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Retired 27th Nov 2009 1:41 pm

French polishing for beginners.
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Some 30 years ago I made a veneered sideboard and hoped to finish it with French polish (shellac). I bought a book entitled Staining and Polishing by the author Charles H. Hayward.

The author went into great detail outlining each stage in French polishing; these being Staining, Filling-in,Fadding,Colouring,Coating,Bodying and finishing off using one of three methods; Stiffing, Spiriting and Acid finish.

After reading the book and now being terrified of French polishing; I finished the sideboard using varnish. The book was put away until about six years ago when I became interested in radio and in particular needing to French polish radio cabinets.

Over the last six years Iíve successfully French polished in excess of twenty wooden radio cabinets and gained more confidence with each; refining my method and technique until present when I can go into my workshop and can produce a decent French polish job whilst working in a very confined space and enduring a black hole called a Yorkshire winter making everything gloomy.

I bought a Bush SW45 radio a few years ago and at the time thought it to be the ugliest set I had ever seen; generally it was in decent condition and the cabinet finish was quite good but it looked very somber indeed not aided by its design and I thought had I not bought it the set would have been possibly stripped for its valves with the remainder going to landfill. The cabinet is finished in veneers of Australian Walnut with dark bands of Macassar Ebony. Everything about it looked dull even after ďTĒ cutting so I decided to use this set as a donor for this thread.

My method of French polishing involves only three stages having been reduced to the very basic possible. Applying initial polish coats with a brush; flatting and finishing with the traditional French polishing rubber.

The set was carefully taken apart leaving the bare cabinet which was stripped of its original finish using a very sharp cabinet scraper; repairs were carried out and both sides of the cabinet stained with Blackfriar Wood Dye Walnut stain to balance the colour better; the front and top panels left unstained. I was somewhat disappointed after scraping expecting to see better contrast between the veneers and the scraping was difficult because the veneers although dead actually felt dead and it was like scraping charcoal as I removed a thin layer hoping to reveal better colour below; dust was produced rather than shavings and this is the only cabinet out of many to respond in this manner.

After a good flatting all over with 600 grit abrasive paper working with the grain; both sides were stained but not the front or top; then once the stain had completely dried the whole cabinet was given a coat of RAW LINSEED oil to bring out the colour and it made a tremendous difference. The excess oil was removed with clean cloth and the cabinet was allowed to completely dry in a warm place for a few days. Oily rags must never be piled as they can self ignite.

French polishing takes a lot of time and each stage must not be rushed or failure is sure to follow; I estimated three weeks for this job. I mixed up a new batch of Button Shellac and even this proved difficult; in the past Iíve used flaked shellac but this shellac was bought from eBay and was supplied like large buttons in the form of flat discs which I broke into smaller pieces using a hammer. A clean jam jar was filled to about a third with the shellac and two thirds of methylated spirit was poured in; the jar top being secured. This shellac took over a week to dissolve even though I repeatedly shook the jar.

The bench was wiped clean as was the cabinet; the shellac hadnít fully dissolved but not wanting to wait any longer I applied two very heavy coats of shellac onto the cabinet using an artists No.2 fan brush allowing the first coat to dry for an hour; the cabinet was then left overnight. Like the scraping the shellac didnít want to behave, as I looked at it the following morning I couldnít believe how bad it looked; the shellac was full of what appeared to be grit and had gone on leaving tramlines that Mallard could have run on. At least the grain was now filled.

Now for the first very important point and itís written in stone. Any cabinet with stain added must be treated with the utmost respect because if stain suffers any damage whatsoever it is extremely hard to put right; I canít stress this enough. With this in mind I used 600 grit abrasive paper and spent ages flatting the shellac but here is a tip that is just brilliant which I picked up a while ago; I use TALCUM POWDER as a lubricant whilst flatting; it smells nice and makes the abrasive paper last virtually forever; the powder prevents the abrasive grit becoming coated with shellac which in turn would leave indentations in the form of shallow lines that are difficult to remove. The paper soon loses the initial ďbiteĒ and settles down but much care is needed at this stage to prevent cutting through the shellac at edges or openings such as around the knob or grille holes; a careless swipe over a corner is enough to leave a very light coloured line as the bare veneer is exposed and once this happens it is extremely difficult to rectify. The shellac dust mixes with the talcum powder and I keep wiping it with my free hand to watch progress, I find adding a second piece of abrasive paper inside the first gives a bit more control and prevent the paper folding up. Finger nails are a real hazard whilst flatting and need to be cut short. As flatting progresses the shellac will start to look dull with lines of gloss becoming very clear; these lines are where the shellac has settled into the grain filling the grain; itís important at this stage to ensure there is enough thickness of shellac to allow the flatting to remove these lines leaving the entire surface feeling very smooth and looking dull; if not I dust off completely and add more brush coats of shellac; under no circumstances must I break through to the stain. A lot of patience is called for because this work cannot be rushed and this flatting needs to be done correctly.

