Definition of "Burnishing"

The term "burnish" is used in a variety of ways in wood finishing. They all have something to do with rubbing. March 13, 2009

Hey guys. The other day I had someone refer to some of the types of finishing that he does. One type he mentioned was "burnishing". Now what exactly does he mean by this and how is it done for a finish? I know by dictionary what it says, but what is it in finishing circles?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Ok you’re talking to someone from the UK so the terminology may be different. Being involved with antique furniture restoration I am occasionally asked or required to burnish after French polishing. To put it quite simply it is the act of shining up a surface. In the UK we use what is known as "burnishing cream" which is similar to what you may use to bring out the lustre on a car body. It is thick and creamy in texture, wiped on and then vigorously buffed up, You can achieve a mirror finish but that is not often desirable. It is also useful for removing dull patches and can also removal glass marks on a table top.

From contributor C:
I am not sure what he meant you should ask him. In addition to what contributo R said I often refer to burnishing masks which is rubbing the edges down tight. Burnished wood has been smoothed and compressed with bone or woodchips and is a bad idea for most finishes as it leads to poor penetration of the surfaces.

Woodturners sometimes use wax or wax/oil/pigment finishes which are made up in stick form and applied to the spinning wood and then burnished in with handfuls of woodchips. Sometimes finishes are burnished (rubbed smooth) with paper bags, cardboard, newspapers, etc. So he might have meant quite a few different things - you have to ask.

From contributor R:
Basically it means polished finish shined up. Try some of what we call "T-cut" which is a car paint color restorer. Try some on a piece of polished wood, rubbing it well and see how the surface burnishes up (shines up).

From contributor M:
Another technique where the term "burnishing" is commonly used is in the "gilding of gold and silver leaf" were a "polished stone" is used the rub the leaf to bring up a smooth and very shiny gloss. Fine sandpapers are also use to "burnish" the wood very smooth.

From contributor T:
Burnishing is the process of "rubbing the surface of the wood" briskly in order to bring out the grain. The wood itself can be looked at as a stack of closely knit fibers. When you are working with burl, it is a stack of fibers that have been tied together in knots, so to speak. When you sand these fibers, they are being "cut" by the abrasives. Or in other words you are shearing the fibers of the wood. When you burnish, this process molds, blends and polishes the wood fibers, at the surface. The end result is a very smooth
highlighted surface, that when waxed, looks almost like a piece of marble.

You can burnish using the side of a 1/4 inch brass rod, a stiff piece of 9 or 10 oz leather; blue jeans material makes for a great burnishing tool. Try it by sanding a piece of stabilized wood to a 1200 grit finish, this is where many people stop. From here, hold the block firmly in one hand, while in the other you use the edge of the rod or leather to "stroke" the wood along the grain, using pressure and a brisk motion. Watch the surface of the wood and you will see the grain highlights appear with more intensity. Finish with the blue jeans material, again using a rolled edge to burnish the wood.