Help with French polishing.

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    I could sure use some help with my attempt at French polishing. I’m trying to polish the top of a box I made. The top is only about 4 inches square, and is made out of maple.

    I can get the outside edges to look great and accept finish. The center seems to not want to keep shellac on it. It’s as though I’m wiping it off and just pushing it back out onto the perimeter.

    I’ve tried many different things and can’t seem to get it right. I have a “hole” in the center of the finish about 1″ in diameter at its best.

    Any ideas? I’ll take ANY advice


    David Perrott

    I have never french polished, but I know its difficult. There are many variables. How old is your shellac, using too much alcohol, your pad. It isn’t only on french polishing but I do like Christopher Pourny’s book the furniture bible. He discusses it


    I tried French polishing a few times – bought flakes and special belkol solvent and wool and pumice and rotten stone and cheesecloth, etc… every material I saw referenced in articles and videos on the subject. I just could not get a good result.

    I met someone who used to do lots of French polishing and he said it’s a very slow and tedious process. I was likely too impatient.

    I hope to try again some time and I’d REALLY love to see Paul do a video about the technique. I know he had a general shellac finish video, but a dedicated French polish video would be great. Maybe we can start a petition 🙂


    Well I am finally starting to get something! I have literally been at this for about 10 days and have wanted to quit every single day.

    I think I was using too much alcohol and not enough little drops of oil. I think what was happening was I was wiping on shellac and then wiping it right back off again. Less alcohol, tiny bit more oil, keep pad loaded with shellac. Finally. We’ll see what it looks like after a few sessions.


    Glad to hear it. Would love to see pics if you get to a point you want to share.

    Good luck.


    This may become an obsession ?. Here’s a photo after three sessions. You can start to see the shop lights overhead.

    James Savage

    Looking nice, looks like you’ve cracked it!

    Jim - Derbyshire.


    Yup I think you’ve cracked it too, it can take a few weeks to get a really good finish because it sinks after a while-patience is the key. One of the best descriptions I’ve found is in “The Book of Boxes” by Andrew Crawford and I got some really good results after following his instructions.

    Hugo Notti

    I am starting with shellack too, so I have no real advise. But there are two things I keep hearing or reading:

    With too much alcohol, the bale will stick and take off more shellack than it applies (confirmed by myself)
    Beginners use too much shellack at a time, each layer should be as thin as possible

    One question: There is special oil for applying shellack. Is this really necessary and what makes it so special? I heard, that even linseed oil would work, but with inferior results, so what is “inferior” here?



    @Kevinjames, How was the final outcome? I have not tried it yet simply because of the fact it takes so long to get good results.

    Tuscloosa, Alabama
    Lung T'an Hu Huesh Kung-fu Woodshop


    From going down many rabbit holes on this subject. I am un sure about using linseed oil. But I have found that many differn’t types of oils will do the job. The most unerveraly found one, that is also cheap. Is baby’s oil. most supermarkets, world wide.
    A cautionary note. The oil is not the important aspect. It’s the method, the amount you use.
    And the differn’t types of rubbers you need to remove the oil. Think the term is skimming off. would not state that, skimming off is the correct term.
    To be kept in mind. French polishing is a life time learning trade in it’s self.
    Not wishing to deter you, but there are means of adequately achieving your goals.
    A you tube that I came across a while ago. The English Polisher blog, is worth a look at.
    Good luck Peter


    One thing that helped me was changing the materials used for the rubber / fad. Originally, I used cotton cloth and cotton wadding/wool, but based on advise from Ernie Conover, I switched to linen cloth and sheep’s wool for the stuffing. What a difference! Ernie uses lamb’s wool from his wife (a weaver), but I used a hunk of a thick, old hiking sock. Unlike cotton wool, the sheep/lamb wool does not become compacted. The linen is much less grabby.

    Brushing as much of your base as possible helps. As I understand it, you really want to just be polishing rather than building up the main body of the coating.

    Still a beginner at this….

    Gerard Power

    Just joined the forum and I saw this thread. The linen is very important. Make sure that the weave is not too tight there needs to be room for the pumice to come through. Using wool for the inside of the pad is important too. It should be free of any colour. One source is fine wool from undershirts like they wear in Italy.

    Lots of alcohol (on the pad) not too much shellac. Once things start to build up to keep from burning the surface sprinkle mineral oil (available at a chemist/pharmacy). I use food grade because I do not wear gloves and all the products that I am using are harmless – I would like to keep on doing this for a few more decades.

    If you were in the army and learned to “spit shine” your boots, this a very similar process. Small circles, medium circles, bigger circles and so on. Keep moving on – do not stay in one area too long.


    @power thank you for taking the time to respond. I always really appreciate it. With so many of us being somewhat self taught it’s always great to have as much information as possible.

    I started to really get the hang of it when I learned that I was spending too much time in one spot, thus burning my previously applied shellac right back off.

    I also learned that olive oil worked really well for me, and to not be quite too sparing with it.

    Although I was in the Marine Corps, I never equated spit shining to French polishing. I should have thought of that earlier. Haha.

    I think I’ll take the time to find the right materials for my rubber and see what that adds to the equation.

    Thank you again.

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