What the hell is a burin?

By September 5, 2018Uncategorized
Burin tool image

On those occasions when one of us speaks to a new acquaintance about our copyediting service, Burin Media, the question usually arises, somewhat obliquely, as to what or who exactly is a burin? Most people assume it is either the surname of one of the company’s principals, or that the name itself is a nod to the city in which the company is based, Burien, Washington (suburb of Seattle, somewhat southwest of the city, home of Sea-Tac Airport). Neither is correct: I don’t know anyone named “Burin” the fact the two words are spelled differently as well as being pronounced differently should tip off the uninitiated. Mostly it doesn’t, which will probably be the topic of a future blog post, something about the value of paying attention.

So, what is a burin and why did we choose it as our public image? Simply put, a burin is an engraving tool. Once upon a time, before the advent of computers and grey-scale plate making, illustrators of publications needed to painstakingly carve designs in metal plates, which were then inked and then pressed onto the intended paper pages. When the process was first introduced in 1513, the metal of choice was iron. But as metallurgy evolved, so did engraving. Today, the preferred carving metal is copper, hence, copperplate engraving.

In any case, the preferred tool for all of this intricate cutting was (and still is) the burin. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a burin is an engraving tool with a metal shaft that is cut or ground diagonally downward to form a diamond-shaped point at the tip. The angle affects the width and depth of the engraved lines. The shaft of the tool is peculiar in design, separating it from a more-familiar cousin, the awl, in that it has a fixed flat handle that can be held close to the working surface and has a wide rounded end for bracing against the palm of the hand. The point is guided by thumb and forefinger.

I would like to say that the choice of a burin was our number-one choice to be the company’s name, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was about twelfth on a list of possible names (the first eleven were already taken), but the more we looked at it and rolled it around in our heads, the more we liked it. It was unusual and sort of catchy. We came to see the burin as an integral and indispensable tool to publishing, one with a long heritage. We at Burin Media would like to think that we, too, are an integral and indispensable tool in our clients’ publishing processes. As far as the long heritage is concerned, time will have to tell.