Ever since hearing about these little enigmas several years ago, I’ve had the desire to get my hands on one and try it out. I first saw these demonstrated by Don Williams, oh, I don’t know, three of four years ago. After seeing Don demonstrate their use, I had intended to buy one or three from him at Woodworking in America 2012, where he was giving a talk on finishing. However, by the time I had the chance to see him about procuring my own polissoir, all that he had brought with him had been sold. So I had planned to email him after the event to order a couple, but then life happened, I forgot, and here we are today.
So several weeks ago, I spied a bundle of broom straw sitting atop the cupboard in my shop, left over from making a small, round broom. Having To Make as Perfectly as Possible close at hand, I flipped to the pages where Don so eloquently describes the process of making said polissoir. I had a little time, I had the materials, I figured I might as well cobble one together.
OK, I hear you. “What the hell are you talking about, Bob?” What you see in the picture is basically nothing more than the straw from a broom, bound extremely tightly together, and trimmed flat on the end. It’s purpose is to burnish the surface of a piece of wood. And what a job it does. I still want to play with the technique a bit more, but it’s really a cool little tool. The piece of mahogany I used wasn’t even planed really flat or smooth, but the polissoir still put a nice shine on the surface. Just rub on beeswax, rub vigorously with the polissoir, then buff with a soft cloth. Really cool.
I still want to buy a couple of the ones that Don sells, because I think the straw I used was a bit coarse, but it was still a neat little tool to make and it’s really cool to watch the surface of a board change right before your eyes. Don’t take my word for it though, let Don show you himself.
Here’s something else cool that I found while browsing other woodworking videos on YouTube. Apparently, the polissoir is not just a French tool. Check out this video of some traditional Korean craftsmen. At about 0:40, one of them is using a tool that is very similar to Roubo’s polissoir, though not quite as tightly bound. Watch it from the beginning though to see how he uses it. It’s a pretty cool finish, no stain required.