When asked what may favorite finish is, I usually respond "shellac".
But that's not entirely true. While shellac is my favorite finishing material, due to its endless list of pluses, my absolute favorite finish to apply and touch is Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil.
I've been using the stuff for about twelve years now, and I consider it one of the absolute best finishes you can use, for nearly anything. I know that sounds like a lot of fluff, but it really is the case.
If you like French polish, but don't like some of the quirks of the finish (keep that pad moving now!) then you should try Tru-Oil. It's sort of the French polish for the lazy. So maybe we should call it.....well, French polish.
Anyway. Here's a quick rundown of my sequence.
If you don't sand, polish the wood surface with your finest smoothing plane until it gleams in the sunlight. If you can't plane, sharpen a card scraper to perfection and made the surface as smooth as you can. If you (can) sand, work progressively through the grits until you reach 1000. Yes, 1000. Then go over the entire surface with 0000 steel wool. Liberon brand. Wipe it down with a rag soaked in mineral spirits to get all the dust off.
Cut a square out of an old t-shirt about the size of a playing card, then ball that up inside another piece of the same size (like making a small French polish pad) dribble a dime size puddle of Tru-Oil onto the pad, tap it off onto a scrap of wood to distribute the finish, then in smooth, even strokes wipe the finish onto the wood. The goal is to get as thin a coat on as possible. Do not leave any sags or runs, or pools. Thin coats is the key.
Let that coat dry for a couple three hours. If its humid it might take longer. Feel the surface. If there are any rough spots, carefully and lightly sand with 1000 grit. Repeat the application described above. With thin coats like this, you can apply three coats a day unless you shop is humid. One first thing in the am, one after lunch, and one before bed.
When I finish furniture with this method, I usually do six coats (so, two days or so) then sand back with 1000 grit a bit more aggressively (use a lubricant like mineral spirits) to level the finish. Even though you put it on super thin, there are always a few areas that will be heavier. Then I'll do six more coats or until I'm satisfied with the evenness and sheen level. The final coats will have a semi-gloss to gloss sheen.
With open pore woods, like walnut, the pores will remain open using the thin coats technique, but without a built-up area around each pore like you would get with a brushed finish.
If you keep the coats thin, you can control sheen by simply stopping when you achieve what you're after. The more coats, the shinier it will get. Designed for finishing gun stocks, this is a very durable finish that will last under fairly hard use. It's a favorite finish for guitar makers as well, and those see some pretty hard use.
The very last step is to let the finish cure for about a week. If I want to knock back the sheen a little I rub with 0000 steel wool, very lightly, then apply a tiny bit of lemon oil and burnish with a piece of burlap or coarse fabric. The resultant finish has beautiful clarity, which allows the luster of the wood to shine, and if feels like silk to the touch.
Right now I'm letting the last coat of Tru-Oil cure on the lid of my case for sharp tools. This is by far the most difficult part of finishing for me. That seemingly endless wait before you get to see the finished piece assembled for the first time.
Give Tru-Oil a try. I think it might become your new favorite finish that doesn't rhyme with shellac.