The application of layers of shellac and oils to provide a high gloss finish to wood.
|Historic area of significance
|Nationally in buildings and on furniture from the 18th century when finer timbers were Imported in higher volumes. Compared to European timbers they could be turned to a finer degree and their close grains meant that the shellacs held up well and to a high sheen (in both solid timber form and veneers)
|Area currently practised
|Throughout the UK in varying sizes of polishing companies. Wherever there are buildings of significance and their owners wish to restore correctly then there is a need for French Polishers.
|Origin in the UK
French polishing became prominent in the 18th century. In the Victorian era, French polishing was commonly used on mahogany and other expensive timbers. It was considered the best finish for fine furniture and string instruments such as pianos and guitars.
Furniture and timber work was, before the import of the fine timbers, usually limited to Oak, Elms and Chestnuts. They were very open grained and the way of sealing them was with beeswax. When the finer timbers came in the beeswax finish did nothing to bring out their beauty. A technique was introduced that was being used in France (where they too were bringing timbers back from their empires). Thus the purchaser of the items of furniture, doors or panelling had a choice of a traditional beeswax polishing….. “French polishing”… The term French polishing does not exist in France.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Throwaway furniture is more common nowadays and less timber panelling is used within larger buildings.
- Banks and other public that required the skills of the French polisher have closed.
- Modern alternative products have become more common – why pay a French polisher when a decorator can put on a coat of interior stain?
- The price of antiques has dropped so people are more likely to replace an item rather that restore it.
- Dichloromethane (paint stripper) has been banned, meaning removing old finishes takes longer and costs more. The use of water-based products, which are less flammable to apply and do not give off organic solvents, has increased.
- British Antique Furniture Restorers’ Association
- Guild Antiques and Restorations https://guild.scot/french-polishing
Craftspeople currently known
- Terry Waters French Polishing
- SJM French Polishing
- McQuade French Polishing
- Martin Allen French Polishing
- Alan Farr French Polishing
- Andy Stonebridge
- Tom Moss
- Andy Morrison
- Lloyd Morrison
- Chris Oshea
- Stuart Munn
- Kevin Munn
- Amanda Champion
- Ian Stephens
- Chris Chinnery
- Nigel Curtis