How Do You Burnish A Table Top

If you want to achieve a pristine finish of your table top, then burnishing is an art that you need to learn. Whether you are a novice in this area or a burnishing expert, you will realize that the burnishing options and emerging trends in burnishing are almost endless. With the innovation of different techniques and tools used for burnishing, there has always been a lot to learn in this field.

There are 7 steps to burnishing a tabletop; Sanding, Oiling, Rubbing the oil into the wood, wiping, giving it a couple of weeks to rest, sanding again, and finally cleaning. It is important to not rush this process, and use the right grit of sandpaper which should be between 400-600 grit. To protect and preserve the table top for a longer time, it is important to burnish all its’ 6 sides, as the wood will lose a lot of its aesthetic qualities if any of the sides are exposed to moisture.

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about burnishing, and take each step one at a time to give you a fully comprehensive guide on how to burnish a table top. We hope this article will help you avoid any beginner mistakes as well as give you some pro tips that will help you throughout the process. Without further ado, let’s get into the basics of burnishing.

What is Burnishing?

Burnishing is the process of polishing wood or metal to achieve a smooth and glossy sheen. This is done by applying sufficient pressure or by rubbing the wood or metal with a suitable tool or materials. In this burnishing guide, we are going to focus on burnishing the tabletop and how to do so perfectly. Of course, there are so many experts out there with divergent views on how best to do it in the same way, when you visit different workshops, you see different results.

This article aims at bringing the best possible burnishing results of a table top, and we are going to address each step, and what you need for the task.

If you want to know more about burnishing, then We have a massive article giving you a tutorial on Burnishing for your Wood Carvings. Make sure that you have checked it out.

Even before we delve much into it, there is an intense debate on this topic by burnishing experts that rubbing shavings or sawdust on the tabletop or wood creates friction that works to open the pores on the wood. Such pores are then filled with the tiniest of the shavings making the surface look smooth. The point of contention here is the friction. Some believe that rubbing shavings against the wood removes the soft cell walls of the wood and compressed the hard cell walls. This is perhaps a scientific debate that we cannot address at this point.

A Step-By-Step Guide To Burnishing a Table Top

Burnishing is an art and when you master the process, you become the master of the game. Therefore, the following are the steps that will help you achieve the best of your tabletop.

Step-1: Sanding

This is the first and crucial step that works to remove the soft cell wall of the wood, dust, and to harden the surface. If you are using a powered sander such as the Random Orbit Sander, you will need 400 grit sandpaper. The disadvantage with this method is that it can leave some ridges and swirl marks at some points where there is an overlap of the strokes.

If sanding by hand, it is recommendable that you use a 600-grit sanding block. The importance of this process is to remove the imperfections and to make the surface ready for the next step.

While at this step, you should ensure that your sanding is consistent for better results. Ensure that the surface and the edges are consistently done for uniform results. This step gives a tabletop a better feel and looks than it was before sanding. You should keep some sawdust to help you further when doing the final touches.

Step- 2: Oiling

Before this, ensure that you have a good natural oil that will give strength to your wood. The one that will make it harder and water-resistant. One of our recommendations is to use Tung Oil by The Hope Company This is where wet sanding also comes in. The last sandpaper that you used in step 1 with sawdust will be helpful in this step.

Now you can apply some oil consistently on the surface of the table, and where possible, you can also apply it on the underside. This will seal up the moisture all around the wood. After the application, leave it to soak for about 2 ½ hours.

Step- 3: Rub the oil into the surface

Here, you can choose to use the last sandpaper with some dust, but also, 0000-grade steel wool would be a great option. Now rub the surface in a consistent manner including the edges. You may add some oils or paste wax on the sandpaper or steel wool to bring out the best satin finish.

Step-4: Wipe the surface

After rubbing the surface consistently as in step 4 to a satin finish, it’s not time to wipe the excesses of wax, oils, and slurry on the surface. You can use a clean dry cloth or paper shop towels. Some experts also have pointed out their experiences using clean old jeans and it works the same way. It is also important to wipe everything clean while the oils or wax are still wet for better results.

