Resources on French polish finishes

How is this old-world look is achieved, and the modern alternatives. January 16, 2002

We may take on a high-end residential library of quartered mahogany bookcases and wall paneling with a French polish finish. What is the technique used for this finish? Is there a modern substitute?

Forum Responses
All I have to say is "wow". A true French polish is all hand work, and with shellac and pad. Rubbing and rubbing until the finish is built up to the desired look. However, some modifications can be made with the base and you can possibly spray on the shellac base and rub out the rest to a French look. But this still takes time and muscle.

French polishing is something done on a tabletop-sized area at the most and is normally very high gloss. As stated, it's all handwork. I can't imagine a high-gloss library. Typically satin C-V or pre-cat lacquer is used for these architectural millwork jobs.

I agree with the above. Putting a true French polish on a bunch of millwork would be zillions of hours of handwork for no real benefit.

However, I do love the look of orange shellac on mahogany. Fresh shellac buffs out very well and can be polished to a high sheen. I recommend spraying a 2 lb cut dewaxed orange shellac and buffing to the appropriate sheen. I have had good success buffing shellac with Menzerna buffing compounds. I get mine from Target Coatings. Buffing with just the DD3 pre-polishing compound will yield a very nice matte finish. You can go all the way to PO91E liquid polish for a very high sheen.

I would use an isocyanate urethane and buff it out.

An isocyanate urethane is without a doubt the best solution if high gloss is really what's wanted. Easy to spray, impervious to atomic attack and hard as nails. You just can't beat the 2K urethane package.

Seagrave Coatings is a leading supplier of 2K urethanes, and they're located in New Jersey. IC&S in Lancaster, PA is also a first class distributor of these products.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor M:
My experience with shellac is on large surface areas such as pianos. In spite of what people say, shellac that is properly French polished on large areas can still show layers when buffed. The enourmous amount of headaches can drain all of your profit. De-waxed shellacs spray very nice, but make sure to avoid too many coats and top-coat with shellac using slower setting alcohols such as behlens, spraying onto a sanded under coat. This will leave the top-coat shiny. Do not sand, just buff, and call it done. Otherwise, I would go with a lacquer product.