The owners of a newly restored home decided early on that they wanted their stairway and mahogany handrails to be special. After some deep research, they decided on a handrail profile from Hardwood Design in Exeter, R.I. After I showed them a variety of finish samples for the handrail, they picked one of the oldest finishes in the books, a spirit varnish that was French-polished. Although I didn’t use an authentic French polish (I didn’t use the traditional filler), the rest of my process was the same. I dyed, stained, and filled the grain, then brushed on varnish and padded the surface into a high gloss. The beauty in this type of finish is threefold: The finish is thin, it’s highly tactile, and it makes the wood grain glow with inner light. An unusual aspect of this project was that the rails were brought to my shop before installation. This made it much easier for me to do a great job, which in turn saved the clients money. Here’s how I created this classic finish.