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Flexshaft bench polishing and buffing

Hello All,

I have a question regarding bench polishing and buffing, using
mounted muslin buffs on a flexshaft. The problem I seem to be having
is that compound (greystar, or rouge) does not go on the buff
uniformly. It seems to go on in thick patches, leaving parts of the
buff uncharged. I was wondering what I am doing incorrectly, if I am
going too fast or too slow, and if I should be mixing the compound
with something to make it softer? I do not seem to have this problem
on my polishing lathe, only on the flex shaft.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Best Regards,

The problem I seem to be having is that compound (greystar, or
rouge) does not go on the buff uniformly. It seems to go on in
thick patches, leaving parts of the buff uncharged.

I would say either 1) your flex shaft does not run true, or 2) the
shaft of your buff is slightly bent, or 3) the buff is not round,
or, most likely, the hole for the shaft is not properly centered. I
had this problem with the little, solid felt wheels for flex shaft.
I assumed the shaft hole was not centered.

Janet in Jerusalem

Hello Janet,

Thank you! I followed your advice and checked out my flexshaft,
mandrels, and buffs. They seems to be running “true”, and appear
round., still having the problem with uneven charging of
compound on the buffs. will continue to try to figure this out!

Best Regards,

Hi Julie,

As I said, the most likely reason is that the hole is not in the
center of the buff/wheel. I believe this is common…:-)… You
can put it on a polishing motor if you have a chuck to do so. It
will probably have the same problem. Hole not centered… I say
this because the symptoms you describe is exactly what you would get
if the hole was off center…

Janet in Jerusalem

Hello Janet,

Ah! I understand now. The hole is off center. I will investigate
this aspect and update you!

Thank you for your feedback. It is much appreciated!

Best Regards,

As an aside to this thread, I would like to reiterate the need for
breathing protection while polishing at the bench. My father is 82
years old and except for pulmonary fibrosis, he’s in excellent
health. Unfortunately, he will probably only live another few weeks.

His lung condition is the direct result of polishing at the bench
without wearing a mask of some sort except for the heaviest dust
creation operations for the first forty of his fifty plus years of
creating jewelry.

If you are right-handed, you may notice that as you use your
flexshaft, the dust and residue are aimed right at your face. Dad
thought he was off the hook because he’s a leftie, and the dust was
directed away from his face. He was wrong.

Please, please, please! Consider polishing at a dedicated polishing
station that is equipped with a hood and dust collector system. The
results of your finishing efforts will be considerably better, and
the health risks you are exposing yourselves to will be greatly
reduced. Not to mention that your face, bench, clothes and shop in
general will stay a lot cleaner a lot longer.

Plus you can sell the recovered dust! That fact alone oughta tell ya
everything you need to know about what you’re breathing.

Even if you use a mask and bench-mounted dust collector at your
bench, your exposure level is high. Unless the dust from the wheel is
generated entirely within the hood with the heaviest stuff aimed
directly at the hole in back, it’s not gonna get it all. What you
don’t breathe in immediately will settle and get airborne again the
next time you move anything or clean up your dusty bench, giving you
yet another opportunity to ingest it. It may not be as toxic as
investment dust or plating fumes, but it’s bad juju nonetheless.

Do not underestimate the health risks associated with what we do.
They may seem minimal and a pain in the rear to deal with, but long
term exposure to dust and fumes, even those that are not immediately
nasty or toxic can and will kill you if you’re not careful. This is
an especially important consideration for someone that is just
starting out and whose habits are first being formed.

It took a while, but polishing at the bench has all but killed my
Dad; by Christmas, it will have. For years, my brother and I tried to
warn him, but he insisted that it was mainly cotton and flannel dust
and that can’t possibly hurt you, plus he wasn’t really breathing all
that much of it anyway. Now he’s getting pure oxygen at 17 liters per
hour and he’s not breathing much of that either.

Please don’t let it do the same to you.
Dave Phelps


Hopefully your heartfelt yet for you painful, advice will be heeded.
We as humans tend to have bravado when we should not. Try sitting in
a cancer support group and watch those with lung issues struggle.
Some never smoked, but were garage mechanics, musicians performing
in smoking venues, artists. In all cases their lungs were

Sad to watch your father go. Was for me.


Oh Dave,

I am so sorry to hear of your father’s lung problems. Please accept
my concern for you both.

May I emphatically second Dave’s warning about polishing dust. When
I bought a buffer with a powered and filtered exhaust, I quit
coughing up black phlegm and my work area became cleaner. Now I find
the 3M bristle wheels and tumblers have almost eliminated the use of
my buffer! They save my lungs and funds. Ooooh that sorta’ rhymes.

Judy in Kansas, who is enjoying a visit from the grand kids and is
about toharvest some butternut squash.

Thank you for putting this out there. My dad was a
jeweler for over 60 years and when he was in his mid 80s he got
throat cancer. They took a laser to it and got rid of it, but 10
years later it came back. This time they couldn’t get rid of it with
the laser cause it kept growing back, so they had to remove his voice
box. He therefore was a laryngectomy until he died at age 90. He
never took any precautions for his health as a jeweler.

He was an old school master of the art and back in Phoenix, where he
learned his craft, no precautions were ever taught.

So, I was surprised when finding this forum to find out about all of
the health risks. Too bad we didn’t know them back then; it might
have spared him his last years without a voice. He had to use a
device because the scaring from the laser job made it impossible for
him to have an implant that would help him speak without using the

So my friends, be safe and learn a lesson from an old master.
Because I used to sit at his bench while he worked on many days after
school, I too never learned about the health risks and how to avoid
them. So thank you to this forum for teaching me to be safe.

