What is French polishing and what are its benefits?

French Polishing is a tradition that has largely gone out of fashion. A historic method, French Polishing is time consuming and kept only to specific furniture. Today, the benefits of modern lacquering regularly outweigh the benefits of French Polishing. Modern lacquer is stronger, easier to apply, and more durable, offering protection to your furniture that traditional methods cannot. However, for specific items of furniture, French Polishing remains the polish of choice, offering an unrivalled shine on antiques. But what exactly is French Polishing, and why is it so useful?

What is French Polishing?

Invented in France in the early 1700’s and popularised in the 19th century, French Polishing is a wood finishing technique that provides a high-shine finish to wooden furniture pieces to enhance the natural colour and appearance of the wood grain. This makes it a particularly stunning choice for exotic woods used to make features such as musical instruments (particularly grand pianos), floors, and furniture.

This process largely fell out of fashion on the 1920s due to its lengthy, repetitive process, and the expertise that is needed to achieve the flawless gloss finish the technique is known for. As well as this, the industrialisation of furniture production necessitated faster finishing techniques like modern varnishes to keep up with the supply of furniture being made. However, even with these technological advances both in and beyond the 1920s, there is no other finish that can achieve the shine and depth of grain emphasis that French polishing can deliver.

The process itself involves the careful layering of many thin coats of shellac over a period of time, with the final effect being a result of over 100 carefully applied and smoothed layers. This should be done by an expert to prevent any obscuring or clouding of the surface and provide the desired mirror finish.

What are the benefits of French polishing?

Although this process can be lengthy and labour intensive, a French polish finish carried out by a skilled furniture restorer can bring the opulence of 18th century Versailles to your interior design. This restoration technique is typically used on antique furniture, but can also be used to give modern pieces that classically luxurious look.

The build-up of layers that characterises the technique serves practical as well as aesthetic purpose: the finish provides a flexible, scratch-and-wear-resistant surface. However, this finish is softer than many modern varnishes, which although gives it an increased flexibility, means that the finish can be more susceptible to heat or moisture damage.

The polishing process also makes repair relatively straightforward; unlike modern repair, where the whole piece needs to be stripped of all varnish before reapplying, the French polish technique allows for a targeted repair of the spot in question, ideal for larger pieces like floors. This also helps to extend the longevity of the materials.

Whether you’re looking to preserve an original piece of antique furniture through French Polishing, or restore a battered sideboard to its former glory using our unique spray-on lacquer capabilities, get in touch with our team today to find out how we can help. Read more about our Polishing services, call us on 01536 510584, email enquiries@johnreedandson.com or fill out our online enquiry form for a free estimate.