When it comes to achieving a stunning and timeless wood finish, French polish stands out as one of the most revered techniques in the world of woodworking. Developed in the 19th century and named after the French cabinet makers who popularised it, this unique finish involves the application of multiple thin layers of shellac to create a glossy and protective surface. In this blog, we will explore the history, application process, advantages, and maintenance tips for this exquisite wood finishing method. 

A historical Journey

French polish, though associated with the French, has its roots traced back centuries earlier to Asia, where shellac was already being used as a wood finish. However, it was the French cabinet makers of the 19th century who elevated this technique to prominence and bestowed it with the name we know today.

The Elegance of Shellac

At the heart of the French polish technique lies shellac, a natural resin produced from the secretions of the lac bug. This non-toxic and eco-friendly material serves as the primary ingredient for creating the glossy and smooth finish that defines French polish.

The Art of French Polish Application 

Applying French polish is an art form that demands patience, precision, and skill. The process involves using a soft cloth, such as a cotton swab, to delicately apply thin layers of shellac onto the wooden surface. Each layer is carefully buffed until it achieves the desired smoothness and lustre. 

A Finish for Elegance and Protection

French polish is especially favoured for fine furniture, musical instruments, and delicate items due to its ability to provide an exquisite appearance and excellent protection. The resulting finish is highly durable, resistant to heat and water, and boasts a unique depth that enhances the natural beauty of the wood. 

Advantages of French Polish

Compared to other wood finishes, French polish offers several notable advantages. Unlike some finishes that turn yellow over time, French polish retains its clarity and beauty for years. Moreover, its ease of repair and touch-up makes it particularly suited for valuable or heavily used items.

Considerations and Limitations 

As exceptional as French polish may be, it’s essential to recognise its limitations. The application process can be time-consuming and labour-intensive, requiring a level of craftsmanship that may not be suitable for all projects. Furthermore, it is less durable compared to modern polyurethane finishes and may be more susceptible to damage from certain solvents and chemicals.

Maintenance and Care

To preserve the elegance of a French polished surface, regular maintenance is essential. Dusting the surface with a soft cloth and avoiding exposure to harsh chemicals or extreme temperatures can prolong the finish’s life. In case of minor scratches or damages, touch-ups can be performed using shellac and a soft cloth. 


French polish remains a testament to the beauty of traditional wood finishing techniques, with its history dating back centuries and its allure still captivating woodworkers and artisans today. With the right skills and care, this time-honoured method can elevate the aesthetic and protective qualities of wooden items, breathing life into cherished furniture and musical instruments for generations to come.