Veneer Hammer & French Polish

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Project by Luke Addington posted 04-09-2015 03:01 PM 6361 views 40 times favorited 33 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I rescued a few small pieces of ebony from becoming parts of cutting boards and decided to make them into something I will use for the rest of my life – a veneer hammer. Hammer veneering is one of the oldest and most effective methods for adhering veneer to a substrate with hot animal protein glue. The hammer works more like a squeegee than an actual hammer. Here's a good video if you’re interested in seeing the process.

This veneer hammer is made of Gaboon Ebony & African Blackwood and joined with a through wedged tenon. The handle is modeled after an antique French Scraper handle. The finish is French Polish. The brass tip has a very sharp radius perfect for applying large amounts of pressure where needed.

Thanks for taking a look!

I started out with a piece of African Blackwood that was 4” wide by 6” tall. I marked a center point on the edge and then set my compass to mark out a half circle spanning the entire width of the piece. I then marked a center line down both the length and width of the piece. At that intersection I again set my compass and drew a half circle. After that I marked two more half circles that would flow and nicely connect the half circle on the top and bottom.

Then I marked out a 1” mortise a half inch down from the central point on the front and back of the piece and chopped it out. It helps to prevent splitting by chopping out the mortise now instead of after shaping the head.

I used a frame saw with a thin blade to shape the head but a scroll saw, band saw, or even fret saw can easily do the job. I used half round rasps and files to clean up to the lines I drew out previously.

I used a 1/4” thick piece of brass I bought from a local industrial supply company – 3/4” wide by 1’ long for about $5 – for the tip. I used a hacksaw to cut it to length – 4 1/2” (you want the brass to extend past the edges of the hammer head so you can get into corners when veneering), creating a slight angle at each end. Then using a file I brought the edge to a rather sharp radius – this is the point that will make contact with the veneer.

I used a crosscut saw to cut a slot into the mouth of the hammer to receive the blank, then used a fret saw to remove the waste in between each saw kerf. Chisels and rifflers cleaned up after that.

I then sawed a tenon in the end of my piece of Gaboon Ebony (12” long, 1 1/2” thick & wide) leaving a 1/4” shoulder all the way around.

I had seen an antique French scraper handle in the book “The Art of Fine Tools” by Sandor Nagyszalanczy and wanted to copy it for this hammer. I really enjoyed the proportions and I like the idea of working with an old design. It’s a pretty simple shape to turn but feels really nice in the hand. I had to make a few modifications.

First, to account for the tenon at the top of the handle I needed something to transition in to the skinny neck to mimic the scraper. I made a simple cove that I think works well. Second, I made my handle a little thicker to account for the extreme pressure that will be focused around the neck of the handle during the process of hammer veneering.

I then made an ebony wedge from an offcut, cut a slot in the tenon, and assembled the joint with Old Brown Glue, driving the wedge home for a very tight fit. I then used rasps and files to gently slope the front of the hammer head and glued the brass in place.

A flush cut saw and card scraper made short work of the protruding tenon & wedge. I sanded everything up to 800 grit and burnished with 0000 steel wool. This is how the hammer looked after that process.

At this point the hammer was ready for finish. I decided to French Polish everything, more for fun than anything else.

Here is my French Polishing kit (in France it is called “vernis au tampon” meaning “polish with a pad”):

1. Squeeze bottle of 180 proof alcohol marked with an “A”.
2. 4h pumice. This gets put inside 2 layers of cheese cloth so it can be lightly dusted onto the workpiece.
3. Salt shaker filled with non-drying mineral oil.
4. Pore filling pad inside a large mouthed jar. I like these jars because they’re easy to get your hands in and out of. I mark the top of this jar “Ponce”.
5. Super Nikco burnishing compound from France.
6. Polishing pad inside another large mouthed jar. I mark this jar “Vernis”.
7. Freshly made dewaxed blonde shellac. Patrice Lejeune recommends a 1:4 ratio shellac to alcohol and I have found that to be perfect. I use a digital food scale set to grams to measure out my shellac and alcohol. This makes it very easy to keep everything consistent. In this bottle is 20 grams shellac and 80 grams of alcohol strained through a very fine automotive paint strainer. I mix the shellac in a separate mason jar and then strain it into this squeeze bottle marked with an “S”.
8. Kraft paper. When I’m polishing I cover my bench or table with kraft paper for a clean surface.

