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by Simon Gilboy March 03, 2019
We have been asked many times by our customers what is French Polish? Or what is French Polishing?
In this article I demonstrate how we remove an old french polish finish on a John Broadwood piano fall. It is then french polished to a high shine using entirely traditional methods taught to me as an apprentice by the Dartington Trust owned Staverton Joinery.
The piano fall was taken from our shipping container of ‘old wood’ which is used to repair and restore our customers period furniture. It is made from solid mahogany with a rosewood decorative veneer applied to it.
So what’s next?
There is another process that we can do with the french polish. It falls under the umbrella term of ‘Dulling’.
The reason this seventh stage was not impressed upon me as an apprentice is because it isn't a necessary process of french polishing. There is no reason for this stage apart from personal preference. Dulling is a general term for the many different ways a french polish is dulled down or matted. This can be achieved by using any amount of different materials and methods. Here at Gilboy's our preference is to use our own beeswax polish to achieve the same result and add a sacrificial layer of protection to the finish. I will mention a few of the traditional ones we have used here in our workshop in the past. There are no hard and fast rules.
*Allow your newly polished work to dry for 24 hours before attempting any further work on it*
Tease out a folded flat pad of ‘0000’ wire wool in the palm of your hand. Apply it to the surface and with continuous even pressure in the direction of the grain, wipe it over the surface. Be sure to do this in the direction of the grain, being extremely conscious of not arcing your arm or wrist. If you arc your arm at any point, the resulting finish will look fake and unnatural. You can repeat this process as many times as you like depending on how much of a satin finish you want to achieve.
When watching someone else do this it appears very easy. I can assure you it isn’t.
I would be inclined to practice the method first on a dusty table top. Pick up a soft cloth and see how straight you can wipe the surface. I bet you end up with curved ends…
Create the exact same pad of wire as above but this time add some mineral oil to the surface and to the wire wool, be generous. On horizontal surfaces you could pour it on. Now this time you can be a little more free with your direction and you may even want to move on wide circular motions with the pad.
The effect we are trying to achieve here is a 'used but cared for' surface. It's not quite as abrasive as just using the wire wool on its own. The mineral oil softens the effect and allows the wire wool to move in many directions without any severe scratches (a bit like when you were bodying). The good news here is, because you have properly french polished your work, the exact same oil we are using here won't harm or penetrate the surface because it’s now a very hard, sealed surface.
When you think you've done enough, wipe part of the surface dry with some tissue paper and check to see if you have the desired effect. If not, go at it again. Once you are happy, wipe the oil away to reveal your expert dulling.
There are other methods of dulling, but these two are the ones I've found to be the most effective.
Once you have dulled with the wire wool using either of the above techniques, the best way to complete your project is to apply a good beeswax polish over the top. Again, using the soft wire wool to apply the polish. Leave it on for 30 minutes or longer, then buff to a beautiful deep shine.
Why use beeswax polish and what does it do?
In brief: Beeswax polish further enhances the natural beauty of the wood, and acts as a sacrificial layer that protects and preserves the finish it is applied to.
It is an area of wood finishing that we believe has been very much overlooked for many years. It is the reason our french polishers here at Gilboy's have spent years developing the best beeswax polish we possibly could, using the very best of ingredients available in the world.
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