French polishing has its own language which has historical significance and meaning. Here are some of the different words you may hear when speaking with a professional French polisher.

French polishing is a wood finishing technique that results in a very high gloss surface, with a deep colour and chatoyancy. It consists of applying many thin coats of shellac dissolved in alcohol using a rubbing pad.


Chatoyance originates from the French term “oeil de chat” which translates as “cat’s eye.” It refers to the visual look in wood that causes the grain to seem to appear three dimensional. Chatoyance highlights wood fibres while also reflecting a glowy sheen, comparable to that of silk. French polishing, when applied correctly, can permanently achieve this highly desirable look.


Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, typically on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. Processed and sold as dry flakes, they are dissolved in ethyl alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is applied with a brush as a wood finish. Shellac acts as a high-gloss varnish. Shellac also seals out moisture.


Patina is a naturally occurring sheen on wood that is produced by age or wear and tear.  It is also the name of a type of stain that French polishers apply to give an antique look to furniture and woodwork.  Whether you have wood with uneven naturally-occurring Patina, or simply want to age new wood, Patina stains are a great way to give furniture a beautiful antique look.


No, not a trend! Fad is the rubbing pad French polishers use when apply shellac to wooden surfaces. It’s made of a square piece of cotton fabric filled with cotton or wool cloth. French polishers lubricate the fad with oil to allow it to give a smooth finish to wood, and the type of oil French polishers use on a fad depends on the desired glossy finish. The fad is also known as a tampon or muñeca.

Fish Eyes

Fish Eyes refers to a dimple-shaped defect in the final polish that is caused by external contamination. Usually the contaminant is silicone, wax, water, grease or dirt that has gotten into the polish through dirty airlines or other equipment used in the polishing process. Hopefully you won’t hear this term too often as our experienced French polishers maintain a high enough standard to avoid external contamination.

Orange Peel

Orange Peel  refers to a defect in the finish that looks like the speckled, dimpled surface of an orange. The causes for orange peel can vary, but it is usually caused by the wrong pressure being applied when spraying, incorrect coating weight, or uneven drying. Orange peel is most commonly found when using a high gloss finish, and it can be removed by using a fine-grit sandpaper. At TWFP our experienced French polishing professionals know the correct pressure to apply, so it’s rare that our work creates this unwanted effect.

Toy Test Certificate

A Toy Test Certificate shows that the coating on a wooden surface has met the requirements necessary to make them suitable for children. Children are very sensitive to certain substances found in some French polishing sprays, and anything from toys to children’s furniture needs to be treated properly and with the right material. By conducting certain tests, French polishers can determine the levels of dangerous metals and chemicals, to make sure they are safe for children.

The Toy Test Certificate is one reason why people should only use professional French polishers when having something French polished that is accessible to children. Schools, museums, youth centres and retailers should all be wary of children coming into contact with their woodwork, and make every effort to hire a French polisher who can accommodate this.

At Terry Waters French Polishing (TWFP) we’re passionate about our wood restoration art. For more information call us on 01827 874 535, or email us here.