French Polishing

Hare and Humphreys carry out French polishing and lacquer finishing as part of an overall decoration or conservation project. We do not normally offer this service in isolation.

Much of our French polishing work is carried out in churches or in historic houses, renovating hardwood doors, handrails and furniture. In all cases our specialist team consider whether a conservation approach is required, or if condition dictates whether a complete re-stripping and re-polishing is appropriate. Our craftsmen can also repair furniture prior to polishing, in order to make the repair indistinguishable from the original wood.

In all cases H & H can offer advice on the most appropriate products to use and the level of sheen appropriate for the piece.

The specialist techniques of French polishing are regarded as one of the most beautiful ways to finish highly figured wood, but it can also be very delicate and prone to damage, particularly by water or alcohol. If a more robust finish is required we may recommend a lacquered application. French polishing however has its own unique and distinguished feel and is easier to repair than lacquered surfaces, as the skilled craftsman is able blend polish into an existing finish rather than need to fully reinstate.

Chatoyancy can also be used to refer to a similar effect in woodworking, where certain finishes will cause the wood grain to achieve a striking three-dimensional appearance. This effect is often highly sought after, and is sometimes referred to as “wet look”, since wetting wood with water often displays the chatoyancy, albeit only until the wood dries. Oil finishes and shellac can bring out the effect strongly.

The ‘fad’ is commonly lubricated with an oil that is integrated into the overall finish. This helps to prevent the ‘fad’ from lifting previously applied layers of shellac. Typically, “softer” oils, such as mineral oil, will produce a glossier and less durable finish whereas “harder” oils, such as walnut oil, will produce a more durable finish.

French polishing became prominent in the 18th century. In the Victorian era, French polishing was commonly used on mahogany and other expensive woods and remains today the best possible finish to exclusive furniture. The process was very labour intensive, however, and many major manufacturers abandoned the technique around 1930, instead preferring the cheaper and quicker techniques of spray finishing nitrocellulose lacquer and abrasive buffing. In Britain, instead of abrasive buffing, a fad of “pullover” is used in much the same way as traditional French polishing. This slightly melts the sprayed surface and has the effect of filling the grain and burnishing at the same time to leave a “French polished” look.

We also offer spray lacquer and wooden floor restoration as part of larger projects.