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French polishing can be given a new look

Here's how to refinish dull and scratched furniture
Says Ray Lewhite.

Does your furniture have a dull and scratched appearance? If it does, and if it has been French polished, read on and learn how you can give it a new look. All you need is a few pounds worth of material, several free evenings, and a reasonable amount of patience.
With the advent of the cellulose spray there has been a decline in the use of French polish. It cannot be overlooked, though, that French polishing is unsurpassed for showing up the figure of the wood grain. Perhaps you have a number of examples of well-made French polished furniture in your home. They only require re-polishing in order to become valuable articles.
A common defect of French polishing is crazing or blistering. This is usually due to a high room temperature. In veneered surfaces a bloom or dull appearance is often noted. A damp room is blamed for this and the reputation of the firm is saved, but quiet wrongly. The polisher is at fault in this case. He used an excessive amount of linseed oil which can only soak in as far as the glue of the veneer.
Thus, in time, it finds its way back to the surface and spoils the effect of the polish. A more common occurrence is where the polish surface has been repeatedly dusted with a dry rag. The tiny particles of dirt that it may contain set up minute scratches in the polished surface. It is at this stage that a wax polish is used, but the result is seldom satisfactory.

Slightly scratched

French polishing
The easiest article to deal with is one where the surface is only slightly scratched. It is then only necessary to remove the top layer of polish preparatory to applying a fresh surface. Naturally when the polish is deeply crazed or blistered, the whole of the polish will have to be stripped before a new finish can be applied.
A first essential in carrying out any work connected with French polishing is that it should be done in a room uniformly warm and dry. Then any mouldings or carvings on the article must be removed whenever possible. At the same time do not risk damage by attempting to remove firmly glued-on pieces.
The next stage is to remove any traces on the article of grease and wax polish. This can be done by sponging with a solution of one small handful of soda to a gallon of warm water.
When the surface has dried the polish can be taken off as required. With slightly scratched polish it can be brought to a satisfactory base for applying new polish with the aid of fine glasspaper. Moisten it with methylated spirits and use with a wooden sanding block (see Fig.1). If the polish is rubbed evenly and carefully a clean smooth surface should soon appear. This is the base for applying the new finish.
If the polish is in bad condition it will have to be stripped completely and the wood re-stained to requirements. Use a chemical remover (any branded stripper will do) and a scraper which both can be obtained from a paint shop. The polish on the mouldings will have to be removed with the aid of a rag when the chemical has had a sufficient softening effect.
Rinse all surfaces with white spirit before sanding to a smooth surface. The wood stain can now be applied with a clean rag. A choice of proprietary brands all equally good, is obtainable at most paint shops.
When this is done and all is perfectly clean, apply a smear of raw linseed oil to the whole surface whether completely stripped of polish or not.
The polishing operation is carried out with a rubber. This is made of cotton wadding and fine cotton cloth (see Fig.2). First of all take a piece of wadding about 12 inches square. Then fold until it measures 4 inches square (a third each way). Soak with methylated spirits and squeeze until nearly dry. Lay the pad on a clean surface, fold the corners to the centre, and carefully mould until it becomes pear-shaped. The pad should then be laid on a piece of clean cotton - new material must be washed first in order to remove the lime dressing it may contain - and the edges taken up all round. The loose ends can then be twisted together until the round portion underneath is perfectly smooth. It must not be creased or the polish surface will have a unsatisfactory appearance.

Preparing the polish

French polishing
The rubber must now be fed with French polish. This can be bought ready-mixed from a specialist paint shop such as 'KEEPS'. Untwist the cotton and feed the polish to the top of the wadding which is farthest from the rounded sole. A tablespoon full carefully poured will suffice. It will then penetrate right through the wadding. Replace the cotton and twist the ends until a slight amount of polish appears at the sole. It can be assisted if necessary by a slight pressure of the thumb. The area covered by one charging depends on the type of wood being dealt with. Obviously as soon as the rubber becomes dry it must be re-fed with polish.
The process of depositing a sufficient amount of polish on the wood to allow a high gloss to be imparted is called 'bodying-up'. Apply the polished charged rubber to the surface of the work with a light pressure. Hold the rubber so that the twisted ends of the cotton lie in the palm of your hand and your fingers and thumbs gently grasp the edges.
Rub with the grain then against it, then round in circles, and finally with a figure of eight movement. The object of this is to ensure that no streaks appear on the surface (Consult D, Fig.2.) Early in the rubbing process the polish may begin to stick under the rubber. This must be avoided or the final result will be poor. Lubricate the rubber by applying a slight smear of linseed oil to the sole. It is important to use little otherwise a bloom will appear in the polish after the work has been finished.

Little and often

French polishing
A guarantee of success in French polishing is to use small applications of polish and to repeat the process several times. In the case of bare surfaces it may be necessary to apply five or six coats before a satisfactory body of polish is obtained.
After the first application the polish will require 12 to 24 hours in which to harden to the constituency for the next stage.
Working up the polish already applied into a smoothness and a high gloss is called 'spiriting-out.'
Start with a rubber charged half with French polish and half with methylated spirits which are mixed together before application as in the first charging. Then rub lightly as in bodying-up. Again the rubber must be lubricated with linseed oil in order to prevent stickiness.
As the work proceeds feed more methylated spirits to the rubber until hardly any polish remains. Then finish off with a clean rubber charged only with methylated spirits. In the final stage a further clean rubber with a smear of linseed oil on the sole must be used. Finish up with long sweeps following the grain of the wood.
The surface of the work should now have a beautiful transparency. But the polish is still soft and must be allowed to harden before being touched. Cover the article carefully so that dust cannot reach it. If it does the work will be spoiled.

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