With many people made homeless due to flooding the weather remained wet and very dark; in my workshop with a single strip light I carried on best as I could and finally dusted the cabinet off and made a start at applying the shellac using a traditional French polishing rubber made of skin wadding inner and a clean soft cotton cloth outer covering. For rubber making instructions please visit;

Standard cotton wool is no good for use in a rubber and obtaining the correct skin wadding was virtually impossible for me at first; a supplier is given later. The rubber covering cloth is critical if good results are to be expected. I avoid all cloth that is hard or shiny; the cloth needs to be something like a worn out menís hanky; one that is soft: threadbare and very thin. Some use Tee shirt material but I find it has too much ďgiveĒ for my liking and tends to pucker up whereas the sole of the rubber has to remain smooth and flat at all times. Worn out cotton bed sheets can also be used.

I always secure two pages of an old TV times to the bench top with masking tape near where Iím working on the cabinet; this gives me a clean working area where I charge the rubber with shellac and before using the rubber on the cabinet it is important to press the sole of the rubber onto the paper; this is a good test to see if the rubber is charged correctly; if too wet shellac will ooze out and if too dry it wonít leave a mark. I find it just right when the paper is wet but not having any ridges of polish showing; this comes quickly with a bit of practice and must be done to distribute the polish within the rubber every time the rubber is freshly charged. On no account must I use a rubber that is too wet in the hope of speeding up the job. I also have four clean jam jars on the bench; one for meths to clean the brush; one for the polishing rubber keeping it airtight; one for thick shellac and one for thinned shellac.

I use Latex gloves bought from Poundland for hand protection because dried shellac takes about a week to remove otherwise. With a correctly charged rubber and the cabinet flatted and dusted off I apply the shellac using circular movements of approximately 3Ē diameter doing one panel at a time; as the first panel is covered I move onto the second panel working around the cabinet; as the last panel is done the first is dry and I can repeat this many times until the surface starts to feel a bit tacky which is the warning sign to stop and let the shellac dry for an hour or so. As the rubber becomes depleted of shellac more is added to the wadding removing the outer cotton cloth each time and testing on the paper; the rubber must never be dipped into shellac but must be charged correctly.

The rubber must be kept moving at all times whilst in contact and the slightest delay can result in either the rubber sticking or tearing up the previously applied shellac; if this happens and it does for a beginner; leave well alone for an hour then carry on as before. Trying too hard to build up shellac thickness quickly by spending too much time on a panel actually works the opposite way as polish tends to get removed rather than added. If any trim or mouldings stand proud of the general surface of the veneer these cause other difficulties as a rubber doesnít like to be forced into internal corners; this cabinet has two wooden bars running across the grille and also the dial opening trim stands proud; both these prevented clean strokes of the rubber; the narrow bit of veneer between the end of the bars and the dial opening was the worst and from previous experience I added a good thickness of polish here whilst brushing; all I needed to do was to ensure a layer of shellac was quickly added watching out for runs or overlapping tide marks and get out of there as fast as possible before the surface became tacky. Casual strokes of the rubber are used not too fast and not too slow.

More shellac is added to the cabinet still using circular movements building up the thickness and when Iím happy with the result thin the shellac with meths making it quite thin and re-charge the rubber. Now I use straight strokes of the rubber using a motion just like a plane landing and taking off; I never start a stroke at the edge of a panel as this would result in the edge acting like a scraper resulting in runs which are unseen onto adjacent panels; if this happens and it did at first the best thing to do is leave the runs well alone to harden then continue adding shellac over them because to panic and remove them too soon using abrasive paper will only make matters worse; they will still need to be removed but only when there is a good surrounding thickness of shellac. Panels are worked both ways using straight strokes and eventually I start to see the finish improving as the circular layers of shellac become less obvious.

