Corsetry Tutorial : Making An Easy Wooden Busk

The stays are making steady progress this week. Since I got a decent wire cutter on Monday, the spiral steel bones are now cut, tipped and put into place. Right now, the binding is already in the workings. This only leaves one question: What to do about the busk? Oh the busk…

Initially, when I got the pattern, I also bought a matching flat metal busk of 30 cm (12″) length, as required on the envelope. Since I am a bit short, I also got the next smaller size the shop carried, which was 25 cm (10″) long.

My two solid metal busks.

After shortening the stays, it now turns out that the 12″ busk is a bit too long to fit into the bound busk pocket; and the shorter one is somewhat too short. The actual busk length that fits me is somewhere between the two, namely at 27 cm (10 3/4″). So I needed to find a quick solution. Since I wanted to save the metal busks for future projects, I came up with something else: When I bought the wire cutter, I also picked up two paint stir sticks and some sandpaper. And, eventually, they solved my busk problem, in a rather pretty way.

Since some of you might find this helpful, I have written it up as a brief tutorial.
It should work to make a wooden busk of 30 cm (12″), or shorter, for Regency stays or corsets/bodies of earlier periods that ask for a straight busk.

[Safety advice: When working with wood, please wear suitable eye and mouth protection against the dust sawing and sanding create. Airing and vacuuming afterwards are also a good idea. ;) ]

You will need:

  • A wooden paint stir stick
    (or other untreated hardwood board of approx. 4 mm thickness and 2 cm [3/4″] width)
  • A pencil or fine marker
  • A saw
  • Sandpaper suitable for wood (not too coarse or fine; about 40-grain worked well for me)
  • A fine file (I used a disposable pedicure file)
  • Optional: Olive oil and lemon juice

The tools. In the center you can also see the finished busk. :)

The steps:

First, shorten the wood to the desired length. Mark the cut line and saw off the excess.

Next, you will clip the four corners, to shape a rounded tip.
For this you mark two dots on each corner. One 0.5 cm (1/8″) from the right/left edge and the other the same distance from the top/bottom edge. Connect the two dots to create a slanted line with an angle of about 45°. Carefully saw off the corners at the lines. The graphic below illustrates this step:

Mark and saw off the corners at an angle.

Now it is already time to smooth your busk. Start by putting the file to the jagged edges at the corners and file them to the desired roundness. Then rub the top and bottom ends over the sandpaper to round them off.

The long edges are next. Depending on the planned width of your busk pocket, they might need an extra thorough sanding, for the busk to lose a few millimeters on either side.
The best way to sand them is to put the whole piece of sandpaper in front of you and scrub the edges over it until they are smooth.
Stop scrubbing every once in a while to prevent creating too much friction. Otherwise the wood might start smoldering (I am not kidding).

To finish the busk’s top and underside, cut or tear off a handier piece of sandpaper. Wrap it around the busk and run it up and down its length with gentle pressure until the wood is smooth to the touch. You can also run the paper around the tips and sides for a neater finish.

You are done! Here is a before and after photo of the end result, busk at the top and paint stirrer at the bottom: ;)

Adding a finish:

As you can see in the last picture, the finished busk is a bit darker than the original piece of wood. I achieved this look by adding a simple, homemade oil polish. It consists of 1 1/2 cups of olive oil and one cup of lemon juice. You mix the two ingredients and apply them to the busk with a soft cloth. After letting it dry for a few minutes, shine the wood with another dry cloth. You can find the whole recipe, and some other nifty ones, here on Everyday Roots.

Another thing you can do to decorate the busk is to carve, or draw, an intimate piece of writing onto it. In the Regency era, a busk like that was a popular gift young men gave to their beloved. Perhaps you know some dashing gentleman who would like to try and make one for you… ;)

So much for today. With the busk, my stays are now almost complete and I am hoping to come back with the first pics of the finished garment in my next post. Please stay tuned. :)

Love, Nessa



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