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Sometimes it’s not you. Sometimes, it is the tool that is causing the problem – especially if we are talking about burnishers.

The following scene has been repeated so many times during the last seven years that it is beginning to feel like “Groundhog Day” for me.

Woodworker: I can’t turn a hook on a scraper.

Me: Hmm. Let me try it using your burnisher and your scraper.

(Grumbling noises. A grunt. Muttered curses.)

Me: Where did you get this burnisher? It’s not smooth and it’s soft. It won’t even touch this scraper.

Woodworker: I don’t know. I’ve always had it.

(I throw the tool into the garbage can. Woodworkers stands, mouth agape.)

Me: Unless you are going to regrind that into an ice pick, it’s garbage. Let me fetch my Arno.


Despite the fact that we can put a space probe up the blowhole of a distant asteroid, we are still plagued by bad burnishers or too-hard scrapers. Back in the day, when scrapers were made from softer steel (usually scraps from an old handsaw), you could turn a hook with the back of a gouge, a chisel or a really fine screwdriver.

But now that scrapers are much harder – sometimes into the 50s on the Rockwell “C” hardness scale – you need a harder burnisher. I’ve even encountered scrapers in the wild that are much harder than a chisel.

And even if you get a hard burnisher, it might not be smooth enough to do the job. I’ve seen new burnishers that looked like they were dressed with coarse sandpaper. If the burnisher isn’t as smooth as a baby otter’s belly, your hook is is going to be jagged, fragile and worthless.

So if your burnisher is working fine, disregard the remainder of this blog entry. Go back to the shop and sharpen your scrapers. You’re done.

OK, for the rest of you, I recommend the French-made Arno burnisher. It is the only burnisher I have used (and I’ve used them all) that will always turn a hook on all scrapers all the time (yes, even underwater, in a box, with a fox and etc.).

The Arno has two very smooth carbide edges that are mounted in an aluminum handle with a leather pouch. (Use the leather pouch to protect your tool – carbide can get chipped and otherwise mangled.)

I usually use only the rounded edge of the Arno, though I have used the pointed edge on occasion when I am dealing with steel that is crazy-hard.

You can buy the Arno from a variety of places, including The Best Things, Amazon, Garrett Wade and other sellers. Sometimes they don’t use the “Arno” name in the catalog description.

Of course, the problem might also be your technique. I’ve written a bunch about sharpening scrapers on the Popular Woodworking web site. Check out this video. I also have a DVD that shows you the process in detail that is available in the store.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 12 comments
  • karlfife

    The comparison of this Arno burnisher to its (inferior) hardened steel brethren is clear and well articulated. It’s clear that the carbide would do a better job, not only by being hard enough to form a burr on modern (harder) steels, but also hard enough not to lose polish over time as by galling. What’s not clear is the preference of this Arno burnisher to other carbide burnishers. Chris says “…and I’ve used them all”, so I assume that includes other *carbide* burnishers such as those by Lie Nielsen, Blue Spruce etc. IF SO, and if the preference stands, I wonder why. Perhaps the Arno’s carbide is better somehow. The major distinguishing characteristic appears to be its LACK of length. Perhaps that *enforces* a consistent distance between the user’s hand and the carbide & scraper, thus ensuring consistent pressure and therefore more consistent result. Could this explain why it will “turn a hook every time”? A burnisher with a longer rod, (even a carbide rod), especially when used with a lateral (sideways) motion seems like it would create inconsistent pressure as the leverage changes as the hand moves sideways, moving the fulcrum, thus creating inconsistent results. Do you think there’s anything to this?

  • Pekingchuck

    I use a burnisher I bought from Lee Valley that takes all the guesswork out of the process and works great.,310,41070

  • Barquester

    Why not a file just above the handle? If you think it is soft, try the hacksaw on it. I break the corners on the grinder. Need something not flat, try the half round, or the rat tail. I’m now using a carbide tool left over from my machining days.

  • denovich

    I use a 1/4″ dia, 6″ long tungsten carbide rod, I ordered it from Amazon, $14 delivered.

    I had a Crown burnisher previously… I could make a scraper work, but I felt like I was missing something. I continued to work on my technique, but got only so-so results.

    Now, with the carbide rod, I get amazing results no matter how half-assed my technique. I keep meaning to make a handle for it… maybe someday I’ll get around to it.

  • Rob Porcaro

    Hi Chris,

    I agree with you about the value of carbide for burnishing scrapers. I have been using my shop-made carbide burnisher for about six years, and it is far better than any steel burnisher I have tried. I used a highly polished 10S grade carbide rod.

    I prefer a longer length than the Arno burnisher appears to be. I find the added length makes it easy to create the hook with a better feel, by using a forward AND sideways motion of the rod – a slicing motion. I hold the handle and the tip of the tool, much like using a rasp.

    Also, readers may be interested in carbide burnishers by Lie-Nielsen and Blue Spruce. I have not used them but I’ll bet they are excellent.


  • wdgrvr

    check with your auto mechanic (my job for forty years) there is no end of usefull shafts rods from hood/ hatch supports shock absorbers ( use caution cutting shaft from cylender NEVER cut or puncture hydralic cylinder) diffeerential cross shafts transmission shift rods the list coes on these are all hardened or case hardened parts

  • metalworkingdude
  • Dean

    I hear and engine valve stem also works well.

  • metalworkingdude

    If you know a machinist or have a machine shop in your area you might ask for a used carbide end mill. They get dull, chip and break in the course of daily activities, but the shank would make a dandy burnisher. You should be able to get a damaged carbide end mill for the asking, stick the pointy end into a wood handle and you’re golden. Something like a 1/4″ diameter endmill would probably be ideal.

    I think I’ll go make one of these right now…

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