A technical dictionary of printmaking, André
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An operation which consists in polishing the surface of a metal plate so as to make
it smooth and shiny. Such work is done with a burnisher, a tool made of
polished steel. The tool end is quite strong and has a swelling as well as rounded
shape so that it can be used to level the irregularities of the metal plate, close up
the incorrect lines, rub out the scratches, and remove an undesired grain. In the
past artisans who planed copper plates charged extra for the burnishing of a plate
In the past the burnisher was much used in the last phase of polishing a plate after
pumicing* and using
charcoal*. The plate was then rubbed for a
long time transversally and always in the same direction with very line sand mixed
first with chalk and later mixed with red haematite. Often the work was done using
two hands so as to have more leverage.
At present the burnisher is above all used for repairing accidents, for smoothing
the plate after scraping with a scraper*,
to obtain the whites in mezzotint*
work (see also black), after scraping, or just
to lighten certain parts of the plate. Of course the reason for which the burnisher
is no longer used in polishing* (see also
abrasives) is that there are more
efficient ways of doing it today.
Burnishers are also used to rub the back of sheets of paper when relief engravings
are manually printed [* wood,
Various types of burnishers exist, some of which are flatter while others are move
curved. They are cleaned and polished with leather and tin powder.
A burnisher should never be used on a dry plate. One may use a drop of oil
(olive oil according to Bosse) or if nothing better is available a bit of saliva
will do. The burnishing of metal that is to be engraved should not be confused with
the burnishing of a decorative metal. The latter used to be done with an agate or
red haematite burnisher and lustering agents. This second kind of burnishing leaves
the metal slightly darker than when it has a mat finish.
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