The first step of French Polish is called pore filling. In this photo you can see my materials gathered and ready to go to pore fill. Instead of re-writing the book on French Polish, I will link to the best video about French Polish on the internet, by Patrice Lejeune of Antique Refinishers & The American School of French Marquetry. Patrice can explain much better than I ever could.

In the next few photos I show a couple examples of pad construction. One for pore filling & one for polishing. The basics are muslin, linen, shredded cheesecloth, and wool. One thing I would like to do is find the proper shredded cheesecloth and wool that Patrice uses. But the set up I have right now works pretty well.

6”-8” squares work great.

I like to iron out the muslin and linen before using.

After pore filling I hold the hammer up to a natural light source and check the reflectivity. If you look closely you can see the head reflecting the cactus from about 7 meters away.

After pore filling a couple times with a day in between each session I waited another day and started the polish. The polishing does not take very long at all but yields an incredibly deep, reflective finish.

Thanks for Looking!

-- Luke,

33 comments so far

View ignatz's profile


77 posts in 2027 days

#1 posted 04-09-2015 03:14 PM

Holy Moley, this is an awesome project, and an incredibly informational presentation. Thank you so very much for sharing!

-- "I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure I can repeat them exactly" — Peter Cook

View Luke Addington's profile

Luke Addington

80 posts in 1944 days

#2 posted 04-09-2015 03:20 PM

You are very welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

-- Luke,

View shipwright's profile


8560 posts in 3574 days

#3 posted 04-09-2015 03:34 PM

Beautiful piece Luke.
It will be a shame to get glue all over it, :-)

.... It’s always a challenge to try to show the depth of French polish in a photo. I’m sure it looks incredible.
(even more so than in the photos)

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Luke Addington's profile

Luke Addington

80 posts in 1944 days

#4 posted 04-09-2015 03:40 PM

Thank you very much Paul – getting glue on it is the fun part!!

-- Luke,

View Ocelot's profile


2539 posts in 3414 days

#5 posted 04-09-2015 04:31 PM

Very nice!

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1114 posts in 3088 days

#6 posted 04-09-2015 04:51 PM

Really nice piece of work. Many thanks for the detailed process description.

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View mafe's profile


12592 posts in 3865 days

#7 posted 04-09-2015 04:58 PM

This is what I call eye candy.
That will be precious tool for you.
Thank you for the fine details of how you did it.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Luke Addington's profile

Luke Addington

80 posts in 1944 days

#8 posted 04-09-2015 05:17 PM

Thank you guys very much!

-- Luke,

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 3556 days

#9 posted 04-09-2015 06:20 PM

Thats a wonderful piece Luke and a great how to as well !

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View mcoyfrog's profile


4757 posts in 4370 days

#10 posted 04-09-2015 06:21 PM

Great project thanks for sharing, I did a ton of research on french polish technique to develop the way I do my finishes now. The french polish is so beautiful but wowza it takes lots of lapse time :)

-- Wood and Glass they kick (well you know) Have a great day - Dug

View mtalley's profile


112 posts in 2251 days

#11 posted 04-09-2015 06:28 PM

Beautiful. Nicely done

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 4606 days

#12 posted 04-09-2015 06:30 PM

Great job on this Luke, it is definitely a beauty! I’m sure Patrice would approve of the polish too!

-- Aim high. Ride easy. Trust God. Neale Donald Walsch

View madts's profile


1941 posts in 3115 days

#13 posted 04-09-2015 06:31 PM

Just outstanding.
Thanks for sharing.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View jim65's profile


1020 posts in 2709 days

#14 posted 04-09-2015 06:41 PM

Beautiful! Enjoy using that gem!

-- Jim, Marostica Italy

View Druid's profile


2205 posts in 3571 days

#15 posted 04-09-2015 07:06 PM

Great project, and excellent explanation Luke. Thanks for the information.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

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