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Polissoir

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.

Polissoir

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.


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Showing 9 comments
  • Eric

    To tie the thing I used the jig ( lee valley ) Clamptite tool. Low profile and confortable. I used it for the last year, results are unbelievable. Thanks!

  • bbrown

    Is this finish for bare wood only, or can it be done over shellac?

  • kwaina

    Suggestion: Use the hose clamps to compress the straw and cable ties pulled tight to secure them Then remove the metal clamps.

  • St.J

    If you don’t like the clamps a few lengths of twine tied with constrictor knots would do at least as well. You can get them extremely tight.

  • themavericktexan

    Might one of these work with paste wax? Or will it only work with a dip in melted wax?

    I don’t have one (yet) and I’m curious.

  • connell100

    This brings to mind how the concrete floors in the Philippines are polished. I was stationed at Clark AB in 1973. The house we had off base was on a concrete slab with floors that were polished with colored wax (dark red and green mostly). Our housemaid would get a coconut still in the husk (about10-12″ diameter). Cut it in half and remove all the juicy stuff. She then put a “dollop” of was on the floor and split it between the two halves. Next she stood on the upturned coconuts, large side (bristly) side down and “skated” our floors smooth, shiny and looking good. It was more sport than work. Seems the Philippinos had been been reading Roubo as well and adapted it.

    Maybe I’ll find a coconut and cut out some polishers for woodworking.

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