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How to Burnish Wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Burnishing is a process applied to wood after the final coat of lacquer is allowed to dry. Burnishing is the blending of wood fibres together with lacquer to achieve a high-gloss finish. Burnishing was a popular technique used by old-world craftsmen but not typically found in today's woodworking because of the time incurred and the extra step needed to complete the project. Burnishing is done by hand; also known as a hand-rubbed finish, it offers an incomparable finish if you have the time.

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  1. Fold the denim into a small pad. Using your fingers, rub the lacquer vigorously with the pad in small circular motions while the lacquer is dry to the touch.

  2. Rub briskly in one spot with authority 6 inches in diameter until the pad and the surface of the lacquer feel slightly warm.

  3. Rub another pattern overlapping the first pattern, moving in the direction of the grain.

  4. Lean down so that light reflects off the surface of the lacquer. You should see a brighter, polished look where you rubbed before. If it is not clearly brighter, rub the patterns again.

  5. Rub over the two patterns again, this time in a straight motion, back and forth with the grain, to smooth and blend the circular swirls into straight lines. Rub vigorously, with authority, burnishing the surface of the lacquer to a brilliant gloss.

  6. Rub more circular patterns end-to-end, followed by straight patterns over the top of the circular patterns, until you have burnished all of the wood.

  7. Tip

    For round objects, swirl the denim around the leg or spindle with the palm of your hand. Follow with straight strokes up and down. If your denim gets filled or saturated with lacquer dust, get a new piece.


    Make sure the lacquer has completely dried. Make sure the room is clear of fumes. If fumes are still present, use breathing protection.

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Things You'll Need

  • Denim (old blue jeans)

About the Author

Wade Shaddy

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.

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