On this cabinet though it was having none of it and responded with a surface full of little bumps and tiny bits of debris embedded in it. This was new to me and most frustrating as I take a lot of care but due to the inadequate workshop lighting I was feeling my way rather than seeing it so I needed to try something different?

I let the shellac completely harden overnight and the following day I spent over six hours flatting using Talcum powder and 1200 grit wet or dry abrasive paper; when I finally finished the cabinet was perfectly smooth and had a mat finish all over; by now I was in some pain as my arms ached and in bed I couldnít sleep as my neck and shoulders hurt so much from the amount of effort expended on the marathon flatting session. So far nothing had gone right and the cabinet just tested my patience to the limit. The following day I walked away from it and made myself busy collecting leaves and tidying up outside during a dry spell; I felt worn out and couldnít face another day using my arms applying shellac. Normally I enjoy French polishing even when things donít quite go as planned but this job was unlike any of the other cabinets I had completed and it was playing games with me.

A day away from the job worked wonders; the next session I was eager and more determined than ever to get this cabinet looking like I wanted it to look. I double checked it was well dusted off and changed the outer cloth on the rubber; the rubber was freshly charged with thinned shellac and tested on the paper and right from the very first stroke I knew the cabinet had finally shaken hands with me and made friends. During the day I kept popping into the workshop and applying more layers of shellac using the rubber allowing each layer to dry for an hour or so then suddenly it hit me; I was done; the cabinet was again left overnight for the shellac to dry. I never use linseed oil to lubricate the rubber as this causes more problems than it solves due to the fact the oil needs removing later and if trapped can appear through the surface at a later date.

For a beginner to French polishing I would suggest selecting a cabinet with flat surfaces allowing full access for rubber strokes; purchase ready mixed polish and donít rush. To avoid all the frustrations and wasted time which I spent trying to find materials especially the skin wadding may I suggest visiting

This company has all the hard to find finishing materials under one roof and is like a sweet shop to a child.

The re-finishing of this Bush couldnít have gone worse, it refused to be scraped like other cabinets; mixing the polish was a disaster; brushing the polish gave extremely poor results; flatting for six hours nearly killed me, the lighting was inadequate; the weather was terrible and very dark; bench space was cramped; our central heating boiler was out of action for the best part of a week; sales people kept breaking me off; telephone calls from people like British Gas at Sheffield wanting to sell me electricity and others asking if I had debt problems broke me off at the most inconvenient times; people pushing white bags through the letter box begging for household goods all invaded my peace and calm and as I write more junk has just landed on the carpet.

Please take all the above into account whilst looking at the pictures and if I can succeed given these conditions then surely anyone can. Without doubt the lighting and mixing of polish caused most of the problems with both being under my control; Iíll improve the lighting and give this button polish a much longer time to dissolve in future. I re-finished two cabinets during summer and these went perfectly with each being completed in a week so please donít be put off by my experience with this Bush because I did enjoy working on it and it couldnít have worked out better for this thread as it indicates whatever problems are encountered they can be overcome with a lovely polished cabinet at the end.

The main points once again;
Exercise a lot of patience and donít try to rush.
Use a sharp scraper and do any repairs to the cabinet.
Flat the cabinet with abrasive paper and dust off.
Apply stain as required and allow plenty of time for drying.
Apply linseed oil; wipe away excess and allow plenty of time to dry.
Apply enough brush coats of shellac for grain filling and flatting without break through.
Flat with 600 grit paper lubricated with talcum powder and dust off;
Apply shellac using a rubber.
Stand back and admire.

In six hours of flatting I used less than one sheet of 1200 grit paper due to lubricating with talc; normally I use 600 grit but as nothing had gone right decided to settle down and proceed very slowly hence the fine grit. If the surface looks poor then flatting can be done at any time as long as extreme care is taken not to break through the finish. French polishing is very easy using this method and in fact taking it to extremes the shellac could be applied with a sweeping brush as long as care was taken with flatting and then it could be burnished using burnishing cream; not recommended of course.
For cabinet preparation prior to french polishing please visit my other threads covering; Missing veneer; Veneering for beginners and Cabinet scraper.

Iím still very much a novice at French polishing but enjoy cabinet work far more than chassis work finding it very rewarding and being able to stand back and ask myself ďDid I do that?Ē Over the next few days Iíll fit a new grille cloth and assemble everything then add before and after pictures. Hope this is of interest and encourages others to have a go the hardest part is making a start in fact with these notes you now have the benefit of my experience gained over a few years and donít need to search out materials. Please try it for yourself; itís fun. By the way was it worth it?


