We generally polish our paper at VPCo but frustrated at using smaller burnishers we decided to make a bigger, better burnisher a few months ago and have been finessing the design ever since.
Then we thought that if we need a tool like this then other craftspeople like us might need one and so here we are!
The VPCo XL Agate Burnisher is a handmade tool for anyone who uses paper, leather, vellum, cloth and gold leaf in their craft; printmakers, painters, bookbinders and furniture makers etc.
What does a burnisher do?
A burnisher is a tool used to polish paper and other materials from a matt to a high gloss. This process is both practical and aesthetic.
Burnishing adds an attractive gloss finish to the material. The process of burnishing consolidates the fibres of the material creating a tough surface reducing the chances of damage during handling.
You can most commonly see burnished papers in older bindings - those with shiny marbled papers are especially attractive. If you buy contemporary marbled papers from the many makers out there, with a very few exceptions, none of them are burnished, they're all quite flat. With our burnisher you can completely transform the sheet into something spectacular and luxurious.
Burnishing can be seen in various other types of book including cloth covered bindings. For example, this cloth covered binding we made a while ago features highly burnished book cloth. It's reminiscent of early 20th century bindings you may have come across. The key to achieving this is by applying a shellac glaire to the cloth and then, you guessed it, burnishing it until the cloth becomes shiny.
But it's not just decorative book papers and cloths which can be burnished. You can use this tool on plain papers too. For example, a watercolour paper can be transformed from a flat, mat surface into a high gloss, vellum-type surface. Absolutely perfect for botanical artists, printmakers et al.
The VPCo XL Agate Burnisher is the biggest production tool of its type in the world! It has an extra large, 4 inch 10cm wide, thick, strong Brazilian agate polishing stone mounted into a reclaimed teak wood handle so every burnisher has its own unique character!
We've made four different types of finished handle; plain unwaxed, plain waxed, torched and waxed and stained and waxed. If we have time we may also add a few painted handles too but time will be the master.
In practical terms the shape of the handle allows for effective one and two-handed work.
The stone is silicone mounted into a reclaimed teak wood handle. The very large "Vintage Paper Co" logo is deeply carved into the handle because it looks great but more importantly it acts as an excellent grip.
Looking after the condition of the stone is essential and so every burnisher is supplied with a protective soft cotton bag to keep it safe when not in use.
There are only two raw materials used to create these burnishers; wood (see above) for the handle and Brazilian agate for the polishing stone.
The Lifespan Agate Stone.
Agate is the preferred material for burnishing because it's extremely strong and it can be worked into a very smooth surface, ideal for natural materials. This is not a revolutionary discovery by us - it's been used since ancient times.
We have been asked on social media how agate is different to bone which is a good questiion. Bone is not as strong as you might think. Using it to burnish in the same way as agate causes it to wear down very quickly. Agate has a shelf-life of many, many years even when heavily used.
The agate polishing stone begins life as a gazillion bazillion year old boulder; rough on the outside but almost magically glassy and smooth inside.
The boulder is cut into thick slices on the DANGER DANGER CUTTING MACHINE, the rough edges removed and it's then trimmed into rectangles.
The edges are then shaped using various long winded processes until the perfect profile for burnishing is acheived.
You'll notice that both of the long edges on the stones are profiled for burnishing but why?
Through our own experience we know that accidents happen and if dropped there's a chance that the stone can be chipped. Thankfully agate is strong and can take knocks and drops but sometimes...
If the worst does happen and the stone does get damaged rather than having to return the burnisher to us to have the stone re-ground or replaced we thought it would be helpful if you could simply take the stone out of the handle, flip it around and get back to work again!
This is a simple process - the stone is mounted in the handle with silicone. To remove it simply cut the silicone with a craft knife and pull the stone out. Using a blade, remove any lingering silicone and wipe down with spirits to remove any dirt and grease. Squirt a line of new silicone into the groove in the handle and set the stone back in. When the silicone has set use a craft knife to clean up any excess and you're back in business.
IF you do happen to damage it a second time we do offer a regrind or replace service.
The wood handle is carved from unfinished reclaimed teak and is cleverly shaped for single or double handed operation.
This allows you to burnish with one hand whilst holding and moving the paper in position increasing efficiency whilse reducing the chances of damage to the paper during the burnishing operation.
If you're working on a heavyweight paper then two handed burnishing may be required.
Burnishing paper is a skill as old as paper itself and was part of the process to make smooth surfaced sheets in Samarkand in the 9th and 10th centuries. Like papermaking, the process slowly found it's way to the west over the next few hundred years.
Polishing paper with stone is a technique which dates back to the invention of paper but is still used today to produce fine calligraphy papers in India or shiny papers for books here in Stromness.
Until the invention of steel rollers to make Hot Pressed paper, stone was the material used to polish paper, whether with a hand held tool like this (or ours!) or with...
this giant, ceiling mounted machine!
In recent years burnishing paper has become less common, mainly through a lack of awareness in makers but we and a few others find it absolutely essential to create a traditional and beautiful finish on our Properly Made Books and hand printed papers.
As mechanical mass fabrication of books and printed matter became commonplace, hand finishing skills such as burnishing fell by the wayside due to economic needs and a subsequent loss of knowledge and skill. We're bringing it back!
What types of paper can be burnished?
Almost all types of Western and many Japanese papers can be burnished.
The exception to this are papers with large fibrous inclusions; seed paper, Nepalese lokta and some chiri Japanese papers. These are not suitable for burnishing as the lumps and bumps can tear the surface when burnishing pressure is applied.
Printed/Patterned Paper/Coloured Paper: Virtually all machine (litho, digital) and hand printed (screen printed, letterpress and marbled paper can be transformed through burnishing. Experimenting is highly recommended. In some cases burnishing papers made with certain types of metallic inks can cause a dulling effect. Flat colours almost always work brilliantly.
Fine-Art Paper: The vast majority of fine-art papers (watercolour, drawing and printmaking papers) can be fully or partially burnished to a high gloss. With enough elbow grease even a rough textured watercolour paper can be burnished to a high gloss.
Entire sheets can also be burnished to create a hard, vellum like surface which is perfect for fine detail work such as botanical watercolour.
Getting the best results are often gained through trial and error and experience but here are some basic pointers to get you started.
Your work surface
Always burnish on a clean, very flat surface - a litho stone or cutting mat is ideal. A wooden work surface or any surface with any sort of texture should never be used.
The most important thing is to ensure there is nothing on the surface (small particles of anything) as this will create a bad burnish imprint or even tears to the surface of the paper.
Patterned papers - You don't have to use a lubricant but we find that burnishing patterned papers with a lubricant (such as beeswax or bars of non-frangraced, plain soap) works wonders. We prefer to use soap because beeswax can be too sticky.
Lightly dry rub the bar of soap (or wax) onto a dry, clean soft rag - a lovely, soft old tea towel is perfect.
Lightly wipe the rag over the surface of the paper prior to burnishing.
Fine-Art Paper - If you want to burnish an art paper prior to painting, printing or drawing do not use a lubricant because it can cause issues when laying down inks and paints. You'll need to dry burnish.
You can of course fully or partially burnish a completed artwork (print, painting or drawing) using wax or soap.
Burnishing Process - The paper should be burnished in all four directions - up, down, left and right.
With one hand hold the paper to the work surface firmly.