French Polish – Making the Pad

By Karl

Making a French Polish Application Pad Requires Only Two Materials

Making an appropriate French polish pad is extremely important in the process of adding shellac to a piece of antique wood furniture. There are a few steps in the French polishing process – preparing the wood for finishing, sanding the wood, mixing the shellac flakes with denatured alcohol, rubbing the shellac mixture onto the wood, and finishing the job with a layer of glaze or polish.

Because the French polish application pad plays such an important role in the process, a well-made pad is essential.

Following are the only two materials necessary to make a French polish pad:

  1. Internal Wadding (made up of pure lamb’s wool or surgical gauze)
  2. Cheese Cloth or a Cotton Cloth


The internal wadding can be any absorbent material; a piece of cotton t-shirt, surgical gauze, wool, etc. This part will hold the shellac and release into the outer layer while polishing.

Note: Seeking the advice of a person working in a hardware store may not be the best source of information when it comes to French polishing tips. In a hardware store you may be told that you can apply shellac to a piece of wood furniture with a paintbrush or a spray gun. While you can, in fact, add shellac using these tools you will not be able to achieve the same results that you would with a self-made application pad. A French polish pad is the tool that has been used to create this type of finish for hundreds of years. The method is tried and true! It is not recommended that you attempt shortcuts!

Making the French Polish Application Pad

It is very easy to make a French polish pad. All you need to do is take a small wad of pure lamb’s wool (about the size of a golf ball), and wrap the wool in cheese cloth or a cotton cloth. You do not need to secure the cotton around the wool. It can simply be folded or wrapped to secure the wool in the center. You will need to gain access to the wool throughout the process so it is best to keep the cloth free of any ties.

Many people recommend using an old T-shirt, an old handkerchief, or an old pillowcase for the outer layer of the application pad. The overall goal is to create a very smooth and shiny surface, so the smoother material used to create the application pad the better. Make sure, check the material that you use for any embroidery, decoration, bumps, or any abnormal stitching.

You will not want anything but a flat surface on the material – and the slightest bulge in the material will cause problems. Therefore, check the material thoroughly. Make sure the material is clean, lint-free and white. Do not use a colored material for the application pad because the shellac can cause the dye in materials to bleed into the finish.

While using the pad, the golf ball sized piece of wool that is on the inside of the cotton will flatten. This is normal!

Make More Than One Application Pad

For the project, you will undoubtedly need more than one application pad. You will need one that is about the size of your palm, and one that is much smaller – approximately the size of your finger.

The palm-sized pad will be used to apply and rub the shellac on the larger portions of the wood and the finger-sized pad will be used to work in corners and in decorative areas of the furniture.

Throughout your project you will probably have to replace the outer layer of the pads periodically. When it becomes excessively dirty or worn it should be replaced with a clean piece of cloth.

In Conclusion

Making the French polish application pad is the easy part! Applying layer after layer of shellac and rubbing the shellac using circular motions repeatedly until the desired finish is accomplished is much harder. The process of French polishing is time consuming but it can be completed much more effectively when using the appropriate materials.

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