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Reproducing brasses and incised slabs

Brass rubbing


Most brasses can be rubbed without causing damage to the brass itself. The exception is floor-set brasses where the pitch that helps secure the brass to the stone has perished, leaving a space between the brass and the stone. This condition can be detected by tapping the brass in various surfaces and listening for a 'hollow' sound. Brasses in this condition should not be rubbed, because the pressure of rubbing causes the brass plate to flex, stressing the metal and eventually leading to cracking of the brass plate. 

If you do find a brass that is coming loose please report this to:

Mr H.M. Stuchfield F.S.A.

Hon. Conservation Officer, MBS

Pentlow Hall


Suffolk CO10 7SP

 or e-mail

Incised slabs

Greater caution should be exercised when taking a copy of incised slabs. Only attempt to take a rubbing or dabbing when the entire surface of the slab is in sound condition. If the surrounding floor or wall is damp, the surface of the slab may be crumbling or flaking away or may be damaged by surface salts. In these conditions the lightest pressure of rubbing or dabbing can easily cause the worst affected parts of the surface to break away, causing irreparable damage to the slab. The only feasible method of making a satisfactory record of slabs with unstable surfaces without damaging them is photography.

If you would like to go direct to a particular section, click on the logo next to the section headings below:

Your brass rubbing kit

How to rub a brass

Other ways of reproducing brasses and incised slabs

Positive rubbings



Your dabbing kit

How to dab a brass

Suppliers of brass rubbing paper and wax

Collections of brass rubbings

Your brass rubbing kit

To rub a brass you will need the following items:

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How to rub a brass

To rub a brass:

Click here to see illustrations of the steps below

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Other ways of reproducing brasses and incised slabs

Positive rubbings 

The method outlined above makes 'negative rubbings' in which the surface of the brass is coloured black, gold or whatever colour is chosen and the engraved lines are left white. 'Positive rubbings', which in which the lines are black with the surface left white, provide an excellent base for the application of decorative colour for heraldic dress or shields of arms. To achieve this follow the procedure for negative rubbings above. Then when you get home rub over the surface of the rubbing with a rag soaked in waterproof black ink. It will colour the paper only on the un-waxed lines of the engraving. Clean off excess with kitchen roll. When the ink is dry, rub over again with a rag soaked in paraffin to dissolve the heel ball. The rubbing can then be coloured at choice and if necessary the black lines touched up.


This is the best way of recording incised slabs and is particularly effective in recording alabaster slabs which retain coloured mastic in the lines. The details of the composition are best brought out with the help of a florescent light source positioned at a low angle so that the incised lines are shadowed. 

Brasses can also be photographed, but great care must be taken to ensure that the brass is evenly lit, ideally using photoflood sources. The use of a camera-mounted flash is inadvisable, since reflections often mar part of the photograph. 

For detailed advice on photographing brasses read:

M. Norris and M. Kellett Your Book of Brasses (London, 1974), pages 59-64.


This is particularly effective for brasses which are worn or finely engraved.

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Your dabbing kit

To dab a brass you will need the following kit:

•  Paper Tissue paper is best, but thin detail paper can also be used.

•  Dabber Take a ball of cotton wool about the size of a fist and place it on a piece of chamois leather, then secure the leather tightly round the ball.

•  Powdered graphite Available from art supplies shops.

•  Linseed oil Available from hardware stores. An alternative is a good quality salad oil.

•  Fixative spray Available from art supplies shops.

•  Two pieces of cardboard or hardboard about a foot square

•  Palette knife

•  Masking tape 

•  Scissors

•  Duster

•  Soft brush

•  Dustpan

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How to make a dabbing

1. Prepare the dabbing medium by mixing oil and graphite to a stiff paste with a palette knife on one piece of cardboard. 

2. Fix the paper as described in steps 1-7 of the brass rubbing instructions above.

3. Dip the dabber into the paste Wipe off any surplus onto the second piece of cardboard.

4. Press the dabber onto the paper Avoid any rubbing movement as this will stretch the paper. Work systematically covering the whole brass and recharging the dabber with paste as necessary.

5. Fix the dabbing with the fixative spray to avoid smudges (optional).

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Suppliers of brass rubbing paper and wax

You may be able to find heelball and brass rubbing detail paper in good art supplies shops. Alternatively they are available by post at the following prices:


At present there is no known supplier of Astral heelball. As and when the situation changes, the website will be updated.

Several brands of a reasonable substitute wax are available from a mail order firm, Whitewinds. The wax that is recommended is the Cirencester Brand -slightly harder than Astral but produces superb results. They sell many other items for brass rubbers, including paper. Contact details:


Geuffos Farm, Bryn Dulas Road,


Abergele LL22 8NA

Tel: 0044 (0)1492 516644

Fax: 0044 (0)1492 516561



Whitewinds (contact details above) sell only black brass rubbing paper.

Black brass rubbing paper is available from:

"The Brush and Compass"

Graphic and fine art materials shop

14 Broad Street

Oxford OX1 3AS

Telephone 01865 246481.

As of early June 2003 they have in stock C300 detail paper, 53 gm2, 841 x 25 m. re-order ref RS000162 from 'Royal Sovereign' at the new improved price of £18.69.

All rag white brass rubbing detail paper is getting harder to find and supplies appear erratic.  Two other suppliers who have had such paper recently are:

Broad Canvas of Oxford (telephone 01865 244025; the contacts are Joan or Peter), reported price £9.45 plus VAT for a 10 yard roll of 30 inch white paper.

The Paper House

19A Greengate St


01785 212953

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Collections of brass rubbings

There are a number of collections of rubbings of brasses, many of which contain rubbings of lost brasses and rubbings of brasses which have since been mutilated.

The most complete collections of brass rubbings are held at:

The Society of Antiquaries of London. 

Cambridge University Library. 

Ashmolean Library, Oxford.

British Library.

Victoria and Albert Museum.

The only national collection of rubbings and dabbings of incised slabs is held in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

In addition, the Monumental Brass Society is setting up The Malcolm Norris Research Centre at the University of Birmingham Library, which will contain a collection of brass rubbings, as well as other items relating to the MBS and brasses.

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Copyright © 2002 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)

Page last updated 16 April 2014


MBS Bulletin

Paper; a roll of strong but not thick paper, which will not yellow with age. The best is all-rag detail paper, available in a variety of widths and lengths.

Wax 'Astral' heelball, available in sticks and hand-sized cakes, is best, though other waxes can also be used. Most people use black heelball on white paper, though rubbings in coloured waxes on white paper or metallic gold and silver waxes on black paper also produce attractive rubbings.

Masking tape Available from hardware stores, this is used to secure the paper to the stone. Alternatives, such as sellotape, are ineffective and can cause damage.



Soft brush