Nickthedentist 27th Nov 2009 4:37 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Wow, Col, I'm absolutely stunned!

The end result almost looks too good to be true. I bet the set didn't look that good when it left the factory.

I do have to say that the vast majority of us wouldn't have the patience to do what you've done. It's a real credit to you.

And thanks for an excellent write-up.


Robert Darwent 27th Nov 2009 5:03 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.

Originally Posted by Nickthedentist (Post 287469)
The end result almost looks too good to be true. I bet the set didn't look that good when it left the factory.

I do have to say that the vast majority of us wouldn't have the patience to do what you've done. It's a real credit to you.

And thanks for an excellent write-up.

Ditto! I agree totally with Nick's comments. Just superb Col, an excellent informative thread.

Kind regards

HamishBoxer 27th Nov 2009 5:30 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Super job and excellent write up Thank You.

Regards David

Lloyd 1985 27th Nov 2009 6:53 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Hi :)
thats an excellent write up, and the end result looks absolutely stunning! With the information in your other threads, I think I'm going to have a go, I have my first victim; a Bush VHF81 which is trashed! thanks for posting this thread :)


dseymo1 27th Nov 2009 10:19 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Beautiful job and excellent tutorial!
Just a note - ebony is one of those timbers known to be toxic, and can cause skin and eye sensitivity, so care needs to be taken, particularly with the dust.

bodge99 27th Nov 2009 10:40 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Hello all,

Superb work!! Thank you very much for these posts. I'm just about to start veneering.. French polishing will follow...

Many thanks,


Retired 27th Nov 2009 11:05 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
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Thanks for your kind comments guys; I'm just pleased to pass on what I've learnt and did it to encourage others to have a go because I've made most of the mistakes the hard way. I'm delighted to hear you're thinking of having a go Lloyd and hope many others follow; go for it and enjoy yourself.

I've a small confession to make and that is I never liked the light coloured wooden trim on this Bush; it was initially finished with dark shellac and added to the overall dismal colour of the cabinet; when I stripped it I found it was cheap timber and the grille opening appeared to be made from common deal with a very large grain which can be seen in the previous picture.

Having reached this stage I wanted to go a bit further and see what I could really do by pushing myself further. I couldn't improve on the finish to the veneer but the two grille bars; grille surround; dial surround and feet didn't sit well with me at all. I risked making a mess of the work already done and masked the cabinet using masking tape and paper allowing me to spray these bits. I chose a spray can of auto satin black lacquer thinking it might improve the look and possibly pull it all together? I didn't want to use gloss black because it would have been too much.

I opened the workshop window and sprayed a bit at a time letting each bit flash off and applying more coats then turned the cabinet and sprayed again as before; the workshop stank of lacquer and it carried through into the bungalow where it lingered for quite a while.

I had tried to buy correct masking tape when I bought the lacquer but the supplier was totally out of stock so I resorted to using some I had previously bought from Poundland; I wasn't impressed to see that the lacquer had softened the tape adhesive allowing lacquer to creep beneath in a few places; not too badly but still annoying so this was another little job requiring attention removing the unwanted lacquer. I removed the masking paper and used white spirit to remove the remains of the adhesive and hadn't noticed what the cabinet looked like until I stood back and had a good look.

I was amazed standing there looking at the cabinet as it was now just as I wanted it to look and I felt over the moon; to me the extra work was well worth the effort. The ugly duckling was now a swan and I could live with it. I hope to add a finished picture shortly but here are pictures of the cabinet to date with the black lacquer added. Col.

dave_n_t 28th Nov 2009 7:53 am

Re: French polishing for beginners.

Excellent tutorial, and superb results. Thanks!

One question (sorry if it's dumb :-]). When describing the application of thinned polish using straight strokes, you say that "panels are worked both ways". Does this mean backwards and forwards, but always (say) parallel to the longest edge; or does it mean applying alternate coats in perpendicular directions? (I'm sure it's the former, but I thought I'd check!).

FWIW, I think my technique, self-taught, and operated by someone who is immensely impatient :D, differs in only a few ways:

i) I've never used raw linseed oil on the wood
ii) I don't paint the 'base' coats
iii) I do use a few drops of raw linseed oil on the rubber after each charge
iv) I charge the rubber by dipping it in a bowl of polish, rather than by pouring directly onto the cotton wool inside.

