The object of polishing is to make
the surface of wood-work bright and smooth, and to improve and
protect its colour. By rendering it bright, it reflects light,
and exhibits the natural figure and colour of the wood with much
greater effect; but it also renders every defect more apparent,
and therefore the more perfect the polish, the better the
workmanship ought to be.
French furniture has always been
much admired, in consequence of the beauty of its polish, and we
may add the care bestowed in finishing the surface, as well as
in avoiding soft and porous wood for good furniture; as we well
know that polish alone does nothing unless it be employed on an
object worthy of polishing.
There are several methods of
polishing depending on the use of the articles, or the modes of
The most simple is Oil-polishing,
used for ordinary work. It is merely oiled with linseed-oil,
which causes the colours of the wood to be reflected more
strongly; and, by slight oiling and rubbing, a bright gloss may
be produced wherever the wood has been well cleaned off. Where
it is intended to improve upon the natural colour of the wood,
the oil is coloured by alkanet-root, dragon's-blood, or other
colouring matters which dissolve in oil; the solution being
assisted by gentle heat. Sometimes, for porous woods, insoluble
colouring matter, such as ochres, rose-pink, &c., are added, but
these seem to have very little effect.
In getting a polish on new
furniture, the oil is applied with very fine sifted brick-dust.
The object of this addition is to wear the wood to a smoother
surface than is obtained by cleaning it off. The brick-dust and
oil forms a kind of putty under the rubbing cloth, and when it
does so, no further addition of dust should be made, but the
rubbing continued till the desired degree of smoothness be
The French cabinet-makers use
tripoli instead of brickdust, and certainly with better effect.
The brick-dust or tripoli is cleared off when the proper degree
of smoothness is obtained, by rubbing with bran. This is still
esteemed the best method of polishing dining-tables.
The next, in simplicity, is Wax
Polishing. It consists in rubbing the surface with hard
bees'-wax, and polishing it with corks, brushes, and linen
cloth-rubbers. This mode of polishing is much used for the
inside parts of work; also for chairs, bedsteads, and various
To lessen the labour of applying
the wax, it is sometimes, for common stained work, dissolved in
linseed-oil by a slow heat, and rubbed on with a rag, and
polished by brushes and linen cloths.
A wax composition, called Furniture
Paste, is also used for polishing; it is formed by dissolving
bees-wax in a small quantity of spirit of turpentine by a gentle
heat, and adding about a sixteenth part of powdered rosin. The
composition is rubbed on, and polished in the same manner as
wax. It is for new work sometimes stained by the addition of
alkanet-root, or rose-pink; the colour of the alkanet-root must
be extracted by the turpentine before it be added to the wax.
The addition of a small quantity of copal varnish to the
dissolved wax while it is warm, is esteemed better than the
addition of rosin.
Of French Polishing
Lately a new mode of polishing has
been adopted for furniture, called French Polish, which consists
in applying a considerable thickness of transparent gum-lac over
the wood, and by that means rendering it less necessary to give
the wood itself so fine a surface, as when that surface is the
one which is polished. In the new method, the surface of the gum
is the polished surface.
French polish is a species of
spirit-varnish, chiefly composed of shell-lac; which, when
dissolved in spirit of wine, forms the hardest and most durable
spirit-varnish known. It is mixed with certain portions of gum-mastich
and gum-Sandarach, for the purpose of rendering its colour
paler, which is a desirable circumstance in some of the works to
which it is applied.
It differs from varnishing in the
manner of applying it to the articles. This is done by rubbing
it upon their surface with a fine cloth, and using oil and
spirit of wine during the process, as will now be more
particularly described. The varnish is composed of:
The mastich and Sandarach must
first be dissolved in the spirit of wine, and then the shelllac:
the process may be performed by putting them into a bottle
loosely corked, and placing it in a vessel of water heated to a
little below 173°, or the boiling point of spirit of wine, until
the solution be effected; the clear solution may be poured off
into another bottle for use.
In applying it to large surfaces,
use a rubber formed of a flat coil of thick woolen cloth, such
as drugget, which must be torn off the piece, in order that the
face of the rubber, which is made of the torn edge of the cloth,
may be soft and pliant, and not hard and stiff, as would be the
case were it to be cut off and thereby be liable to scratch the
soft surface of the varnish.
This rubber is to be securely bound
with thread, to prevent it from uncoiling when it is used; and
it may vary in its size from one to three inches in diameter,
and from one to two inches in thickness, according to the extent
of the surface to be varnished.
The varnish is to be applied to the
middle of the flat face of the rubber by shaking up the bottle
containing it against the rubber; it will absorb a considerable
quantity, and will continue to Supply it equally, and in a clue
proportion to the surface which is undergoing the process of
The face of the rubber must next be
covered by a soft linen-cloth doubled, the remainder of the
cloth being gathered together at the back of the rubber to form
a handle to hold it by, and the face of the cloth must be
moistened with a little raw linseed-oil, (which may either be
coloured with alkanet-root, or not,) applied upon the finger to
the middle of it, and the operation be commenced by quickly and
lightly rubbing the surface of the article to be polished in a
constant succession of small circular strokes; and the operation
must be confined to a space not more than 10 or 12 inches
square, until such space is finished, when an adjoining one may
be commenced, and united with the first, and so on, until the
whole surface is covered.