Applying French Polish with a Pad

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Applying French Polish with a Pad is a Technique — Not a Material

When many people hear that they should apply French polish with a pad to their wood furniture, they instantly think that French polish is a substance rather than an application technique. French polish is not a material or substance. It is the description of a specific technique that is used to apply shellac to wood, which creates a glass-like and glossy finish.

When preparing to apply a French polish finish, there are a few specific items that are necessary:

  1. Sandpaper: This is used to prepare the wood.
  2. Tack Cloth: This is used to remove all the dust generated by sanding.
  3. Shellac Flakes and Denatured Alcohol: These are combined to create liquid shellac. (You may decide to purchase pre-mixed shellac at your local hardware store, but most professional wood workers recommend mixing your own. Mixing flakes with denatured alcohol is not difficult.)
  4. Pure/Natural Oil such as Mineral Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This are used to help the pad slide along the wood.
  5. Cotton Cloth such as an old rag or T-shirt: This is used to create the pad.
  6. Wool: This is be used to create the interior of the pad.
  7. An Eye Dropper: A small container with a dropper for adding more shellac to the pad is necessary.

Once the wood has been prepared, the shellac has been mixed, and the pad has been created, it is time to learn French polish pad techniques.

Applying the First few Layers

Adding the first few layers of shellac using a French polish pad is the most difficult of all the layers you will add. This can be attributed to one or more factors. First, the pad might not glide smoothly on the wood. But this problem can be alleviated by adding a bit of pure/natural oil (such as mineral oil) to the outside of the pad. Don’t worry; the oil will not affect the French polish outcome. Second, the pad may pick up quite a bit of sawdust on its initial use. This is normal and expected. Simply unwrap the pad and throw away the used outer layer. Then, apply a new layer of cotton cloth around the wool.

Keep in mind that the first layer of shellac is considered the sealing layer. It should be completed by applying a thin and even layer on the wood – without applying too much pressure on the polish pad.

Subsequent Layers

It is important to wait for the initial few layers of shellac to dry before applying additional coatings. This is not difficult because shellac dries quickly. Then, using the original pad, you will apply many additional layers of shellac. The trick is ensuring the layers are thin. Make sure to allow each layer to dry in between subsequent layers.

A Lengthy Process

The reason the French polish technique takes so long is that up to several hundred layers must be applied to the surface of the wood before the desired results can be achieved. This technique is not necessarily difficult, but it is time consuming

Finishing Your Project

Applying a French polish with a pad is an age-old technique that produces a glass-like and glossy finish every time – as long as the process is completed correctly. To finalize your project, apply a finishing glaze that will ensure a beautiful and eye-catching finish.


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