How To French Polish Your Woodworking Project

Applying a French polish to your woodworking project can be a fairly painstaking process but is ultimately well worth the effort. Usually found on antique furniture, a correctly applied French polish gives your project a durable surface and a shine most factory processes cannot replicate.  It is also easy to repair.

You'll need:

  • Cotton cloth
  • Wool gauze
  • Sandpaper, covering a large range of fine grits up to 400
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Shellac (two pounds)
  • FFFF Pumice
  • Extra virgin olive oil (100%)


To prepare your work surface for a French polish, sand the work surface. Begin with sandpaper having the least fine grain and work your way up to 400-grit.

After you've sanded once with the 400-grit paper, wipe down the surface with a damp cloth. Sand the surface again using the 400-grit paper. Repeat this process two to three times, and finish by rubbing the surface down with the denatured alcohol.

Applying a seal

Take a square of cotton cloth (about six inches by six inches) and wrap it around a quarter-sized ball of wood gauze, wetted with a few drops of shellac. Make the four corners of the cotton cloth meet at the top around the gauze ball, so they create a kind of handle. The shellac should not soak through to the cotton cloth, but should come out through it when you apply pressure to the pad.

Apply the olive oil to the outside of this applicator to lubricate it. The oil will separate from the shellac; don't worry about it ruining the look of your French polish.

Apply a very thin, even coat of shellac as a seal using long, even strokes with the grain of the wood, lifting the applicator at the end of each pass to avoid blotching.

Repeat twice, ensuring coats have dried between applications. Replace the outer cloth regularly if it begins to pick up debris.

Filling gaps

To fill any gaps, sprinkle pumice onto the work surface. Make a new applicator with the alcohol-soaked gauze. Use the applicator to rub pumice into any cracks with big circular motions.

Applying the French polish

Using a new applicator - this time with shellac in the gauze - coat the entire surface using circular motions.

After the first coat has dried, use an alcohol-gauze applicator to clean off any oil.

Repeat the shellac process up to eight times in order to get that unmistakable French polish.  It's finished when you've produced a mirror-like shine. Once you see your French polish completed, you'll know it was worth the effort.


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