Briwax Wood Care Products
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In the Victorian era, French Polish was used more than any other finish to impart a high gloss to furniture made from Mahogany and other fashionable wood of the day. Consequently, as a restorer you will almost certainly have to deal with the prospects of refinishing French Polish. Unfortunately, the sheer quality of a French-polished surface and the mystique that has surrounded the technique for generations have tended to make it a daunting process for the amateur. Traditional French Polishing does take practice to master, but the actual method of applying the polish are relatively straightforward. The key to a successful finish is not to rush the work, but build up a translucent film with a number of thin coats applied over several days.
As with any finishing process, it is essential that the French-Polishing is carried out in a dust free environment, with good lighting. Ideally, one would always have a separate room for applying finishes rather than having to work in the main workshop, but this is a luxury most amateur restorers cannot afford. A more realistic approach is to keep the shop clean as possible and make sure you vacuum the workbench before you begin polishing, remembering to allow plenty of time for any dust to settle. Keep the room warm and dry, Damp conditions may cause milky "blooming" to develop as the polish dries. However, do not use a fan heater to warm the workshop, as this will disturb the dust again, portable Gas heaters release a large amount of moisture into the air so these are not suitable either. Prepare the surface of the wood thoroughly and apply any wood dyes prior to polishing. Although they are not essential, disposable gloves will keep your hands clean and protect your skin from solvents.
All French Polishes are made by dissolving Shellac in Methylated spirit or denatured alcohol, but there are several varieties to choose from. Standard French Polish is perfectly adequate for most jobs, but dark red-brown garment polish is some times preferred for restoring old mahogany furniture. Use milky white French polish or even transparent polishes for finishing pale colored woods. Most D.I.Y shops stock French Polishes, or you can obtain them from a specialist supplier.
French Polish is applied with a Rubber, A pad of upholsterers wadding or cotton wool wrapped in a 225 to 300 mm (9 to 12 inch) square of white cotton.
- Folding the wadding, Tear off a 150 to 225 mm (6 to 9 inch) square of wadding and fold it in half. Fold in the corners of the rectangle to form a triangle.
- Forming the pad. Fold in the outer corners of the triangle to make a pointed sausage-shaped pad with a smooth sole.
- Placing the pad. Place the pad of wadding diagonally across the center of the cotton square.
- Folding the cloth. fold one half of the cloth to cover the point of the pad.
- Wrapping the pad. Wrap all the triangular corners of the cloth over the center in turn to form a neat package.
- Twisting the Fabric. Gripping the wrapped pad in one hand, twist the loose fabric together to make a firm rubber.
- Gripping the rubber. Fold the twisted ends of the cloth over the pad to fashion a hand grip, leaving a smooth, crease-free sole.
Charging the Rubber
At the beginning of the job, and each time the rubber begins to run dry, you should pour polish onto the wadding, Never dip the rubber into the French Polish, and do not pour it directly onto the sole.
Wetting the Pad Unfold the cloth and pour on enough polish to wet the pad without actually saturating the wadding. Refold the rubber and press it against a piece of scrap wood to squeeze out any surplus polish. Smear a drop of linseed oil or mineral oil onto the sole with your fingertip, this will lubricate the rubber.
The furniture industry invariably employed traditional French Polishing methods, but other trades would sometimes resort to a simpler method of applying shellac, brushing it onto the work. Special brushing French Polish contains a retarding agent that gives you enough time to paint it onto the wood: if you tried this with standard French polish, the surface would be covered with brush marks.
- Building a protective coat. Apply the first coat with a paintbrush, allow to dry for about 20 minutes, then rub down with silicon-carbide paper. Repeat the process twice more.
- Rubbing with wire wool. Applying soft wax polish to the now hardened shellac with a 0000-grade wire-wool pad. Rub fairly gently along the grain, making sure you cover the whole surface evenly.
- Finishing with a soft duster. Finally bring the polish to a shine by burnishing with a soft, clean duster.