I'll be trying your techniques next time I do a cabinet!

Thanks again for the write-up,


Mike Phelan 28th Nov 2009 9:44 am

Re: French polishing for beginners.
That black is a lovely finishing touch - cannot wait to see the Bush finished and running, in the flesh as it were, next time we pop over. :thumbsup:

G4XWDJim 28th Nov 2009 11:46 am

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Another marvellous write up and many congratulations on your patience and skill.
I note that you used Blackfriar Wood Dye Walnut stain. I often use Colron wood dye which I think is much the same. However a few people advocate the use of spray toner and I wonder why. Is it easier to blend in. Is it even the same sort of thing. I'd be interested on any comments from people experienced in its use.


Retired 28th Nov 2009 1:27 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.

I feel very humbled by all your very kind comments; thank you.

Thanks for bringing up the subject of toxic timbers dseymo1; a lot of timbers are taken for granted but are actually quite dangerous to health. Most exotics need careful handling and if in any doubt whatsoever wear protection. The worst I suffer is usually a bit of sneezing whilst hand sanding but if I power sand I always wear my respirator. I do woodturning and Spalted Beech is very common but I wonder how many turners have suffered ill health due to not wearing protection whilst sanding this on the lathe?

The very best of luck with your veneering and polishing bodge99 (great name for this type of work). If its your first attempt expect a lot of frustration but work through it and take your time; the more problems encountered the greater the pleasure as you stand back and admire the finished job; please stick with it and you will succeed.

If a question needs to be asked I never consider it to be dumb so please ask away Dave. I read the tip about applying the raw linseed oil from the book mentioned earlier and once this stage is reached and the oil is applied it is truly magical; to see the colours suddenly jump out at me always gives me a thrill. The oil must be allowed to completely dry before proceeding however long it takes.

If dipping the rubber in shellac works for you then its ok but I would never do it because there is a great risk of depositing far too much shellac onto the panel in one go; this is why I always press the rubber onto the paper to check. I apply brush coats of shellac in order to quickly build up a decent thickness and fill the grain but using the rubber will work but is a lot slower.

Your question regarding the straight strokes is very valid and I've taken the liberty of searching for a video which demonstrates far better than words showing exactly how the rubber is applied inside a panel and lifted off at the very edge. I've never seen this video before but it's very interesting and hope it answers the question for you. Please visit;

Thanks Mike; the chassis died so needs a bit of work but I did get it working when I first bought the set so there isn't too much wrong with it; just another job in the queue? I'm pleased you like the black trim and it's something new I learnt for future use; many cabinets have bits of veneer missing around grille and speaker openings which are very fiddly to replace and time consuming so if a set isn't to valuable then filling in these areas and spraying is a wonderful solution; I wish I'd tried it before and any colour can be used not just black.

Yes Jim; there are many brands of this kind of stain (spirit) and they can easily be identified because they are thinned or cleaned off with white spirit; I happened to have Blackfriars but have used Colron many times; these stains take quite a bit of time to dry especially in winter but are easy to apply and don't raise the grain. I also use water stain mixing my own from Vandke Crystals and this is extremely cheap; gloves are a must during use as stain bites deep into skin.

I've never used toner but it is used extensively in the States. Over here it is difficult to obtain but can be found by surfing the web in fact I think I saw it the last time I visited Restoration Materials? Its not cheap. Full panels can be sprayed and it is used for applying the darker band of colour around panel edges as seen on much modern furniture; I would have liked to experiment with toner but was put off by the cost.

I look back now to all those wasted years when I was scared stiff of French polishing and wonder what really scared me as I love doing this work now and when I step into my workshop to start one of these cabinet jobs its like stepping into a fantasy land; I put on my favourite music running a cd from a Walkman into one of my vintage sets; turn up the central heating radiator and Bron brings me a pot of tea and a biscuit every now and then. Later when the job is completed I stand back and still feel extremely strange wondering how the heck did I achieve that; surely I can't have done it? Life is good. Col.

ianm 29th Nov 2009 9:18 am

Re: French polishing for beginners.

Many thanks for your inspirational article and congratulations on the outstanding results you've achieved with the set pictured.

I've been interested in cabinet refinishing for years and dabbled with French polishing occasionally, but never really got to grips with it. Now, I'm encouraged to order some decent materials from the web site you recommended and to give it another go.

Retired 29th Nov 2009 1:10 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.

