French polishing

French polishing from Walsh Restoration

By: Walsh Restoration  08/03/2009
Keywords: furniture, upholstery, antiques


The finish on a piece of antique furniture develops its own character and patination over the years.  If the piece has been well looked after, its restoration should be aimed at minimal intervention.  Gentle cleaning and re-waxing should be enough to bring back the lustre and depth of colour.  This is especially true of older pieces which were originally finished with wax or linseed oil rather than french polish or spirit varnishes.

Minor damage to the finish such as small dents, scratches, water marks and cigarette burns can usually be repaired without refinishing the piece but this is not always the case.  Sometimes the old finish will have deteriorated to a point where it must be removed and replaced.  This may have occurred due to prolonged exposure to sunlight, heat, water or chemicals.  Serious damage to wooden surfaces sometimes requires scraping and sanding back to bare wood which again necessitates refinishing.

If a high gloss finish is preferred, I provide a complete french polishing service.  Using traditional methods a polishing "rubber" is used to apply layer upon layer of shellac to the surface until the open wood grain is filled and a lustrous gloss develops.  Some customers prefer the highly polished surface to be "cut back" with steel wool or fine abrasive powder [such as rottenstone] and then waxed, an effect which is more in keeping with older pieces. When a surface is liable to receive heavy wear, more durable finishes such as hardening oils and various lacquers may be preferred.

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