"Burning a hole"?

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Forum topic by lilliputianfrivolity posted 07-29-2009 06:13 AM 3590 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 2763 days

07-29-2009 06:13 AM

I’m stumped

I just started reading “The Workbench Book” by Scott Landis and on page 38 there is an excerpt from a Shaker Elder’s diary – ”...jan 15 worked out the big hole for the screw & bored the 4 holes for bolts & burned them out with a hot iron.” Now in this instance the boring is done and then the “burning” occurs, but I have previously heard of burning a hole without boring a hole first. I can’t recall exactly where I read this but I do remember it pertained to making a pipe. This passage really irked me though, because it reminded me of when I searched through the internet for an explanation on “burning a hole” but found none. I ended up using a complex jig, breaking the drill bit, buying a new one, breaking the pipe, making a new one and making my own gimlet to the length and thickness I couldn’t buy.

Regardless, how does one burn a hole in wood?

And just for curiosity’s sake, why did the Shaker Elder burn out the holes? They were for a vise or bench hook on a shaker style workbench. I am guessing it either added strength, decreased friction, or it was an easy way to enlarge the hole to an exact diameter.

Please placate my frustration friends.

9 replies so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


17577 posts in 3100 days

#1 posted 07-29-2009 08:38 AM

I don’t know, but my guess is to enlarge the hole biggger than the bit he had. That is the problem with reading accounts of things that happened a century or more ago; so much was common knowledge they didn’t bother to explaing things we have never heard of. If I were going to burn a hole, I’d use a pointed iron that was red hot, keep putting it back in the forge just as if I were working the iron.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Radoje's profile


2 posts in 2647 days

#2 posted 07-29-2009 06:37 PM

In boatbuilding school the explained to us about burning a hole for drifts that would hold the various keel timbers together. If you didn’t have a bit the right size for the drifts (or treenails) you were using you could make a “burner” that was just a piece of rod with the head hammered out to the diameter you needed and use it to sort of scrape out the hole to the right size with a brace (or a drill in these modern days). Not sure if this is the same thing the ol’ Shaker fellow was talking about, but there you go.


View BeachedBones's profile


201 posts in 2826 days

#3 posted 07-30-2009 01:03 AM

I was reading a book in which they were making crude spears, once shaped they burnt the points to harden them. I wonder if this might have been done to harden the wood to be more resistant to the wear from the bolts?

-- You know.... I think that old wood needs to be furniture.

View firecaster's profile


570 posts in 2842 days

#4 posted 07-31-2009 04:29 PM

I once read a description of building stagecoaches. I don’t know why I was reading it but it talked about burning the holes. It made the wood around the hole harder and less likely to crack or break with the stresses of bouncing down unpaved roads.

-- Father of two sons. Both Eagle Scouts.

View TiffanyJeanne's profile


60 posts in 2647 days

#5 posted 07-31-2009 10:43 PM

I’ve heard the same thing. Burning the hole adds strength. I do a lot of wood-burning for fun, and I can tell you that the heated and burned wooden areas of a piece, become slick, hard, glossy, and super-strong, compared to the un-burned wood around it. Perhaps that was the intention back then? To strengthen the hole to avoid any splintering or stripping? IDK… just a guess! lol

-- Tiffany Jeanne Balk ~ Labor, Live, Love, Learn, Repeat.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


17577 posts in 3100 days

#6 posted 07-31-2009 10:49 PM

I saw the Woodwright demonstrate buring in handles for chiels. I assumed it was just easier than trying to inlet the perfect tapered hole, but maybe it is to add strenght too.

BTW, welcome aboard Tiffany J!! :-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 3552 days

#7 posted 07-31-2009 10:59 PM

I drill and burn holes as part of my Appalachian-style of woodworking.
Burning smoothes the endgrain fuzziness in a hole and helps make it harder.

When I make hiking sticks, I always burn the hole through which I insert a leather wrist strap.
It helps to prevent chaffing and wear on the leather.

We also use burning to make a round hole square.

-- 温故知新

View woodpeckerbill's profile


205 posts in 2697 days

#8 posted 08-01-2009 12:17 AM

Listen to T.J. and the dr. the purpose of burning a hole (bored hole) is to add strength,prevent cracks and splits, and to smooth the surface of the hole and the area around the hole. Bill

View lilliputianfrivolity's profile


6 posts in 2763 days

#9 posted 08-03-2009 05:34 AM

Thank you all so much. This has certainly cleared up the situation somewhat. As soon as I find a need to use one of these techniques (or if I ever find myself with nothing to do) I will do some tests.

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