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French polish

Final polishing of a table

French polish is a process whereby many layers of shellac, dissolved in denaturised alcohol, are applied to wood furniture using a material pad called a rubber. Shellac is a secretion collected from an aphid-like insect native to India and Thailand. It produces a particularly beautiful gloss surface which brings out the colours in the grain of the wood. It has some resistance to heat or food spills, but when badly damaged the layers have to be removed and re-applied.

French polishing was first introduced in Britain by two French brothers in the seventeenth century. The French polishing technique was commonly used on mahogany and other expensive timbers, it was considered an enhancing finish for fine furniture and musical instruments.

Case studies using this process

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