How to French Polish – Preparation


Preparation for Learning How to French Polish Involves Becoming Knowledgeable About Shellac

Want to learn how to French polish furniture? French polishing requires a bit of preparation because it involves using a specific application technique.

French polishing is a method used to apply shellac to antique furniture. Many people believe that French polish is a substance that can be purchased and brushed onto wood. But it is not actually a product – it is a process. A French polished finish looks very shiny and glossy. Some say that this type of finish is so shiny that it resembles a mirror.

Learning how to French polish furniture is a skill that is developed over time. It is a labor-intensive method of adding a shiny finish to antique furniture. The effort that is required to achieve a French polish is well worth it. A French polish produces a unique look that cannot be matched by any other type of finish.

French polishing was extremely popular during the Victorian Era. During this period of time, there were very few choices when it came to finishing wood furniture, and the shiny and glass-like finish that French polishing produces was highly desirable. However, as it became more expensive to hire individuals to French polish furniture, and as other means of finishing furniture became more accessible, the old art of French polishing began to fall by the wayside.

Today, many woodworkers and furniture finishers do not even know how to French polish because it is such an antiquated method of finishing furniture. It requires knowledge, practice and skill to create a French polish and because this method is not in high demand most do not know much about it.


Before you start a French polishing project, make sure that you have the necessary items: shellac flakes, denatured alcohol, fine grit sandpaper, lamb’s wool, pure oil, cotton cloths, and pumice.

You will also want a designated workspace that has been prepared with drop cloths.

How to French Polish Furniture:

  1. The wood must be sanded, wiped with a damp cloth, and dried. This process should be repeated at least twice.
  2. The wood should be wiped with denatured alcohol by adding a bit to a clean cloth and wiping the entire piece of furniture. This will remove any dirt and dust that remained after the sanding process.
  3. A pad must be constructed using lamb’s wool and a cotton cloth. The wool should serve as the center of the pad, and the cotton cloth should surround the wool.
  4. Add a bit of pure linseed oil to the outside of the pad. This will help the pad slide evenly on the wood furniture as it is being used to apply the shellac.
  5. Add some of the shellac that has already been mixed into the inside wool section of the pad.
  6. Wipe the pad on all areas of the furniture. This will create the initial shellac coating. In essence, the first coating will seal the wood.
  7. If the outer portion of the pad becomes dirty while it is being used, remove the outer cotton layer and add a new one. Afterwards, apply more oil to the cotton so that it will continue to glide nicely along the furniture.
  8. Additional coats of shellac should be applied using the same method – waiting several minutes in between layers.
  9. If there are any cracks in the surface of the wood that should be filled, apply pumice. The pumice will fill in any openings in the grain as the pad is wiped on the surface.
  10. Several more layers of shellac must be applied using the same pad – by rubbing the pad on the wood using circular motions with ample pressure.
  11. After many layers have been added, the result will begin to appear as a shiny and glossy finish!


Learning how to French polish is not necessarily a complicated skill. The act of French polishing is time-consuming, which is one of the primary reasons it lost its popularity after the Victorian Era ended. French polish is unique because it produces a great shine that is easy to repair if it becomes damaged.

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