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French Polished Surfaces

What is French polish ?


“The King of finishes and the finish of Kings”


“The Parisians have now introduced an entirely new process of polishing…..and is to wood precisely what plating is to metal. The wood by some process is made to resemble marble, and has all the beauty of that article with much of it`s solidity”


Much mystery and misunderstanding often surrounds the arcane term `French polishing` and it should be understood that this is an extremely labour intensive procedure involving a number of complex stages as opposed to a form of polish in itself.

First seen in England in 1820, the French polish wood finish process has not changed since it`s inception. A multitude of microscopically thin layers of shellac (a resin secreted by the Asian lac beetle, formed into golden coloured flakes and then dissolved in alcohol) are applied to the wood surface by means of a French polishing `rubber`. This consists of a piece of cotton wadding covered by a soft linen cloth. Gradually through the repeated combination of burnishing with very small amounts of shellac, and the application of a little oil and pumice stone powder, the open grain of the wood is filled. A bright, shiny almost translucent effect is then achieved, enhancing the colour and natural figure of the surface, creating an illusion of depth, to the extent that one can almost see `into` the wood itself.


When repairing a French polished surface, wherever possible, as much of the original finish on the surface will be retained and merely added to with fresh shellac, to maintain as far as possible, the time-served antique patina of the wood.

Common problems

  • Loss of shine even when a furniture polish is applied

  • Scratches

  • Stains whether these be light or dark, caused by water, ink, alcohol etc 

  • Colour fading through the effects of sunlight/new wood

  • Desk / bureau leather damaged / peeling from the surface


Tarnished finishes repaired on this huge Victorian extending wind out table and Georgian sideboard

Stain removal (dark & light)

Light stain has been taken out of this very early oak, gateleg table


White 'bloom' removed, caused by moisture becoming trapped in the finish


Colour replacement

It was necessary to replace a whole section of veneer on this mahogany dressing table, in turn necessitating the wholesale colouring of the section to match the existing veneer

Part of arm replaced, again resulting in the need to colour to match surrounding wood

A common problem with extending dining tables ; middle leaves receive less use in general and so retain their colour through less exposure to sunlight

Desk Leather Replacement

Desk leather replaced and surrounding wood refinished 

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