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Old 10th Jan 2012, 2:03 pm   #62
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Fenay Bridge, Huddersfield. UK.
Posts: 669
Default Re: French polishing for beginners.


Thanks Kevin; I've never heard of "baled cotton thread" before although I worked for many years in the mill but I'm always willing to learn and to try something new. Could you please expand on what this material is and is it readily available? I agree that Button Polish is a good general polish and gives a nice colour but if the cabinet is less than perfect then Garnet polish will hide a multitude of sins although Garnet gives a rather colder and darker brown colour.

When it comes to cabinet finishing Barry I fully agree with you that the old methods are best. Many take the soft option having spent ages bringing the cabinet to the final stage of applying finish then simply applying Danish Oil. The owner of the cabinet obviously has the right to do whatever he/she wishes to do with it but I feel it to be a shame having spent a lot of time preparing the cabinet for finishing only to apply Danish Oil; learning to apply shellac (French polishing) isn't too difficult but certainly worth the extra effort hence I try to encourage others to have a go with shellac.

As you say Barry the choice of rubber outer cover is critical and must be totally lint free; a well washed worn out gents hanky is ideal. The inner of the rubber also requires careful consideration. The traditional material is "Skin wadding" unfortunately this is becoming rare to get hold of; it was used in large quantities by upholsterers but these days upholsterers are now using synthetic material which is useless for applying shellac. Ordinary cotton wool compresses into a solid mass rendering it useless for use in a rubber. I've heard of people using an old woollen sock but I've never tried this; the correct wadding is still available from places such as Restoration Materials in Bury and it isn't expensive.

Using a dab of linseed oil to lubricate the sole of the rubber is a very old trick which does work although I've never tried it. My very old book on French polishing covers every stage as it was done many years ago and if linseed oil is used on the rubber then it causes another stage called "spiriting off". This is where the oil has to be removed in order to give the mirror finish. The book also states that using oil on the rubber can allow the oil to become trapped only to appear at a later date through the finish. Bearing this in mind I've never used oil on the rubber but I would do so if I experienced difficulties in using the rubber.

For a novice to French polishing I think it pays to experiment a bit at first to find what works and what doesn't work until a comfortable technique is learned; we are all different and what works for one might not work for another; it's the end result that counts not the method of application of the shellac; my method works well for me giving me consistent good results and the notes I've added are not fixed in stone but merely to encourage others to have a go at French polishing whilst giving some basic information. Cabinetwork is my favourite part in any of my restorations and I never rush the job.

Kind regards, Col.
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