In this guide, we will walk you through the process of the traditional French polishing technique allowing you to discover how to bring out the natural beauty of your wooden furniture.
There is a lot to know about French Polishing, and the process itself can be quite complex.
Step 1 – Preparation
Before starting your French polishing process, it is essential to prepare the surface of the furniture. Begin by removing any existing finishes like varnish, wax, or oil. Use a product like Liberon Fine Wood Stripper or Liberon Wax and Polish Remover to strip away the old finish. After stripping, gently sand the surface with fine abrasive paper until it feels smooth to the touch. For open-grained wood, consider filling the grain using a suitable grain filler or applying additional coats of polish, which will be cut back later.
Step 2 – Materials
Gather the necessary materials to ensure a smooth and efficient process. You will need:
- French polish in your preferred colour
- Cotton waste
- Cotton rags
- French polishing mops
Step 3 – Making a French Polishing Rubber
The French polishing rubber is a crucial tool for applying the polish. To make a rubber, take a piece of lint-free cotton cloth and wrap it around cotton wadding or cotton waste. Place a handful of cotton wadding in the centre of the cotton rag, bring the four corners together, and twist to form a pear-shaped pad. Ensure that the base of the pad is flat and free from creases or defects.
Step 4 – How to Hold the Rubber
When using the rubber, hold it with the bottom area flat and free from obstructions. This grip will provide better control and precision during the application process.
Step 5 – Applying the Product to the Rubber
To load the rubber with French polish, pour the polish directly onto the cotton wadding and not onto the face of the rubber. Bring the corners of the cotton rag together and twist gently, allowing the polish to saturate the face of the rubber. Squeeze out any excess polish before you begin polishing to avoid leaving ridges on the work.
Step 6 – Determining the Right Amount of Polish
Achieving the correct amount of polish on the rubber is crucial. Too much polish will create ridges, while too little polish will yield unsatisfactory results. The rubber should move freely on the surface but not leave excessive polish behind. Practice and experience will help you to gauge the right quantity of polish for a smooth application.
Step 7 – Fading Up
The initial coats of polish are known as fading up. Begin by passing the rubber up and down along the grain of the wood, slightly overlapping each pass. If you feel the rubber dragging, apply gentle pressure to push more polish onto the face. Remember to maintain consistency and work along the grain for a professional-looking finish.
Step 8 – Bodying In
To build up the polish layers, use the rubber in circular and figure-of-eight motions. Complete the sequence by making a final pass with the grain, moving fairly quickly and lightly over the surface. Always finish the stroke along the grain to avoid marks. Remember to slide the rubber onto the work from one side and off the other to prevent reactivating the previous coating.
Step 9 – Hardening
After every four or five applications, allow the work to harden for a couple of hours before applying further coats. To ensure a smooth surface, lightly rub the hardened surface between coats. To ensure a smooth surface, lightly rub the hardened surface between coats using 320-grit abrasive paper or Liberon Ultra Fine Steel Wool (Grade 0000). This helps eliminate any blemishes and imperfections.
Step 10 – Spiriting Off
Once you’ve achieved a sufficient layer of polish, it’s time for spiriting off. Create a mixture of thinned-down French polish and methylated spirit, using a ratio of approximately two-part French polish to one-part methylated spirit. Apply this polish mixture in circular or figure-eight motions, finishing by going along the grain. For a gloss finish, rub a small amount of methylated spirit and French polish mixture onto the surface, moving the rubber lightly and quickly.
Step 11 – Burnishing
If you desire a softer level of sheen rather than a high gloss mirror finish, allow the polished surface to harden for a few days. Afterwards, use Liberon Ultra Fine Steel Wool (Grade 0000) and remove any dust with a tack cloth. Finish the process by applying a coat of Liberon Wax Polish Black Bison for added protection and sheen.
For a mirror finish, leave the French polish to fully harden for about a week to ten days. Cut back the surface using Liberon Ultra Fine Steel Wool (Grade 0000) and remove any dust with a tack cloth. Finally, apply Liberon Burnishing Cream with a clean cotton cloth, polishing vigorously until you achieve the desired deep mirror finish
Step 12 – Carved Areas
For intricate or carved areas where a rubber cannot be used, such as detailed carvings, a French polishing mop is recommended. Apply thin coats of polish to these areas, working with the grain whenever possible. Avoid letting the mop stick or stop on the surface to prevent uneven finishes.
Step 13 – Storage and Cleaning
To keep your rubber in good condition, store it in an airtight container with a small amount of methylated spirit. Clean your French polishing mop after use with methylated spirit and store it in the same manner.
French polishing is an artful process that requires patience, attention to detail, and practice. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can achieve a beautiful and professional French polish finish on your furniture. Remember to prepare the surface properly, apply the polish with care, and allow for adequate drying and hardening between coats. With time and practice, you’ll master the techniques and enjoy the rewarding experience of transforming your furniture.