This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
The beauty of good work depends on its being executed with tools properly ground, set, and in good order; the work performed by such tools will have its surface much smoother, its mouldings and edges much better finished, and the whole nearly polished, requiring, of course, much less subsequent polishing than work turned with blunt tools. One of the most necessary things in polishing is cleanliness; therefore, previous to beginning, it is as well to clear the turning-lathe or workbench of all shavings, dust, and so on, as also to examine all the powders, lacquers, linen, flannel, or brushes which may be required; to see that they are free from dust, grit, or any foreign matter. For further security, the polishing powders used are sometimes tied up in a piece of linen, and shaken as through a sieve, so that none but the finest particles can pass. Although, throughout the following methods, certain polishing powders are recommended for particular kinds of work, there are others applicable to the same purposes, the selection from which remains with the operator; observing this distinction, that when the work is rough and requires much polishing, the coarser powders are best; but the smoother the work, the less polishing it requires, and the finer powders are preferable.
Soft woods may be turned so smooth as to require no other polishing than that produced by holding against it a few fine turnings or shavings of the same wood whilst revolving, this being often sufficient to give it a finished appearance; but when the surface of the wood has been left rough, it must be rubbed smooth with polishing paper, constantly varying the position of the hand, otherwise it would occasion rings or grooves in the work. When the work has been polished with the lathe revolving in the usual way, it appears to be smooth; but the roughness is only laid down in one direction, and not entirely removed, which would prove to bo the case by turning the lathe the contrary way, and applying the glasspaper; on which account work is polished best in a pole-lathe, which turns backwards and forwards alternately, and therefore it is well to imitate that motion as nearly as possible.
Mahogany, walnut, and some other woods, of about the same degree of hardness, may be polished by either of the following methods : - Dissolve, by heat, so much beeswax, in spirits of turpentine, that the mixture when cold shall be of about the thickness of honey. This may be applied either to furniture or to work running in the lathe, by means of a piece of clean cloth, and as much as possible should then be rubbed off by means of a clean flannel or other cloth. Beeswax alone is often used; upon furniture it must be melted by means of a warm flat iron; but it may be applied to work in the lathe by holding the wax against it until a portion of it adheres; a piece of woollen cloth should then be held upon it, and the lathe turned very quickly, so as to melt the wax; the superfluous portion of which may be removed by means of a small piece of wood or blunt metal, when a light touch with a clean part of the cloth will give it a gloss. A very good polish may be given to mahogany by rubbing it over with linseed-oil, and then holding against it a cloth dipped in fine brickdust.
Formerly nearly all the mahogany furniture made in England was polished in this way.