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Beyond French Polishing

When a timber door or kitchen cabinet gets a nasty scratch on it, and the customer watches one of our finishers undertake a repair of the damage, it is not at all unusual that they think our operative is a French polisher.

In fact, they are not far from the truth; the only difference is that Plastic Surgeon has taken the basic processes of French polishing several steps beyond, adapting it and extending the techniques involved, so as to suit today’s modern surfaces and materials.

So what exactly is French polishing? It is a wood finishing technique that results in a very high gloss surface, with a deep colour and chatoyancy (finishing wood so that it retains the ability to change colour at different angles). It consists of applying many thin coats of shellac – dissolved in alcohol – using a rubbing pad, and most experts agree that the term “French polishing” probably earned its name from the extensive rubbing that is necessary to apply shellac smoothly and perfectly.

The trouble with this type of finish, however, is that it is impractical – a glass of wine spilt onto it will ruin the surface; while the technique of French polishing itself is highly labour-intensive.

Hence we saw the emergence of new surface finishes in the early twentieth century. Polish, applied with spray guns; the development of varnishes, which later became water-based; and the birth of power tools to take the elbow ache out of the process of timber treatment.

Indeed, our finishers have often been asked to take over when French polishers have found their limited armoury of materials is simply not up to the challenge. Our operatives carry a huge selection of fillers, abrasives, smoothing compounds, pigments and sealers. All may look similar, but combined with our power polishers, we can gently remove scratches out of glass, PVC- window profiles and enamel baths; as well as timber.

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