Forums are new to me and I couldnít have joined a better or more well run forum than this one. Right from the very start with my request for help Iíve been made most welcome. Members have been extremely generous not only offering first class advice but also sending me items through the post entirely free of charge. Thank you all.

In return Iíve tried to respond in kind and in particular by adding threads on subjects that generally scare the average person to death as they used to scare me. Cabinet work is a huge subject in its own right and whilst most forum members are very good with the electrics side tend to shy away from cabinet work as though it is some kind of black magic.

May I be allowed to share my thoughts without preaching; criticizing or lecturing in any way as I only wish to encourage others to produce similar cabinet results to mine?

My method is so simple and goes back to absolute basics in how I think; Iím just an ordinary guy so how did I learn to do this type of work? Two things really; the first is patience and the second is two words ďI canítĒ.

Taking the first; what is patience? According to my dictionary it is described as ďQuality of enduringĒ. I never expected to ride a bike on my first attempt in fact I fell off many times hurting myself. I didnít start my working life expecting to know the jobs inside out right from the beginning. Learning to walk and speak were tough ones to master. The dictionary is absolutely correct because by endurance I learned these things as I have with everything else in life. Years ago I used to say ďIíve no patienceĒ but what did I really mean; was it that I had little interest in trying? This isnít a failing in any way because there are many things Iím not interested in so wouldnít consider trying them; hence I have no patience.

The second is ďI canítĒ how true this is; anyone saying these two words couldnít be more truthful as they are correct; they canít and never will. By removing the letter ďtĒ from ďI canítĒ results in ďI canĒ therefore I will succeed in whatever I try.

Cabinet work is nothing more than a learning curve requiring endurance and a positive attitude. The results I achieve are usually very hard won because I make many stupid mistakes; I think many times that I appear to make every mistake possible before doing the correct thing but this is where I finally succeed because I endure.

It is my sincere desire to encourage others to have a go; not only in cabinet work but in other things thought beyond them. My thread on the ďWave winderĒ is a good example because I had never cut a gear before in my life and didnít know how to but with patience I came up with a new method and produced cast iron gears within a short period of time. Iíd like to have a go at vacuum veneering and also learn computer graphics to the professional level shown in threads on this forum. I can do both in time because I have the desire to do so together with a positive attitude.

Iíve gone on at length because I feel these notes are so fundamental to anything I try to do and hope they make others to just stop a while and consider why they canít do things they would like to do?

Over the years we have had many visitors to our home and the number of times weíve heard comments saying ďI canít do thatĒ or ďI havenít got the toolsĒ when shown what we have made. In our first home I made and installed a fully fitted kitchen made of white Contiplas; I used a tenon saw costing under £1 a single speed electric drill; a single ĹĒ wood chisel together with a few more old screwdrivers etc. I had blisters to my hand with using the saw and had to keep sharpening it. Now I have excellent workshop facilities with industrial quality machine but all these machines do is to remove the hard work; they still need setting up because the work doesnít do itself but the comments we now receive tend to be more ďI donít have the machineryĒ.

Iím delighted my threads have been so well received and can only say thank you once again for all your very kind comments which are very much appreciated as they encourage me to do even better. I'm so pleased to hear from members saying they are now going to have a go and wish them the very best of luck; much frustration will follow but in equal amounts is the enjoyment experienced together with an immense feeling of overwhelming pride whilst standing back and looking at the beautiful job produced with their own hands.

I never want to become an expert in anything as I feel it would be boring; making the mistakes and getting downright frustrated is the fun part for me because I know at the end Iíll eventually break through and win after all I just need to endure. Hope this is of interest and generates a bit of thought. Col.

Telleadict 29th Nov 2009 6:44 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.

That work looks superb!

Just to mention that I've found very good to deal with for tools and they do a good range of finishing supplies too. Ask for their printed cataloge for a good read -- it's as thick as a phone book but much more interesting. ;-)

Bye for now.


Retired 2nd Dec 2009 12:24 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
4 Attachment(s)

Thanks William; yes Axminster are very good.

Iím pleased to add the before and after pictures as the cabinet is now completed. I wanted to repair the chassis but the weather is so cold and dark making this difficult so Iíve temporarily assembled the set for a photo shoot.

I did a quick search regarding ďtonerĒ as mentioned by Jim and can offer the following website which covers this in detail. Also for members wishing to see more cabinet restorations may I suggest an American site called Philís old radios and look under gallery.

