Table of Contents

Wood Burnishing Tools

Shane Grey
Table of Contents

Burnishing produces a smooth, shiny wood surface without coatings or sealers. The primary concept behind wood burnishing is compression; constant rubbing compresses and smooths the work piece’s fibers to produce a hard, glossy surface. The key characteristic of an effective wood burnishing tool is smoothness.

Burnishing results in pronounced wood grain patterns.

Abrasive materials remove wood from the wood piece rather than compressing and burnishing.


Woodworkers often use scraps of hardwood to burnish work pieces. The woodworker briskly rubs a block-shaped scrap of resilient wood, such as maple or oak, along the grain of the work piece. The brisk rubbing slowly compresses the fibers of the work piece, resulting in a glossy shine and the appearance of pronounced grain patterns.

Metal Burnishing Tools

Smooth metal materials make good burnishing tools. Some common metal materials used as burnishing tools are metal rods and metal balls. Both metal rods and balls have smooth surfaces and, unlike hardwood burnishing tools, do not nick or scratch easily. Like hardwood burnishing tools, the woodworker quickly rubs the metal burnishing tool across the work piece’s surface while apply pressure.

Ultra-Fine Sandpaper

A number system represent the relative coarseness of sandpaper; the larger the number, the finer the sandpaper. Sandpaper in excess of 1200 grit sometimes produces a rubbing, rather than material removal, effect on wood. Many woodworkers accomplish a burnishing effect by attaching ultra-fine sandpaper to sanding equipment and applying the equipment as normal.

Leather and Cloth

Leather and cloth materials are traditional wood-burnishing tools. Like most burnishing implements, leather and cloth burnishing tools are typically custom made by the woodworker. These tools are usually as simple as a scrap of leather or a piece of denim. Woodworkers use both leather and cloth in the same manner as other burnishing tools. They rapidly rub the leather or cloth against the work piece’s material while applying pressure.

Notes on the Use of Burnishing Tools

Classic burnishing occurs without the aid of polishing creams and wax. The key to successful burnishing is the preparation of the work piece. Wood that will be hand-burnished must first be sanded to a very fine grit and subsequently cleaned of dust and debris. A rough surface prevents the woodworker from smoothly and swiftly passing the burnishing tool across the work piece.