French polishing is a wood finishing technique that results in a very high gloss surface, with a deep colour and chatoyancy. French polishing consists of applying many thin coats of shellac dissolved in mentholated spirits and applied using a handmade “fad” which is wrapped in cotton to apply the shellac. Brushes can also be used in intricate carvings wood turnings etc.
The old term for "French polish" is a process, not a material. The main material is shellac, although there are several other shellac-based finishes, not all of which class as French polishing. The finish is considered to be one of the most beautiful ways to finish and enhance the grain and protect the wood. In most cases now the finished item is then “dulled down” for a deeper lustre wax finish, which is now a more desirable look.
It takes over ten years to be fully recognised in the industry as having truly mastered the art. In the right hands it will help preserve a damaged patina, and thus restoring the piece to its former glory. On some restoration cases, pre French polishing, were made using a Bees Wax finish and could take many weeks if months to arrive at a finished piece. The French Polishing speeded up this process and gave better protection; therefore the furniture manufacture of the time took this up as the industry standard.
In more recent times more modern forms of polishing techniques including spray finishes and application of oil based products have lead to the old art of French polishing to dwindle. Gibson and Radford still posses the old and new methods of finishing furniture and as a result give you and unique service offering both old and new schools of thought.