Thursday, 10 July 2014

French Polish

I wrote a reminder note for myself last night, for something I'd just run out of, which amused me this morning. It says, 'French Polish'.

French polish is lovely, not only for the deep shine it gives to wood – a french polish finish (this phrase gives me particular joy) is second to none – but because it is so rewarding to use, providing a quick-drying lacquer which is compatible with traditional furniture polish. It has now largely been replaced by varnish made from nitrocellulose (the stuff that gun cotton is made from, which has six times the explosive power of gunpowder) which is not. Compatible with traditional polish, that is.

Shellac is exotic stuff, made from a resin secreted on branches by female lac bugs. It is harvested from trees in India and Thailand. India still produces around 18,000 metric tons of it a year, which is remarkable when one learns that up to 300,000 insects are required to produce each kilogram.

Shellac was used for dyeing, to secure the windings in electric motors, provide the blue and green colour in fireworks, and stick the rubber reservoirs to fountain pens. It is still used in the manufacture of such diverse things as top hats, hair spray, lipstick, and ballet shoes, and as a glazing agent on pills, fruit and chocolate-coated raisins.

It also has thermoplastic qualities; before the advent of vinyl thousands of tons – more than half the annual production - were used to make 78 rpm records. Many of these records involved another well known French Polish product, Frédéric Chopin, more of whom later.


  1. And here's me thinking it was code for something...

    1. It probably should have been, Steve. This was a jaw-droppingly dull post...a cross between a 1970s Open University item and a Ladybird book. I think the World Cup has got to me.