Whenever I teach a class that involves turning, I like to show them how well the French “polissoir” can finish off your work on the lathe.
A polissoir (say it poly-swaar) is a bundle of broom corn that is used to burnish a wooden surface to produce a tactile, low-lustre finish. While the polissoir has been around for centuries, Don Williams recently rediscovered the tool for modern woodworkers while he was translating Andre Roubo’s 18th-century book “l’Art du menuisier.”
Don sells beautiful handmade polissoirs through his website, donsbarn.com, and I have one in my tool chest that has seen a ton of use.
But when packing my tools to teach in California at William Ng Woodworking School, I forgot my polissoir. So we made a pair of them using materials from Home Depot. I bought a $7 hand-held whisk broom and a package of 10 hose clamps for $5.
One of the students cut up the broom into two bundles that were about 5” or 6” long. We squeezed each bundle with the hose clamps as tight as possible. Then I domed the ends of the bundles on the disc sander.
The last step is to charge the polissoir with some wax, which makes the tool easier to use. One of the students had a small hunk of beeswax. I cut off a few shavings of the wax into a paper cup and melted it in the school’s microwave (one minute, on high). Then I spread the wax on the ends of the polissoirs.
These homemade jobs worked as well as my nice one. But they are ugly. I presented one to William Ng at the end of the class as a gift. He laughed, looked at the thing in his hand like it was a turd and said, “Thank you. I will treasure it forever.”
If you’d like a lesson in using the polissoir, check out my blog entry in 2012 here.
— Christopher Schwarz
If you like your finishing advice straight-up, with no chemistry, check out Bob Flexner’s “Wood Finishing 101.” Priced at only $12.50, it is the best deal on finishing information out there.