What Is French Polish and How to do it ! - Video

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Project by Patricelejeune posted 10-21-2013 04:50 PM 52797 views 80 times favorited 30 comments Add to Favorites Watch
What Is French Polish and How to do it ! - Video
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I hear many things about French Polish, and some of them really make me jump.

One of them in particular that I heard one to many times on youtube from a famous class on woodworking (which decided me to do a video and a post): “When you are done French Polishing, take some steel wool and wax it”

WHAT??? French Polish is a time consuming, GLOSSY finish. If you do not want a glossy sleek finish, DON’T even consider French Polish as an option!!!

Another one showing this time abyssal stupidity, from a finish teacher in well know wood college translated “tampon” as…. “tampon”, but as it was not very practical to polish with a tampon, he said to his student that the French, polish with a feminine hygiene pad!!!!! And this is a true story!!!! From a teacher!!!!

WHAT??? Such an item in the 18th century????

And so on, so on…...

I started polishing at Ecole Boulle, an Art and Crafts college in Paris during my 4th year so it should have been in 1995 or 96. Then I started in the restoration business in 1997, I did not start french polishing right away, but I was doing touch up, rejuvenation on antique one. Then around 2000 I guess, I started to do way more of them as our polisher left.
I am now restoring furniture but also building furniture, our specialty is marquetry (inlay). Both of those activity often require french polish for our company Antique Refinishers in San Diego (I just opened the new website, it is not 100% finished yet, but it is functional).

I teach alongside Patrick Edwards at the American School of French Marquetry (I am currently working on the website so it should improve soon), where I teach marquetry of course, but also introduction to French Polish.

For starters, French Polish is a funny name for me. The term in french is “vernis au tampon” Translating as “polish with a pad”.
The tampon is a pad, and you apply varnish with it.
It has been called “french polish by our english neighbors and “friends”, jealous of that secret polish, before they did something similar, we french called “vernis anglais” “English Polish”. I happened to think it’s funny.

I never heard of “french polish” before I came to work with Patrick Edwards in San Diego where two of my first jobs involved French Polish.

His famous Louis-Philippe Tilt-Top Tables

And the restoration of a huge bookcase and partner desk considered by the insurance damaged beyond repair

This part is only the top

I lived in it like in a boat for couple months

Time for the video now.

I am not saying I do it better than anybody else, but I can sure assure you that French Polish ain’t a wax finish

There is many different ways and recipes, I am just showing you the way I do it and why I do it that way.

I already received couple emails since I posted the video on youtube thursday or friday, and it seems we may have to do some more for each steps.

Let me know if you want more, how interested you were and what part was not clear enough so we can make progress in our video. This is a low tech production by the way.

-- Patrice lejeune

30 comments so far

View shipwright's profile


8751 posts in 4041 days

#1 posted 10-21-2013 06:03 PM


The timing is perfect for me to have you present this video.

Having had the good fortune to see you give this presentation in person and since that time having had the opportunity to do a quite a lot of polishing with some further guidance from you, I feel that I may now know enough to really understand and learn from this video. I plan to watch it several times as there is so much valuable information to be learned.

I have had several people ask me about this finish and have felt very unqualified to answer. Now I have a great resource to refer them to.

Thanks again. You are a great teacher and I hope I can say a good friend.

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

View a1Jim's profile


118253 posts in 4820 days

#2 posted 10-21-2013 06:17 PM

Thank your for this information ,very well done. I might suggest if you have more post like this that you post them as a blog. You do beautiful work Patrice.


View Patricelejeune's profile


386 posts in 3163 days

#3 posted 10-21-2013 07:28 PM

Thank you for your comments.

Patrick wanted a video that people can go back to for after his class at Mark Adams, but it is also good for our students.

You are a good friend Paul, we may get some olive because of you!!!

Jams, you are right I should post it as a blog. Sorry about that.

