polishing services are the perfect choice.

For more information about our services or to request a quote, please visit our website or contact us directly. We look forward to helping you achieve the perfect finish for your furniture and woodwork.

Latest Articles


191 Nangreave Road, Heaviley, Stockport, Cheshire, SK2 6AH