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14 posts
Jan 18, 2017
6:50 PM
Hello Harp Tech Fanatics,

After more than two decades of flipping between the terms embossing and burnishing, I finally resorted to looking the words up in a dictionary. I was shocked at how wrong the term embossing is and how right the term burnishing is.

I am making a new tool that makes reed / slot work a lot more easy and accurate than ever before and I wanted a name for it that was, well, accurate. I’m calling it the Reed / Slot Burnishing Tool.

When I was first exposed to Rick Epping’s concept of making slots narrower, the process was described as “burnishing”. This was back in the dark days of high frustration and mass confusion about how to make reed plates come to life, I dont remember the exact year, early-ish 90s...

I went home from that SPAH convention on a mission - to  find my old burnishing tool that I used when I was a printmaking student at Penn State. It looks a bit like a bear claw (Jimmy Gordon’s name for it) made out of tempered steel polished to a smooth, high gloss.

I used this tool to work on zinc and copper plate etchings and engravings to push down the soft metal in areas that were too dark. The shallower grooves in the plate held less ink and the area would become lighter when printed.

This same tool worked very well on harmonica reed plates to push down the edges of the top wall of a slot to make a narrower entrance way for the reed. I learned later that most people were burnishing by using some kind of tube or round piece of steel that was polished so you could push down both sides of the slots at the same time.

The next time i heard folks talking about the process they were using the word emboss. That word justt seemed a bit off to me, but I reluctantly started using it because most everyone else was using it.

I finally looked up the words emboss and burnish. I wish I had done that twenty plus years ago. The dictionary definition of the two words makes it obvious that the word burnish is much more accurate at describing what you do when you close up slots.

From Webster’s online dictionary: 

Emboss (transitive verb)

1. to raise the surface of into bosses; especially: to ornament with raised work
2. to raise in relief from a surface
3. adorn, embellish

Burnish (transitive verb)

1. a: to make shiny or lustrous especially by rubbing
    b: polish
2. to rub (a material) with a tool for compacting or smoothing or for turning an edge.

To me there is no contest - the word burnish nails it in every aspect - you use the tool to rub a surface, it gets shiny when you work, and you are compacting it and turning and edge into a new shape. I really don’t understand how the word emboss became so widely used. 

With the tool I am now using (and offering) you can close the slot from one end to the other as snug as you like up to the reed, and also turn the lower edge of the reed near the rivet pad closer to the reed plate with surgical precision once you get used to the way the tool transfers the pressure from your fingers. 

For information on this tool, a new version of the draw scraper (wider and easier to use and sharpen) plus a new version of the reed prod / shaper tool I have detailed descriptions and some videos to check out here:


There are info -PDFs in the lead post, and video on the post below - also check archives for more videos, etc BTW - My book "Turbocharge Your Harmonica" is available for free in the store in a listing for "Hot Rod Video Manuals and Extras"

I’ve spent most of the last year dialing in these tools and getting reluctant machine shops to make them. I do all the final finishing touches and test every tool before putting it in the store.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me!

Richard Sleigh
PO Box 23
Boalsburg PA 16827


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