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?
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.
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.
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.
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.