T-cut is mentioned many times and is a product so well known as it seems to have been around forever. Iím aware T-cut is very well regarded by many using it and Iíve also used it for many years but Iíve never liked it. Iíve used it many times on cars and found it to be very hard work; blending each section was difficult and if used in summer it would quickly dry leaving me with a nightmare of a job trying to remove it.

Since starting to restore radio cabinets Iíve tried to use T-cut again; I found I could control it better on smaller radio panels but after putting a great deal of effort into French polishing and wanting to burnish the finish; it would drive me mad; in certain light and viewed at a certain angle I could always see a pronounced haze in the finish. This also applies to a well known burnishing cream I bought. I wondered if this was caused by something like ammonia being added to these products and this having a slight etching effect. I certainly have never liked the feel of it either. Iím sincerely sorry if I sound to be derogatory about these products but wanted something better.

I surf many radio websites and in America I kept seeing products by a company called Meguiars being highly recommended by radio cabinet restorers. After a bit of searching I found Meguiars advertised on eBay and quickly bought two products these being Meguiars professional show car glaze #7 and Meguiars swirl remover 2.0 #9. I used the swirl remover and right from the start was very impressed; it smelled much better and was much thicker being like a thick cream; I applied it using a soft cloth with hard circular movements and what a joy it was to remove; it just buffed off whether wet or dry but the finish it leaves is just brilliant; Iíve used it on this cabinet and followed with a final buffing using the car glaze. Both products also feel nice in use.

For anyone interested in trying these and more Meguiars products Iím happy to recommend the following website where they can be bought here in the UK.

Current prices are Swirl remover #9 £12.39 Inc. VAT and Car glaze #7 £11.36 Inc. VAT. Both are post free to the UK.
Normally I can achieve an excellent French polish finish direct from the rubber but with the difficulties encountered with this cabinet decided to burnish it to bring out the mirror finish and it certainly now glows; in fact Iíve had problems trying to take the pictures due to reflection.

I never liked the look of this radio thinking it to be ugly; I now hang my head in shame and apologize to it as I now think it a very handsome set indeed and still canít believe what a difference a bit of loving care has made.

Once again many thanks to everyone for their kind support and may I wish the very best of luck to all trying French polishing for the first time. Regards, Col.

Robert Darwent 2nd Dec 2009 1:00 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Hi Col,

Outstanding! That cabinet is simply superb! I don't believe it would have looked as good as it does now the day it came out of the Bush factory. Very well done!

Kind regards

MichaelR 2nd Dec 2009 1:03 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Absolutely stunning.


MichaelR 2nd Dec 2009 1:10 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.

Originally Posted by Retired (Post 288703)

I never liked the look of this radio thinking it to be ugly; I now hang my head in shame and apologize to it as I now think it a very handsome set indeed and still canít believe what a difference a bit of loving care has made.

Regards, Col.

That actually is a very valid point Col. We for the most only see product covered in grime at the very best, the original buyer saw the product in its full glory. To be frank I would suspect any radio design finished to this high level of standard is going to look very acceptable.


Aerodyne 2nd Dec 2009 4:01 pm

Re: French polishing for beginners.
Superb work, Col. Whatever you think of the cabinet styling and veneers, the finish you haver achieved really does you immense credit.
As for toner sprays:

However a few people advocate the use of spray toner and I wonder why. Is it easier to blend in. Is it even the same sort of thing. I'd be interested on any comments from people experienced in its use.
The point about these is that they are basically tinted aerosol lacquer (toned lacquer can be purchased in bulk). Their action is more like paint than stain, i.e. they tend not to soak into the wood grain but 'sit on top' and were used to make slightly differing veneers 'match' by obscuration! They therefore were used with sets built immediately post-WWII when quality timber veneers were hard to obtain. I like SOME of the colours and the toners sold by Restoration Materials are generally Morrells, a good source. There are Behlen toners available on the internet but personally I think their colour range tends toward garish.
Use toners if you've stripped a cabinet and find there are unwanted variations of colour in the veneer and you plan to lacquer the cabinet. I think it is best to use dyes when Frech polishing, or use a tinted French polish - see catalogues for types - if the colour is too light and you prefer not to risk staining.
Hope this clarifies things a little.
Toners are tricky to flat without cutting through, especially on corners. They must be over-lacquered with clear coats for durability.
Toners sold by USA's Tubes and More (Antique Radio Supply) are excellent but hard to obtain and expensive.

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