I find that the large, broad steel burnishers are pretty useless. I
prefer to use carbide burnishers. The only real advantage I see to
the large steel burnishers is that they are easy to polish when they
get scratched. In general though, I find them too large for most
jewelry work. If I need a burnisher to go around less durable stones
that a carbide burnisher would scratch, I have a burnisher I made
from the tine of a stainless steel fork imbedded in a wooden handle.
Here is what I teach about using a burnisher. There are two types of
scratches. The first type is a scratch that actually removes metal
from the surface. These are very hard to use a burnisher on unless
they are very light and on just the right surface. The second type
simply moves metal. The difference between the two types of scratches
is analogous to digging a trench with a bulldozer versus a plow. A
bulldozer or a back hoe reach down and pull or push soil out of the
trench and places it somewhere else. A plow pushs the soil to the
side, creating heaps on either side of the trench.
To determine whether a burnisher will work you have to understand
what kind of scratch you are dealing with and how deep it is. Think
of that plowed trench. If you where to go behind that trench and push
that heaped up row of soil back into the trench, you are, in effect,
doing what a burnisher is best at. Always work the burnisher in the
same direction as the scratch as opposed to at right angles. You
should avoid pushing harder than is neccesary to get the metal back
into the trench. Any harder and you create a compressed area that
will be just as obvious as the original scratch. You can now see why
a very broad, large burnisher isn’t as accurate on some surfaces.
Often you will have a large area, such as the inside of a shank or
the outside of a bezel, that has lots of little scratches over the
entire surface. Here you might think that using a large brunisher
would work better, but often it doesn’t. If you have a large flat
area to work and you stroke it with a burnisher in such a way that
only a tiny area of the burnisher is touching the metal, you will
indeed get a lot of small lines no matter how softly you push on the
metal. If, however, you can manipulate your burnisher so that a
larger area of the tool is in contact with the surface of the metal,
you are less likely to have those small lines and in some cases can
avoid those lines completely. This is where a smaller burnisher comes
in handy. Don’t hesitate to use the body of the burnisher as opposed
to just the tip.
I have, right now, on my bench, 11 carbide burnishers. I use 3 of
them almost every day. The others are more specialized. Here are a
few other points to remember when you use a burnisher.
Keep your work and the tool exceptionally clean. Any abrasive dirt
that gets between the surface of the metal and the burnisher will
scratch the surface of the work and probably the surface of the
Keep your burnishers highly polished. The surface of your work will
never be any shinier than the surface of the burnisher.
Try using a bit of light oil, such as oil of wintergreen, on your
burnisher. Sometimes a bit of oil, especially when you are dealing
with a larger surface area will make burnishing easier.
Don’t push too hard and never use a burnisher without thinking about
what you are doing. A burnisher is not a magic tool. It does a
specific job and it does it under fairly exacting conditions (as
related above). Running a burnisher along willy-nilly over a surface
to get it shiney is about as useful as pointing a torch at a shank
and expecting it to size itself.
One last thing; I find I mostly use burnishers as the next to last
step to a final polish. A shiney surface with small lines created by
a burnisher is easier and generally quicker to polish by other
mechanical means, such as a lathe or rotary handpiece, than a surface
with scratches of various depths. So, you’ll be more successful using
a burnisher as an intermediate step rather than the last one.
It takes a bit of skill and experience to use a burnisher to it’s
fullest. So use a burnisher often, even if it doesn’t seem to help
much. If you use it with intent and observe it’s effect on your work,
you will develop a fondness for burnishers; but like many great
relationships, it’s not love at first site.
I hope this helps.