Antique Furniture Polish - Polishing an Existing Surface

French Polish is an antique furniture polish that was used from around 1820 onwards.

schellac flakes for refinishing furniture

After cleaning your piece of antique furniture you may need to refresh the existing antique funiture polish.

In this case we are assuming your antique furniture finish is french polish and we need to refresh this and bring back the lustre but without it looking newly polished.

To do this we shall use shellac (french polish), which you can either buy readymade or make your own.

If this is all new to you - I suggest you buy readymade along with some spirit for thinning.

The solvent being alcohol (methylated spirits) - putting on thick coats will only dissolve the polish underneath! So rather little and more often....

Furniture polishing is best done without the dust

Having cleaned up and got everything dust free - clothes included - you can start.

Making the rubber for french polishing

Get some cotton wool and put it in the middle of a nice clean white cotton cloth (handkerchief is good). Hold this open in one hand and pour some polish onto the cotton wool.

This ball is called a rubber by the way..

Don't saturate the wool - a cap full is probably about right - squeeze the ball to spread the polish. If you have too much then squeeze the polish out so that the rubber is damp but not wet.

I often fold up some paper towel and press the rubber down on this to get rid of excess polish - it also helps to flatten the rubber so you have a good polishing base on your rubber.

adding schellac to your polishing rubber
folding the cloth for french polishing

Take the edges of the cloth together and twist them round making sure that the part touching your palm has no creases in it - I mean the side which will touch the wood surface - (very important).

Transfer the rubber into your other hand holding the twisted piece in your palm and your thumb on the side and the next fingers spread round the other side.

Antique Furniture polishing can be great fun with the right music...

Now it's time to play aeroplanes!!

Slide the rubber onto one side and off the other - don't go over the same place twice - you can overlap a little.

STOP! Leave to dry - approx 15 minutes.

You can do the above step again if you like but it might be enough - depends how much finish is left on your furniture after cleaning.

All we are doing is putting a base on for the polishing.

Next: Recharge your rubber with a little polish but you shouldn't be able to squeeze any out. Dab a little oil on the underside - you can use linseed oil if you like or sewing machine oil is also good.

Poor a little oil into a dish and stick the tip of your finger in and then dab your finger on the flat side of your rubber - say two or three times - in two or three different places.

Now you can start polishing. Glide on and do little circles all over increasing to bigger circles and going over to figure eights and finish off in straight lines with the grain.

Don't press hard - keep your hand elastic - relax your wrist - try not to tense your shoulders. Put your favourite music on and swing with, if it helps...

That is all you need.

You will see a shine coming up and again it's up to you to decide how much shine you want - but keep in mind - your antique furniture polish should not look new.

You want to stop the minute it begins to shine, otherwise you might get into difficulties.


Well, remember you are working with a solvent which will after a while start to soften the finish underneath.

This might cause your rubber sticking to the surface suddenly - not good. The minute you feel a little stickiness - STOP.

After all we are not doing a full out french polishing job here. We are just refreshing the antique furniture polish.

Finished! You might have a little oil film on your finish if you used too much oil - but normally it will just be very little and this you can wipe off the NEXT DAY with a soft rag.

TIP: if you are not happy and think it is too shiny or not shiny enough - leave it - go back the next day and assess. The mistakes happen when you are in a hurry.

Keep your Rubber in a tightly closed jar - first dampen with a little spirits - and then it will be ready for the next time.

Refinishing antique furniture - keeping your polishing pad for next time.

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