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French Polishing a Classical Guitar Bridge

Keep the pad small and flexible. Shape it to the work. Apply finish in small amounts to the outside of the pad. Use "spot finishing" technique, gliding, then applying pressure wherever you want the varnish to adhere.

Eugene Clark, Shellac and French Polishing, 1998




I know many people shy away from the art of French polishing, which I think is too bad.

Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve to it, but once you start to get the hang of the application technique you will find shellac to be very forgiving, e.g.,if you mess up one area, let it harden for about an hour and then fix it with some more shellac and alcohol.

And once you really start getting into French polishing you'll discover that you can build up a gloss finish in less than one half hour!




To apply shellac to this bridge I took a square piece of cloth, folded it in half and folded it once again.




Then I folded that again, note the triangle that is on top of my left index finger tip.




Here, I have transferred the cloth to my right hand, I am right handed after all, and I have placed two drops of alcohol, two drops of one pound cut shellac onto the corner of the cloth that sits on my index finger. I also added a very, very small smudge of olive oil to it, also.



I blot it on a piece of typing paper until the cloth is almost dry and then I start to French polish the bridge.

If there is the "ghost" trail where I can see the alcohol evaporate as I apply the mixture I know I am using the correct amount of liquids.




I am sure you are thinking at this point that by using only two drops of each that it would take forever to build up a surface.

Take a look at the photo above, I worked only fifteen minutes on this bridge. I know with two more sessions I will have filled in any pores that I missed with pumice and alcohol.

I am a big fan of French polishing and I believe other wood workers should give it a try! And don't believe all arguments against French polishing, it is easier than trying to make your first Krenov-style hand plane!

Ron Fernandez has a great DVD on how to French polishing a guitar, so does Robbie O'Brien, both DVDs are available here.

For more information on shellac go to Shellac.net and read this wonderful article (click here) on French polishing.

If you are interested in French polish and don't have someone to teach you how to do it, do some research on the internet and get at it!



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