Shellac & French Polish

For that classic, hand-rubbed look on your woodwork, there's nothing quite like shellac French polishing. This traditional technique has been around for centuries, and for good reason: it offers a beautiful, natural finish that's incredibly durable and brings out the best in your timber. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, achieve stunning results with shellac French polishing.

Why Shellac French Polish?

  • Natural beauty: Shellac is a resin derived from insects, creating a clear, warm finish that enhances the natural grain and colour of your timber.
  • Durable protection: Properly applied, shellac offers excellent protection against wear and tear, spills, and even mild heat.
  • Versatility: You can achieve various finishes, from a high gloss to a more subtle satin sheen, depending on your preference and application technique.
  • Repairable: Unlike some finishes, shellac is easily repaired if there are scratches or damage. Just apply another coat!


Gearing Up for Success

Before diving in, make sure you have the right tools and materials:

  • Shellac flakes: Opt for dewaxed flakes for a clearer finish. Choose different grades (blonde, garnet, etc.) for colour variations.
  • Denatured alcohol: This acts as the solvent for shellac. Ensure it's high-quality and well-ventilated.
  • Padding: Choose cotton cheesecloth or similar lint-free fabric for applying the shellac.
  • French polish brushes: These specialist brushes have long, soft bristles for smooth application.
  • Wax: Opt for carnauba wax for a final layer of protection and shine.
  • Abrasives: Sandpaper and pumice powder are needed for preparing the timber surface.


The Process: Step-by-Step

  1. Prepare the surface: Ensure your timber is clean, dry, and sanded smoothly. Start with rougher grit sandpaper (120-180) and progress to finer grits (220-320) for a flawless base.
  2. Make the polish: Dissolve shellac flakes in denatured alcohol according to the desired strength (a "two-pound cut" is a good starting point). Filter the solution to remove impurities.
  3. Apply the first coat: Dip your pad in the polish and wring it out slightly. Apply in thin, even strokes with the grain, following the contours of the piece. Allow to dry completely.
  4. Repeat and refine: Apply additional coats, gradually using a lighter touch and buffing in between with a clean pad. This builds depth and smoothness.
  5. French polish: Now comes the magic. With a small amount of polish on a dedicated French polish brush, apply very thin, circular motions, almost polishing rather than coating. This builds gloss and evens out the finish.
  6. Waxing (optional): For added protection and shine, apply a thin coat of carnauba wax once the shellac is fully cured (usually 24-48 hours). Buff to a desired sheen.


Pro Tips for Tradies

  • Temperature matters: Maintain a comfortable room temperature (around 20°C) for optimal drying and application.
  • Light is your friend: Work in good natural light to see imperfections and achieve even coating.
  • Patience is key: Don't rush the process. Each coat needs proper drying and buffing for the best results.
  • Practice makes perfect: Start with scrap wood to experiment with techniques and achieve the desired finish before tackling your project.
  • Cleanliness is crucial: Keep your tools and workspace clean to avoid dust and debris getting into the finish.



Is shellac French polishing difficult?

It requires practice and patience, but the basic steps are straightforward. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be amazed at the results.

What type of timber is best for shellac French polishing?

It works well on most hardwoods, but some softwoods may require additional sealing. Experiment with different timbers to see what you like.

How long does a shellac finish last?

With proper care, a shellac finish can last for years. Regular dusting, occasional waxing, and avoiding harsh chemicals will keep it looking its best.

Where can I find more information on shellac French polishing?

Timbecon offers a wide range of shellac products and resources on their website. Additionally, online tutorials and woodworking forums can provide valuable insights and tips.

Remember, achieving a beautiful shellac French polish finish is a rewarding journey.