Step-5: Allow it to cure

Allow the oils to cure for 2-3 weeks. That means you should keep it in a safe place where there is no exposure to water or even dust.

Step-6: Gloss finishing

If you want to achieve a glossy sheen or a gloss finish, you can apply more sanding on a cured surface self-lubricating 600 or 800-grit sandpaper. Do the sanding until you achieve the best results to minimize more rubbing. You can gradually increase the sandpaper grit as you make the surface look finer.

At this point after further wet sanding, Dip a damp rag into a rubbing compound of your choice. Now apply some pressure while rubbing in a consistent circle manner until when you think you have achieved the best for your tabletop.

Step-7: Cleaning

Get a clean cloth damped with some mineral spirits and wipe the surface until you achieve a fine clean and reflective surface.

In the video below, you will learn some of the basic skills that you need to understand the burnishing process as we have discussed above, and using the Organoil Hard Burnishing Oil:

What are the key takeaways from the video?

  • Using a burnishing brush on a drill works better and quicker in removing excess oil.
  • The friction that is generated on the brush and tabletop makes the oil cure or dry faster.
  • Apply oil on the tabletop consistently and, on the edges, as well.
  • A thicker oil coverage on the tabletop would take much time to cure.
  • It’s easy to burnish along the edges and the ridges using a burnishing brush than using sanding pads.

Is Burnishing Different Depending On The Wood?

Burnishing would depend on the type of wood. The process of burnishing is the same, but the tools and the amount of pressure that you can apply will vary. For instance, sanding a hardwood by hand may be difficult as compared to sanding a softwood. The ultimate result may also look different from the hardwood and for the softwood.

Burnishing Pine vs Walnut

As we have mentioned, the principle of burnishing will remain the same. However, you may need different approaches for these types of wood. Pine is a softwood while walnut is a hardwood. Therefore, you may need to apply more work or pressure on walnut than on pine to achieve the same results.

Burnishing Wood With Steel Wool

At some point, we have mentioned the use of steel wool during the burnishing process. That is the 0000-grade steel wool like the Red Devil Steel Wool. This type has got consistent fine texture and works just like fine sandpaper. When using steel wool for burnishing, rub the table top with steel wool in a circular manner until you achieve uniform smoothness.

What Are The Advantages Of Burnishing A Tabletop?

The first physical advantage of burnishing a table top is the smooth and glossy sheen. Burnishing makes a tabletop attractive and elegant. Apart from making the tabletop smooth and mirror-like, it is also beneficial in the following ways:

1. Hardening

As we mentioned, burnishing removes the soft cellular walls and condenses the inner cells of the wood to produce a hard surface. The increased hardness will make the tabletop more resilient to damage or cracks thus enhancing its lifespan.

2. Value addition

A burnished tabletop is more valuable than one that is not burnished. It makes it look attractive and modern hence giving it a higher value. If you are doing it for commercial purposes, you perhaps know the value that burnishing will add to your table before you can sell it.

3. Polyurethane and Lacquer alternative

If you don’t want to use polyurethane or lacquer, you can burnish your tabletop and achieve similar or even better results. A burnished table top will look even more valuable as compared to polyurethane or lacquer types, especially if you have used hardwood.

4. Avoiding chemical finishes

The good side of burnishing is that it eliminates the use of burnishing chemicals that may compromise safety issues. Those chemicals can also take a longer time to dry as compared to what we have highlighted in the above process, that is, using natural oils.

Final thoughts

Burnishing is an art that you can learn and grow to a notch higher. You will note that there are endless ideas that you can apply to your tabletop to make it stand unique with a glossy sheen. It is also important to note that this process can also work for burnishing any other kind of furniture such as floors and cabinets among other items. Therefore, applying the above steps with the right burnishing tools will ultimately give you optimal results.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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