-- Patrice lejeune

View ic3ss's profile


404 posts in 4019 days

#4 posted 10-21-2013 07:31 PM

Thank you very much for this great information. French polish is something I’ve wanted to try for a while now. Some questions:

I could not make out what you called the last thing you put on the wood, the white stuff that you shook up near the end.

I saw you only used a drop of shellac on your pad at the start and after that you only used alcahol to keep it moist. Is that all the shellac that is used for a piece that size?

Also, where do you find pumice powder that fine? You called it silk pumice?

Thanks very much,

-- "I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins."

View Patricelejeune's profile


386 posts in 3163 days

#5 posted 10-21-2013 07:45 PM

Thank you

The last thing is a rubbing compound that can be used to clean up the excess oil. do not use it to polish your surface though you will lose the natural effect and it may look like plastic. The one I use is from France, but Patrick tested the McGuire number nine I believe. Anyway the finest rubbing compound.

For the pumice you can fined 4F I believe which is suppose to be #0000. The finest the better.

For the shellac, the drop you saw was only for the pore-filling. You are right that I did not show putting shellac in the polishing pad.
I guess it is due partly to editing, but also, and probably mainly, to the fact that Patrick had used my pad, and left it with a tone of shellac in it. So I had to cut all the part I was swearing and telling how a pad is like a toothbrush, nobody should touch it especially when they leave it dirty afterwards, more curse etc…

The pad being soaked in shellac, I did not need much. But you do not need a lot of shellac if the pore-filling is of high quality, the polish will be good right away.
I did spend maximum 30 minutes polishing on this pieces, more at the pore filling for sure.

-- Patrice lejeune

View Michael Wilson's profile

Michael Wilson

588 posts in 3733 days

#6 posted 10-21-2013 10:16 PM

I don’t expect I’ll ever do this. But damn is it fascinating.

Thanks for posting it.

View kdc68's profile


3016 posts in 3519 days

#7 posted 10-21-2013 10:22 PM

Thank you for putting together and sharing this video !

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View Patricelejeune's profile


386 posts in 3163 days

#8 posted 10-21-2013 11:00 PM

You are welcome

-- Patrice lejeune

View Rj's profile


1047 posts in 4874 days

#9 posted 10-22-2013 12:20 AM

Thank you so much Patrice !! I’ve been wanting to know the correct way to do a french polish .
I hope you do a video in Marquetry in the future .

Thanks again

-- Rj's Woodworks,San Jose & Weed Ca,

View Patricelejeune's profile


386 posts in 3163 days

#10 posted 10-22-2013 12:36 AM

Thank you.

This is only one of the correct way, but it works really well for me.

We have couple video on marquetry on our 3815utah channel on youtube, check the American School of French Marquetry playlist

I am preparing for a time lapse video on all the step for a marquetry panel on our new Treasure Box series from start to glueing

-- Patrice lejeune

View JeremyPringle's profile


321 posts in 3717 days

#11 posted 10-22-2013 02:29 AM

Thank you Patrice.

I have one question so far:
How long do you wait in between the pore filling stage and the start of the French polishing stage? Can you jump right from one to the other, or do you have to wait.. say over night?

Im sure I will have more questions as I start getting more into it.

Thanks again.

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 5072 days

#12 posted 10-22-2013 03:35 AM

Thanks for clearing up so many of the misconceptions out there about how to achieve this finish Patrice. I will also find this video as a valuable resource.

Looking forward to seeing the update on the new Treasure Box…it has been rather quiet from San Diego in the last few weeks!

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

View hoss12992's profile


4180 posts in 3136 days

#13 posted 10-22-2013 04:03 AM

Awesome!! Thank you for sharing

-- The Old Rednek Workshop

View MrFid's profile


910 posts in 3147 days

#14 posted 10-22-2013 10:42 AM

Thanks for posting! I watched the whole video last night, really neat! I’d love to be able to do this someday. Maybe even make it out to the school for a class or two. Favorited for sure, and video bookmarked.

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View pmelchman's profile


85 posts in 4396 days

#15 posted 10-22-2013 12:35 PM

fantastic job…inspiring.

-- Patrick

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