Friday tutorial: all about burnishing

Written by chris pink on August 22, 2014 in Picture Framing

If you’re familiar with picture framing, or even if you’re just a frequenter of art galleries, you may have come across the concept of burnishing. The simplest way to describe burnishing is as follows: it’s a polishing method of turning hard surfaces shiny and reflective of light by means of applying pressure.

Tools and techniques

Peruse an online shop and you might get the feeling that you have to spend money on expensive burnishing tools to be able to use this ancient method. In fact, you can burnish with anything you can apply direct pressure with.

That said, using tools on frames is a great way to get into those hard-to-reach places which other things cannot.

What are burnishing tools, exactly, and what do you use them on?

Burnishing tools are available in many different materials and shapes. They’re ideal for bringing out the shine in gold, or for improving the mirrored surface of a smooth painted frame. When you apply pressure with a burnishing tool or even with a finger and a rag, the action physically changes the molecules, making the surface more resilient and closing the pores.

How to do it

Burnishing sounds simple, and in many ways it is. But anyone who has ever tried it while say how you need to be careful. Apply too much direct force and you may damage the integrity of the surface. So, instead, the key is to build up heat and friction gradually.

For example, if you were burnishing recently applied gold leaf, you’d have to be much more careful than if it had been adhered for some time. Begin with smooth, slow movements, until you can feel the tool gliding over the surface. At this point you will be able to apply more pressure. As you do so, you’ll see the colour and surface texture begin to change. This is one of the most satisfying things about burnishing.

Keep going until you achieve the level of smoothness and reflectiveness that you require – and remember to use all sides of your burnishing tool or implement. That way, you’ll ensure the most contact and the finest finish possible.

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