B is for Burnishing (AtoZ 2016)

After firing the metal clay, the metal has a white film on it and you need to burnish it. It’s similar to polishing, but not quite the same. While a polishing cloth is soft, a burnisher is hard. It needs to be hard because you are compacting the top layer of metal so that it’s silver-coloured instead of white. When I first started making beads, I used steel wool to burnish my beads since it was cheap and I could get it at the local hardware store.

I don’t recommend it.

It’s rough on your hands, it leaves little steel bits all over the place, and it quickly becomes useless. I tried buying a steel brush, but it wasn’t soft enough; I ended up with scratches instead of shine.

I did a bit more research and decided to try an agate burnisher. It was a massive improvement over the steel wool, although I still use the steel wool for the hard-to-reach places like the inside of the bead hole where I need something flexible. The burnisher is fairly simple to use, can be used over and over, and – best of all – doesn’t shed! After a few months, I bought a second burnisher, steel this time, in a different shape to see if either the shape or material made a difference. I don’t prefer one over the other, but since they are different shapes each tends to work better at different times. Most of the time, I have both out and switch between them to get the result that I want.

But, there’s still those tiny places that are too small for the burnishers and where the steel wool is too soft to really compact the top layer. For those, I found an unexpected tool: a Sulcabrush. It’s like a really small toothbrush, with firm bristles. It’s firm enough to push between the spaces, but soft enough not to scratch the silver. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best thing that I’ve found so far! Ideally, I would like to find a soft steel brush (that is what is recommended) but I haven’t found one that is soft enough yet. And, since I have no other uses for steel brushes, I don’t want to add to my current collection of useless steel brushes ;)

Have you ever searched for the right tool for a job, but been unable to find it? How inventive do you get to get a job done?



  1. Ooh interesting, I burnish silver foil onto hot glass, but that can easily be achieved with a flat graphite marver onto a basic bead…

    I don’t know about “searching” for the right tool, but I have discovered a few by accident… but I can’t tell you about them as I’m going to talk about some of them in the A to Z!

    One that I’m not… as a blogger I sometimes get free samples for review, I don’t wear make up hardly ever (about once every 5 years at the moment) but I have used the brushes to coat my fusing moulds with primer as they are often good quality!

    Mars xx
    @TrollbeadBlog from
    Curling Stones for Lego People

    1. I also have a few tools that I have stumbled upon (that I will go into more detail about for other letters :)), but finding a proper steel brush has been quite a challenge! I think that I might have to break down and order one online soon, even with the steep shipping charges. I think I’ve tried three now and all have been useless.

      Good use for the makeup brushes! :)

    1. I know *absolutely* nothing about boats, so I would be in the same boat (excuse the pun!) as you! I see that you also have a little Scamp trailer! So neat! We were looking at similar trailers (Trillium and Boler) two years ago when we were looking for our camping trailer. Scamps don’t seem to be as popular here in Canada, but the Trillium and Boler ones sell just as quickly as you mentioned the Scamps selling! Here today, gone tomorrow. But it’s amazing how they can fit everything into such a small space so it’s understandably why they are scooped up so quickly.

      Sorry, my reply ended up being not at all about tools :D I was going to say that sometimes the right tool is staring me in the face, it just takes me a while to realize that it’s the right tool!

  2. You MAKE beads? Wow! I didn’t know people made beads! I thought they were manufactured by machines in factories! This is awesome! It was so wonderful reading about part of the process! I don’t usually hunt much for tools. I just improvise with whatever I have on hand. I’m kinda impatient that way!
    – Chicky @ http://www.mysteriouskaddu.com

    1. I make beads in a very simple way, although I have a post for this challenge that touches on how more mainstream beads are made vs how I make them. But it is really fun to make something with your own hands :)

      I think that it is my impatience too that sometimes leads me to finding new tools. :D

  3. Really interesting learning what is involved in bead making.

    I tend to get the right tools for the job, but that is because having watched my Dad have numerous diy disasters through muddling through without the right tools I know the downside of lack of preparation!!!


    1. My dad is also always rigging a DIY project up, but he seems to do pretty well with improvising tools – perhaps that is where I get it from!

      My problem is that there’s always multiple options for every tool so it’s hard to find the right one! And it’s really a personal preference for many of them. Perhaps I would feel more confident about my tool choices if I had a chance to try them first, but there aren’t any metal clay classes locally (that I have found at least).

  4. I’m a big fan of ‘inventiveness’ when it comes to finding (or readapting) tools for a particular job… In Mexico (where I’m from), it’s almost anti-patriotic not to :D Very cool that you were able to find these burnishing tools!

    Thanks for the visit over at Life In Dogs , and for the beautiful comment :)

    1. I actually love wandering a store and thinking about how I can reuse things :D

      I’m looking forward to the rest of your series, Guilie!

  5. Interesting post, Tracy. My only experience with burnishing was when I learned how to gild. Good luck with the challenge. My A-Z challenge subject is very different: Wildlife Encounters!

    1. Thanks Susan :) I loved your post on Friday about the bat.

      Gilding is something that I’ve never tried, actually. I wonder if it is the same kind of burnisher?

  6. Burnishing sounds like it takes a lot of patience. My husband built his own 3D printer and he often prints the perfect tool for the job – very handy :)
    Tasha’s Thinkings (72) | Wittegen Press (74) | FB3X (AC) (75)

    1. That would be very handy! Now I’m trying to think about what kind of tool I’d print if I could print my own tool …

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