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It’s easy to be skeptical about the polissoir. Could a bundle of broom corn radically change the way you finish some pieces of work?

All of us who worked on the translation of A.-J. Roubo’s “l’Art du Menuisier” were wary when we translated the section on the polissoir – literally “polisher.” So we were shocked to see how well it worked and now I have a beat-up one in my tool chest. I use it all the time.

What do I use it on? Smaller stuff, mostly. Polishing a dining table would be a lot of work. But polishing chair parts, small boxes and shop tools is quick, easy and effective. The burnishing effect of the polissoir appears permanent. I use a little bit of beeswax as a lubricant, but most of the lustre is from the hard broom corn compressing and polishing the wood fibers.

It’s a tactile finish as there is no plastic film between your skin and the wood – I particularly like it on turnings.

You can make your own polissoir – start with the handle of a whisk broom or a wok broom. Or support a hand craftsman and buy them from Don Williams via his site, The Barn on White Run. A broom-making neighbor of Don’s makes each one by hand. You can read more about the different kinds of polissoirs and find ordering information here.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. All of the gift guide entries (including last year’s) are here.

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Showing 5 comments
  • wmickley

    Roubo says the polissoir was made from rush, not broom corn. In the 18th century Roubo’s Jonc ordinaire was common rush Juncus laevis, now called Juncus effusus. It is a much softer material.

  • skiback46

    It seems like most of the photos I have seen of the polissoir in use are on mahogany (of some sort) or another fairly open-grained wood. Are there woods that work better for this finishing technique? Is it a function of wood density, or grain structure? Are there any woods for which this technique is ill suited (assuming of course it is appropriate for the use of the piece)?


  • Straightlines

    In the Philippines, the Filipinos traditionally use coconut husks face down for polishing their floors — yes, the kids put a big chunk under each foot and shuffle (dance to music) around. I wonder if they would work for our purposes, especially considering that they offer a big burnishing surface. Not so easy to acquire.

  • hmerkle

    You mention the Wok broom in your post – have you tried using one of those (bamboo) versus Good old American “Corn-based” product? 😛
    Are there finishing differences – or is it un-noticeable?


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