MAU Art & Design Glossary




A burin is a steel carving tool with a wooden handle used to create the drawing in wood engraving and copper plate printing.

It has a cutting tip shaped diagonally at 45 degrees on one end and a wooden handle on the other. Burins are mainly made in the US and Switzerland. American-made burins are bent at an angle of around 30 degrees at the base of the handle but the Swiss types are made so that the blade and handle are positioned in a straight line. The face of a burin comes in various shapes. Some are square, others are diamond-shaped. The square types are suitable for drawing curves and thick lines, and the diamond-shaped types for drawing thin lines. The sharp knife-shaped burins and multiple-line burins are used for wood engraving.

The technique of using a burin to carve a drawing directly on a copper place is called engraving. This is the oldest of the various techniques used in copper plate printing and started out as a metalwork technique in around 1430 before establishing itself as a printing technique. Because expert skills are required to use a burin adeptly to carve out a drawing, proficiency in using this tool became a yardstick for assessing the abilities of copper plate engraving artists. The burin is used by wrapping the palm around the wooden handle and pushing it while keeping the blade almost level with the plate. To carve curves, instead of twisting the hand, the plate should be rotated in the direction of movement. The burin leaves behind burrs on both sides of the carved lines. These are to be removed with a scraper and then polished with a burnisher.

Burins are used in the same way for wood engraving. When drawing curves, it is the woodblock which must be rotated. When doing this, a leather pad filled with sand called coussin can be placed under the block to help it rotate smoothly. When using multiple-line burins, it is best to choose medium to wide-spaced types.

A burin can be purchased at art supply stores that handle printing supplies.


  • Shapes and close-up photo. Shapes and close-up photo.
  • American-made burinsAmerican-made burins
  • Swiss-made burinsSwiss-made burins
  • How to hold a burinHow to hold a burin