This is an excerpt from “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry” by André-Jacob Roubo; translation by Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán & Philippe Lafargue.
One influential tool that was unknown to me at the start of this project is a polissoir (polisher), which I call a corn straw burnisher. Roubo offers fewer than 100 words describing the tool and its use, yet that tool has fundamentally changed parts of the way I work. As the last tool to touch the surface prior to the application of finish, or in some instances the tool that actually applies the finish, vigorously scouring the surface with it imparts radiance to the substrate that cannot be adequately described. It must be experienced.
Fabricating your own burnisher is fairly easy, and the raw materials are no farther away than any straw broom.
You will need a hank of straws between 1″ to 2″ in diameter. Take your bundle of straws and bind them together with several hose clamps of the appropriate size side-by-side, leaving about 1/2″ of straw sticking out at one end. Leave a little gap between the hose clamps about halfway down the length of the bundle. At this opening, wick in a copious amount of glue all around the circumference and let it sit overnight. Any glue is fine.
Then take a string and tie a loop at one end of the cord. I simply double up the end and tie it into a knot leaving 3″ or 4″ inches of tail. Make a noose from the loop and the string leading to the ball. Place this about 1/8″ from the end of the straw bundle, cinch the noose and start wrapping it as tight as you can without breaking the string. Remove the hose clamps as you work your way down the bundle. When you get to the other end of the bundle (about 1/8″ shy of the end), hold the string in place with a spring clamp. Soak the string wrapping with dilute hide glue and let it set until dry. You can skip this gluing step if your burnisher will be cooked in molten beeswax as the final step. Then reverse the direction of your wrapping (same rotation but now you are working back toward your starting point) to return to the starting point. When you get there, tie off the wrapping string with the tail I mentioned earlier.
Soak the whole string surface with white glue or cross-linked hide glue and let it sit. Trim the straw bundle ends as needed. If your goal is to make a dry burnisher, you are done. If you want a wax-impregnated burnisher, melt some wax in an appropriate vessel and allow the wrapped bundle to soak in it until it is fully saturated. Remove the burnisher from the molten wax with appropriate caution and wipe the excess wax off. As soon as it cools to hardness it is ready to be put to work.
— Meghan Bates