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French polish recipe?


Ron Teplitz
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I saw a recommendation for a french polish recipe: 1/2 alcohol (good stuff, not the "hardware store stuff"), 1/2 clear spirit varnish, and a little oil on the polish cloth.

I mixed 1 oz Everclear with 1 oz clear spirit, the stuff from International Violin; the varnish curdled and turned into a white blob. What does this mean? Wrong ingredients? Suggestions? 

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It probably depends on what you want to do.  The normal (for furniture) French polish is shellac dissolved in alcohol, but I assume you want to use it on a violin.  Do you want to use it to varnish a white (unvarnished) violin?  I guess it could work, but violin varnish is usually brushed on, not applied with a tampon.  Do you want to apply it over the existing varnish on a violin?  This is generally frowned on.  Regarding the 50/50 alcohol/spirit varnish mix:  since spirit varnish is mostly alcohol, diluting it 50/50 with alcohol just yields a more diluted varnish.  And some people use the term "French polish" to mean rubbing the varnish of a violin with a pad with straight alcohol on it.

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60% ethanol! You got the cheap stuff! The good Everclear is 95%. You can do a google search on French Polish, and you’ll find, like Brad said, it’s shellac, on a “tampon” with a little oil. The oil keeps the “tampon: from sticking.

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47 minutes ago, Ron Teplitz said:

The Everclear bottle says it's 60% alcohol, so perhaps it's diluted too much by other stuff. If that's the problem, what would be better? 

The 95% alcohol everclear (190 proof), which might not be available where you are. You could try “hand sanitizer grade ethanol” which you can get via Amazon instead. It’s 95% ethanol, 5% DI water, and a trace of an extremely bitter substance as a denaturant. It’s also cheaper because you don’t pay the drinkable alcohol tax.

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18 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

It probably depends on what you want to do.  The normal (for furniture) French polish is shellac dissolved in alcohol, but I assume you want to use it on a violin.  Do you want to use it to varnish a white (unvarnished) violin?  I guess it could work, but violin varnish is usually brushed on, not applied with a tampon.  Do you want to apply it over the existing varnish on a violin?  This is generally frowned on.  Regarding the 50/50 alcohol/spirit varnish mix:  since spirit varnish is mostly alcohol, diluting it 50/50 with alcohol just yields a more diluted varnish.  And some people use the term "French polish" to mean rubbing the varnish of a violin with a pad with straight alcohol on it.

This is for final polish on the fiddles I've made and varnished. I'd hesitate to use just straight alcohol, but I've heard of this usage. Would work if used judiciously, I suppose. 

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17 hours ago, Carl Johnson said:

The 95% alcohol everclear (190 proof), which might not be available where you are. You could try “hand sanitizer grade ethanol” which you can get via Amazon instead. It’s 95% ethanol, 5% DI water, and a trace of an extremely bitter substance as a denaturant. It’s also cheaper because you don’t pay the drinkable alcohol tax.

It's almost impossible to get 190 in California. Will try getting the "hand sanitizer grade" stuff! 

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On 6/18/2022 at 5:15 PM, Carl Johnson said:

The 95% alcohol everclear (190 proof), which might not be available where you are. You could try “hand sanitizer grade ethanol” which you can get via Amazon instead. It’s 95% ethanol, 5% DI water, and a trace of an extremely bitter substance as a denaturant. It’s also cheaper because you don’t pay the drinkable alcohol tax.

Would 200 Proof (100%) be better for use in French Polish?

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5 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

As soon as you open the bottle of 200 proof, it’s no longer 200 proof. The stuff absorbs water like crazy.

OK, semantics, but I'll rephrase;

Would 200 Proof (+/- 99.x%) be suitable for use in French Polish?

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10 hours ago, FiddleDoug said:

As soon as you open the bottle of 200 proof, it’s no longer 200 proof. The stuff absorbs water like crazy.

I've used anhydrous (99.9+%) alcohol for almost 10 years now and it IS much better than 90 or 95% alcohol for shellac based finishes. I haven't had a shellac go bad even when diluted in bottle for well over two years while with water containing ethanol the shellac generally goes bad in a year or less.

Alcohol does absorb water but likely not at crazy speed.

https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/14392/ethanol-and-water-hygroscopic-equilibrium-concentration

I've used this stuff and I go though a liter or so in few years and it still works the same. The amount of water in the air entering the bottle while I pour some alcohol or in the shellac bottle is negligible even at tropical lever RH.

 

5 hours ago, Rico Suave said:

OK, semantics, but I'll rephrase;

Would 200 Proof (+/- 99.x%) be suitable for use in French Polish?

Definitely! I buy anhydrous bioethanol sold as fuel for fireplaces. Here it contains only traces of bitrex to make it undrinkable, otherwise 99.9% ethanol. No poison like methanol. May still be hard to get in some parts of USA.

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1 hour ago, HoGo said:

Definitely! I buy anhydrous bioethanol sold as fuel for fireplaces. Here it contains only traces of bitrex to make it undrinkable, otherwise 99.9% ethanol. No poison like methanol. May still be hard to get in some parts of USA.

I have also started using the bio ethanol fuel. The Bitrex can be neutralized with a tiny amount of bleach [see previous threads or Google]. The fuel is easy to buy online, either through places like Amazon, or directly from the manufacturer, such as Regal Flame.

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It doesn’t need to be neutralized for violin purposes unless you lick your violins a lot, or perhaps if you were spraying a finish. I suppose if you got it on your hands it might be a problem, as it does leave a bitter residue after the alcohol evaporates. The neutralized solvent doesn’t leave the residue.

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37 minutes ago, joerobson said:

The best discrimination of French polishing that I know of is in a book called the Adventures in Wood Finishing by George Frank.

I came to the violin business full time in 2006 after decades in the furniture trades. Fortunately, I started working for a shop with a decent restoration/ repair department. I thought I knew a lot due to my experience with all sorts of finishes from wax, to brick dust and linseed oil, through faux finishing, to the latest catalyzed offerings. One of the first things I learned in the violin shop was that Frank's approach to French polishing didn't work very well at all on violins.  I learned the methods I just posted a while back from the guys in the restoration shop, and they have stood me in good stead for years now. 

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5 hours ago, Michael Richwine said:

I came to the violin business full time in 2006 after decades in the furniture trades. Fortunately, I started working for a shop with a decent restoration/ repair department. I thought I knew a lot due to my experience with all sorts of finishes from wax, to brick dust and linseed oil, through faux finishing, to the latest catalyzed offerings. One of the first things I learned in the violin shop was that Frank's approach to French polishing didn't work very well at all on violins.  I learned the methods I just posted a while back from the guys in the restoration shop, and they have stood me in good stead for years now. 

My experience is much the same. Too much oil in Frank's method.   I like your methods.   I just post this to clarify the difference between what we do on a violin to what the rest of the wood working world thinks of as French polishing. 

on we go,

Joe

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