Skip to main content

Two Good Reasons Why You Should Consider Using French Polish

It is an essential condition of highly polished work that the surface should be so perfectly smooth that no marks or ridges of any kind should be present to mar the ultimate effect, which should be like a mirror, capable of reflecting a good image.

Paul N. Hasluck, Manual of Traditional Woodcarving, 1911

I give two good reasons why you should consider using French polish to apply shellac to your next work.

One reason is the finish that it creates. This is the back of Julia's guitar, a copy of a 1933 Santos Hernandez, after only three French polish sessions using a 1 pound cut of shellac. It simply astounds me as to how wonderful this finish is becoming!

This is the top of Julia's guitar after only two French polish sessions!

The best reason to use shellac and French polish is for your health!

What other finish is there that you make out of bug secretion and grain alcohol? The only chemical in shellac that will do damage to you is the grain alcohol and you have to drink that stuff to cause the damage. You do not need any personal protection equipment to apply shellac and you don't need a HAZMAT locker to store the components. How wonderful is that?!

The equipment you need to apply shellac is simple: raw wool for the pad; cotton fabric to cover the pad, and a little olive oil to help apply the shellac. Oh, yes, and I forgot to mention that you use ground volcanic pumice to fill the wood pores!

Does this sound to good to be true?

It must be true, shellac has been applied by French polishing for over 200 years with great success!

This video is available through Fernandez Music or LMI. I wish I had bought a copy 'way back in 1994 when I really got into this lutherie thing, it would have saved me much heart ache.

This is a wonderful DVD, I highly recommend it! Mr. Fernandez covers all the bases of using shellac and French polishing, if you watch this DVD a few times and try your hand at French polish, you too will discover that it is not as hard as all those woodworking writers and pundits claim it is!

I do have Robbie O'Brien's DVD on French polish, again available from LMI. I haven't watched it yet, though I've had it for over six months. I haven't watched it because I am at a level where it is better for me to spend an hour or so gaining experience at French polishing then to watch a video of someone else doing it.

There are many, many articles and books about French polish, one article I recommend French Polishing Demystified, by Vijay Velji, appeared in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Fine Woodworking. I also recommend searching out articles written by Eugene Clark, Cynthia Burton, George Frank; Dan Erlewine wrote a great piece for Stew-Mac which you can find in their Trade Secrets! Newsletter, click here to read that article.

I suggest that you visit these websites to learn more about the art and history of French polish:

French Polishing, Antique & Code Finishes

French Polish

Chris Baylor has posted one of the best articles I've read on French polish. Click here to read it. You may think that his article makes French polish sound like it is an easy thing to do, well, IT IS! You just have to practice it to be good at it, like any other skill!

There is a myriad of YouTube Videos by guitar makers on how they apply shellac by French polishing. Check out Les Stansell and Michael Thames!

I know that Taunton Press has just published a new book of French polish by Derek Jones, but I don't think it has been released yet. I would like to look at a copy of it.

I can't forget to mention Shellac.Net, they have a great website where you can buy shellac and learn all sorts of things about shellac. I should buy a copy of The French Polisher's Handbook from them, it was written in 1910 by "A Practical Man", it looks like it is full of wonderful information on French polish.

So get busy and do some research and then buy all the ingredients to make your own shellac.

Don't be afraid of shellac and French polish!

Be afraid of someone who tells you that you shouldn't learn a new skill just because they think it is too hard of a thing to do!


  1. Great post, Wilson. A very useful compendium of resources. Thanks.

  2. Do you use French Polish on tops as well? If so, do you also fill with pumice? Do you have a feeling for what this (both filling and using shellac) does to the tuning of the top?

  3. Yes, Dino, I do French polish the tops of my guitars and no, I don't fill the top with pumice. That is used on to fill the grain of open pore wood.

    Many classical guitar makers will use lacquer on the backs and sides of their guitars and French polish the top with shellac, there is something about shellac that improves the tone of a guitar. In one I read article, the luthier Jeffery Elliot has refinished some of his early guitars with shellac using French polish and was amazed at how much it improved the sound of the guitar.

    You might be able to find a thread on how shellac affects a guitar at

  4. Just discovered this blog. What a wealth of info here. I was wondering though if you could elaborate a little on filling with volcanic pumice?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Off the Bench and For Sale: Miguel Rodriguez Style Guitar

This guitar has a Western Red Cedar top, Claro walnut back and sides, Royal ebony fretboard, Indian rosewood bridge and a 650mm string length.

This guitar has a beautiful voice and is loud! I was amazed at how loud it is as soon as I got the strings on and tuned to concert pitch. It is easy to play and I am blown away by the musical nuances that can be created with this guitar.

Please click on Guitars Currently Available or Studio Model to read more about this wonderful guitar!

1961 Hernandez y Aguado Style Classical Guitar, Redwood/Indian Rosewood, For Sale

The partnership of Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado was one of the most successful in guitar making history.

Roy Courtnall, Making Master Guitars, 1993

Please note that this guitar is currently for sale at Savage Classical Guitar. Please click here to see this guitar!

I made this guitar several years ago, but because of custom orders, I had to set it aside. I put strings on it two weeks ago and it is a most magnificent sounding guitar! It has good, clear separation string to string, wonderful sustain with evenness and balance throughout with a very lyrical voice. I originally made this guitar for myself, but someone with a good strong technique and a good understanding of musical interpretation should own this guitar and play it on a regular basis.

This guitar is a fairly close copy of a guitar made by Hernandez y Aguado in 1961. The body length is 480mm, most of the HyA guitars had a body length of 490mm; string length is 650mm, many were 655mm and longer; other than that I trie…

Late Summer, Early Fall and a Spruce/Ziricote Classical Guitar

Thus begins what many residents feel is the Southern Rockies' most beautiful time of the year - Indian summer.

Audrey DeLella Benedict, The Southern Rockies, 1991

It is sunny today with bluebird skies highlighting the golds and oranges of the aspen trees.

Fog covered our little hollow all day yesterday, the sun came out at exactly 4:45pm and shone upon us for fifteen minutes, then the clouds came back.

The aspens and ferns in the backyard...

A few wildflowers are blooming, like this harebell...

Our little flower garden is going to seed...

I dropped six ponderosa pine on our property last week for firewood and fire mitigation, as you can see I have much work to do splitting and stacking the firewood.

This is the latest guitar on the bench, a 1961 Hernandez y Aguado style guitar, with a Colorado Engelmann spruce top...

and ziricote back and sides.

I am in the process of pore filling, later this week I will start the French polish.

It has an incredibly loud tap tone, it will be wond…