Tool Notes - Fixed Angle Reversible Burnisher

Which gives us another fine acronym : FARB.

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I've been an avid scraper user ever since I bought my first card scraper from Stewart Macdonald five or so years ago. The instructions for preparing the scraper available on StewMac's website are very good and worth the read : How to sharpen a scraper. I didn't have a proper burnisher at the time, so I used the shank of a 1/4" solid carbide spiral router bit with moderate success. It took some fiddling, but I would eventually end up with a nice burr that pulled shavings off hard maple guitar necks easily.

The little burnisher StewMac sells seems pretty decent, and much less of a health hazard than a sharp and pointy spiral router bit, but I figured I could easily whip up a homemade version just as good. I found an old burnisher on eBay built from a 3/8" diameter hardened steel rod stuffed into a crude wooden handle, but never got around to build a guide of some sort for it. I'd use it freehand and while it was much safer than the router bit, I still wasn't as successful getting a consistent burr as I thought one should.

Veritas' Variable Burnisher

Enters Veritas' Variable Burnisher, the ultimate gizmo that could easily solve my problem. But as I mentioned earlier, I need to slow down my tool-buying pace. This Veritas Variable Burnisher has been nagging me, sitting in my Lee Valley wish list for quite a while now. I finally decided to do something about it : build my own wooden, poor man's fixed burnisher. 

The concept behind the Veritas is pretty simple. You dial in an angle between 0* and 15*, take a few passes over your scraper edge et voilà. A carbide rod inside the burnisher is held at an angle to the scraper's edge, and provided you do a decent job of keeping constant pressure, you get a nice burr in no time, from a 15* wood hogging cutter to a 0* glass smooth finisher.

My burnisher is very simple : two holes the size of my steel rod drilled at 2 different angles through a scrap piece of wood. I chose 5* for smoothing and 15* for heavier stock removal. A kerf is cut from two sides about 1/8" through the holes so the scraper edge can contact the burnishing rod. The whole thing is then rounded a bit for relative comfort, and after making sure I can squeeze the jig between my thumb and forefinger while wrapping my other fingers around the burnisher, I mark the angles on the face of the jig for easy reference, wax and polish the thing, and that's about it. A fixed angle, reversible burnisher ready for work.

I did a pretty poor job of cutting the kerf using my large Ryoba saw freehand. An easier way to do it would be to clamp down on the bench a saw blade at approximately half the thickness of the piece of wood, and rub the stock on the saw until the desired depth is reached. My crooked kerfs throw the angles off a little, but the thing still works great.

Here the burnisher is inserted into the 15* hole.

Approximate measurements for my burnisher. Adjust to taste!

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"The problem most people have is choosing the best burnishing angle and then attempting to hold the burnisher at exactly that angle."

- Lee Valley