Mary Young
Follow your passion…

When we set up shop we installed fans, one of which you can open
your bench pvc tube and draw it away. I use a cut open detergent
bottle that sucks away the dust out of the building but you could do
it into a filter box also. I take it off when I don’t need it.

Thanks Dave for the hard earned advice. Sorry to hear about your

Following this up, there are other extreme dangers as well.

My mentor died as a result of a mishap when refining his own lemel,
something we don’t do much anymore, at least in this part of the
world, thank goodness! In preparation for putting his lemel in a
beaker of heated nitric acid, he got the acid too hot. When he put
the scraps in the near-boiling acid, it boiled over, emitting a large
amount of nitric acid fumes. And here he was; no vent fan, the doors
locked because it was late at night, and he couldn’t find his keys.
He finally escaped by tossing his bench chair through the shop’s
display window, but not before he severely damaged his lungs. He
survived, but at a cost. He would sit at the bench breathing from a
second tank of oxy. It took him 25 years to die. His daughter and I
held his hands when he went. It was a ghastly experience.

I sincerely hope no one out there refines their own, especially as

David, I am so sorry to hear about your father’s illness and
approaching death. Please accept my deepest sympathy. I know this is
a very difficult time for you.

Thank you for warning us about the dangers of breathing polishing
dust. We all too often take these risks and then pay a heavy price.
I send you and your family my best wishes.


He was an old school master of the art and back in Phoenix, where
he learned his craft, no precautions were ever taught. 

That was the way of it back then, huh? There wasn’t any braggadocio
or a need to prove one’s invincibility or anything like that about
it, they just flat didn’t know.

I have to crack up when watching old movies. In the original “The
Day the Earth Stood Still” there is a scene in which two doctors are
in a hospital examining room talking about the miraculous healing of
Klatu’s bullet wounded hand after he had applied some ointment he
brought with him. One doc says to the other something along the lines
"They sure are ahead of us medically. Wonder what else they know that
we don’t" as he lights a cigarette and offers the other doc a smoke
and a light, which he takes.

Fancy ashtrays in the doctor’s office. Yeah, that was a different
time. But not really all that long ago. If you don’t remember it,
your parents probably do.

I cringe when I think of some of the things I used to do so
nonchalantly, like bombing with cyanide. Kept the can of eggs and a
steel beaker of cyanide stripping solution on a shelf next to the
plating acids, right over the pickle pot. Of course I kept the
peroxide in a cool, dark, safe place. Talk about playing
environmental Russian roulette. What in the heck was I thinking!!

I know there’s a lot of other people here on Orchid that have pretty
much the same story. It seems like it wasn’t until the late eighties
that people really became aware and started paying serious attention
to the health effects of so many things that are around all of us,
and it wasn’t just metalsmithing. I wonder what price we will
eventually pay for our early ignorance, or if we were lucky enough to
catch it in time.

Thank you all for the kind words, both online and off. You guys are

Dave Phelps

Hi all

I wonder what price we will eventually pay for our early
ignorance, or if we were lucky enough to catch it in time. 

I think many of us will have “Hell to pay” over our workshop
practices. I am re-making my workshop. I just did not know how
dangerous it is. I have taken precautions but think they are not

all the best

Hello Richard and other Orchids,

Take a look at the set-up in my workshop. In particular, notice the
4" inlet located in the center of my bench (the first thumbnail). It
there to collect particulate produced by the flexshaft. I can quickly
install galvanized elbows of various lengths as well as a Plexiglas
canopy to retain all generated dust to a confined area. I’m more than
happy to help anyone with questions.

Not to worry,
Jeff Herman

To all of those “Orchidians” participating in this current thread
concerned with working in a healthy work environment, Here are a few
suggestions, or recommendations: Review the Orchid Archives for the
following links :

(which was an updated version of a tech paper I did for a SNAG
conference inthe late 70’s) There has ALWAYS been a
healthier/“greener” / smarter way towork.

Also, any substance you order will have an MSDS, ORDER IT from your
supplierwhen you order the substance (flux, metal, oxidizers,
patinas, polishing materials, etc) OR look up the MSDS on line for
the things you already have in your studio. READ the MSDS and take
the appropriate precautions.

When you use a substance that has a warning /caution/danger on the
label. READ IT, and take the appropriate precautions.

See the article I wrote for Lapidary Journal in 1999 Weiss, Linda
Studio Safety, 257, 5-99 Introduction to Goldsmithing Health Hazards

Since then Sarah Sanford has written an excellent article - there is
also a great publication put out by Charles Lewton Brain - you can
probably access all of these throught the Orchid Archives.

I highly recommend the Quattro dust and fume collection systems, and
their self contained polishing /dust collection unit.

Usual disclaimer: I do not have an affiliation with them, just a
happy, healthy customer This equipment is not inexpensive, but they
become cost effective once you realize how much healthier your work
environment is and after getting the returns from a few batches of
filters, etc. that you send to the refiner. They also are portable
and do not require installation of ductwork.

The majority of 20th-21st century published technique books and "
how to" articles you read have info about health and safety.
Unfortunately, not every learning environment includes healthy, safe
studio practices in their syllabi or curriculum.

Sending these recommendations with good wishes for all of you to
work healthy, and happy, with creativity, productivity and