Don Williams, who for 28 years has worked as a furniture conservator and scholar at the nation's largest cultural institution in Washington, D.C., gave a presentation to the Chesapeake Chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers in April on traditional French polish.
Many of us have been under the misapprehension that French polish involves shellac, which instead refers to an English polish. True French polish is a wax finish.
While translating the book To Make As Perfectly As Possible by André Roubo (available by Christmas from Lost Art Press), Don discovered what to most of us is a long forgotten tool that was used in French polishing—a broom straw burnisher. He's convinced that this wax and burnisher technique was used in 18th-century high style European marquetry.
Don stopped by my shop last week on his way to the Martin J. Donnelly antique tool auction, and I offered to film him demonstrating French polishing.
I also invited a friend over to watch. In other words, the male voice you hear in the background is not me with a cold.
If being period accurate is important to you, or this technique simply seems like something you'd like to try, you can make your own straw burnisher, find a broom maker to make one for you, or order one from Don for $12, plus shipping. In any case, both ends of the burnisher can be used.
You can contact Don at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eventually, he plans to offer more products and information based on this newly rediscovered knowledge.*
The video is in real time so you can see how much time he spends on each part of the technique, but listen carefully because he offers loads of valuable information while he's working.
To view the video in HD on YouTube, click here.
*I do not benefit in any way from the sale of Don's burnishers or any future product he plans to offer.