According to Bob Flexner’s “Understanding Wood Finishing”, French polishing refers to a technique for applying shellac, not a finish in and of itself. Essentially you apply a very large number of thin coats of shellac using a pad, a wee bit of oil, and a lot of elbow grease. There’s no need to get too caught up in the ‘right’ way of doing it. Like anything in life, with ample practice your French polished pieces will look better and better, and you’ll work out a sequence of steps that suit you best.
Do keep in mind that while a French polished surface has a high water vapour resistance, it has relatively low abrasion resistance. So it’s best used for pieces that won’t get a lot of heavy use, or be subject to water or alcohol spills.
In the last article I described shellac as an easy to use finish: easy to apply, easy to clean up, and easy to repair. In this article we look at an elegant nature of shellac: French polishing.