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Top 10 French Polishing Tips For You To Try At Home

When a piece of furniture gets old and tatty there’s a natural reaction to throw it away, after all, IKEA has everything a modern house has… right?

Superstores might be able to provide quick, easy to assemble furniture, but you can guarantee that it will be missing that feeling of comfort and homeliness provided by wooden furniture.

So, how about, rather than going out and spending money on some new wooden furniture you try and restore what you already have. It’s really easy, honest.  After a few actions you’ll bring your furniture back to life.

With years of experience,  UK’s largest French Polishing company, Terry Waters French Polishing, have come up with 10 top French Polishing tips to help you get the best out of your furniture restoration.

1. Maintenance: Less is more

The first rule of thumb is that less really is more. We see furniture that has been lovingly wax polished every day since it was bought. This is bad! Every time you apply solid wax (or spray wax) you are adding a small layer of wax to the finish. Over time this builds up to leave the table very glossy but also very smeary. It also traps any dirt, food or fingermarks.

Most furniture only needs “Feeding” once or twice a year with any dirt or marks dry wiped away or cleaned with a damp cloth. If you do have a big build up of wax then it will have to be removed. Some people suggest lemon juice, others just try and put even more wax on! We would advocate wiping with a soft rag and white spirit. This will soften up the excess wax. You will have to repeat the process with new pieces of cloth and white spirit until you are back to the original French Polished or lacquered finish.

The finish will probably look a little dull at first. Now is the time to let it dry off ( 3-4 hours) before applying a single coat of wax sparingly!

2. What type of wax?

We’re asked this question all the time. We prefer a spray wax rather than a solid wax as people do tend to over-apply the solid. People are surprised when we advocate spray polishes but we always ask them to check the ingredients. Spray polish with bees wax is excellent but if it contains silicone then do not use it. Silicone will leave the furniture looking good but over time it will contaminate the finish as well as the timber. Silicone contaminates the timber making refinishing it extremely difficult and can discolour the wood.

3. Hygenic/sanitiser sprays.

Most table spray sanitisers are extremely alkaline. They break down modern lacquers leaving them sticky and dull (Next time you’re at a restaurant rub your nail across the finish. Many just roll up, which is bad news because it shows the damage being caused!). If you really feel you have to use sanitisers then clean with a damp slightly soapy cloth first then use a tiny amount and wipe dry.

4. White ring marks.

There are all sorts of products to buy for removing ring marks and we find that none of them actually work. The only method we use is dangerous, extreme fun and we have only known it not work twice. But we take no responsibility if you get it wrong! You need methylated spirit, cotton wool and a cigarette lighter. Just dampen the cotton wool with the meths and hold only in your left hand. Hold the lighter in your right hand. Wipe over the ring mark with the cotton wool, make sure that your hand is well away and flick the lighter on at the edge of the mark. The meths will light and the mark will disappear. Do you want to know why? Well the white mark is caused by putting something hot and wet on the table, such as a dripping mug of tea. The heat opens up the pores of the timber which soak in the moisture. As the cup cools the moisture is trapped inside the wood. Meths burns at a very low temperature and does not burn for long. What happens is that the lit meths opens up the pores long enough for the moisture to escape before they close up again. This way you are not disguising the mark, you are removing it. But remember: Only use meths, make sure you use the smallest amount, if it burns for more than 3 second then just blow out the clear flame as you would blow out birthday candles and do not set fire to the cotton wool or your fingers. It will hurt! Also remember that heat resisting mats for your table are not a license to put 200 degree pans on. You will damage your table, the mats resist heat they don’t repel it!

5. Leave your Dining Table extended

Many people only use the middle leaf of an extendible table for special occasions. When they set it up they find the middle leaf is a different colour. That is mainly due to sunlight. Ultra Violet light from the sun causes stains and veneers to change colour. If your middle leaf is hidden from the sun it cannot “Season” at the same rate. To get all leaves to the same colour after the damage has occurred always involves completely stripping the existing finish. It may involve the use of strong bleaches or hard sanding (something that is not possible if your table is veneered).

6. Rotate your furniture OR leave it well alone

This comes back to that harmful sunlight. If you always have the same dining chairs in the window the sun will bleach the backs of them. When you move them around you will see dramatic colour differences. The best thing to do is to swap their positions frequently so they all fade at the same rate.

7. Floors and furniture

Timber floors are great. They are easy to keep clean, they can be dry mopped rather than vacuumed and they are warm underfoot. Solid wood floors are becoming a popular choice for many householders keen to replace carpets with a hard wearing surface. But they will bruise. If you have metal wheels or edges or even nylon feet on chairs they will damage the timber. You will need to either spread the load by using cups under wheels or change the nylon pads for felt ones.

8. Temperature and humidity changes

Wood is a living thing. Just like our skin it will react to changes in external conditions. If your furniture is in a room that is left unheated when not in use and then crank up the temperature then, just like your skin, it will dry and crack. The same is true with air conditioned rooms. Leaving the ambient temperature and humidity constant can help your furniture and floors to last much longer.

9. Just because it’s old it shouldn’t be thrown away

Older furniture may not be to everyone’s taste. That varnishy brown colour is, well, varnishy and brown. But don’t write it off and certainly don’t throw it away. You may be able to buy new and shiny furniture but just how well made is that flat packed item? How long do you think it will last in comparison to furniture older than the 40’s and 50’s? If you want something bright orange and funky there’s no reason why you cant use what you have. It’s fine to paint on top of a sound finish, then in a few years time it can still be stripped off to reveal the original wood. A good French Polish will restore your furniture back to it’s original state.

10. Old furniture.. a further tip

Currently auction houses can’t give away antique furniture. In a few years this trend will (as has happened previously) reverse and now is the time to pay only a fraction for these beautiful items. We’ve seen grandfather clocks that were selling for £ 3,000 going for a mere £ 300 and regency tables selling for £150 instead of 2,000! And it won’t be on a landfill site in another 4 or 5 years!

That’s sorted you out for the smaller jobs, but if you’ve got a bigger commercial French polishing job that’s more likely to require a professional get in touch with Terry Waters French Polishing.