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Hand finishing question


Hi Folks, This is kind of a curiosity question about how everyone else
does it. I work from an “isolated” one-man studio, so don’t have the
opportunity to watch others work and pick up tricks and tips. Every
once in a while I find myself asking if there is a better way to do
things than what I’ve been doing… this is one of those nagging
questions that’s actually pretty fundamental.

In hand finishing a piece of jewelry (silver or gold), I’ll usually
go from extra-fine Cratex wheels to a tripoli buff. This seems to work
pretty well, but I wonder, am I cutting out a step? Is 600 grit paper
finer than the extra-fine wheel? I normally don’t use bobbing compound
or emery buffs, although I have them. I have learned that too much
buffing, especially with aggressive compounds, can quickly eradicate
detail and round crisp edges. What do others do? Do you even use
Cratex wheels anymore? Has anyone switched to the new 3M plastic
bristle thingies?

Thanks in advance… you people are awesome!

Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)


I really like the 3M bristle discs. I stack them two or three on the
mandrel, and they work really well at getting into odd angles and
the little areas of cast pieces. Only problem I have with them is that
they wear out so quickly. I can usually only use them once or twice
before needing to reload the mandrel wth fresh discs.


Dave - I finish my work with a bit of 320 grit silicon carbide paper
then I use small bristle rotary brushes with bobbing compound, then
finally rouge on a cotton buff. I do all of my polishing with a
Foredom hand piece. Steve.

Steven Brixner - Jewelry Designer - San Diego CA USA


Dave: I use the 3M grey deburring wheels. I can go from grind to
tripoli and then polish. What I like about it the most is the lack of
undercutting that I experience with other forms of grinding wheels.
Unfortunately these wheels are larger wheels for the bench
grinder/buffer and won’t help much in reaching tight areas. They are
also quite pricey and are not the most economical for the initial
grinding of all things, but when used for the right task I have found
them indispensable.

They also make a tan cut wheel that is harder and more aggressive.

Ken Gastineau


Dave, I still use the Cratex wheels for certain purposes. Seems I
got a whole lot of em some years back and haven’t depleted the lot
yet! But some months back, I also purchased some of the new 3M
bristle ‘thingies’. I find them to be very useful for difficult to
get to places without overworking the area. I would say they are
rather ‘delicate’ in the way they work…that is you can’t put too
much pressure on them or they will either quit working or bristles
start flying off. The secret is to use only the tips to do the work.
I also like the fact that there are different grits and that gives one
lots of flexability. They are not for every job but certainly are a
welcome addition to my tool chest!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry!

 Do you even use Cratex wheels anymore? 

Not for years! The best wheels in the world are made by Pacific
Abrasives. They’re described as “pre-polisher soft” and are made from
a silicon-impregnated, flexible material that comes in a flat-edged
wheel as well as a knife-edge. I doubt you can buy them directly from
the manufacturer but I believe they’re distributed by Vigor. I get
them from a jewelry/tool supply store in the jewelry district in
downtown Los Angeles.

I use these wheels for just about everything, but especially for
cleaning up bezels and as a last step before my final polish. They
cut efficiently and, at the same time, leave a nearly tripoli-type
finish. You could almost go directly to rouge. I recommend them

As for the “new 3M plastic bristle thingies,” I’ve used them a little
and they’re great for getting into hard-to-reach places, but they’ll
never replace these “pre-polisher” wheels for me.



Dave, I too am a one man shop. Thankfully I’m usually up to my
eyeballs in alligators with work! I try, like most folks, to get the
best result with the least effort–not sacrificing quality. Here’s
what I use at the bench: I use a carbide cylindrical grinder to take
off the bulk of material, a Moore’s disc to bring the piece almost to
flush with the original surface, then I like the 3M Tri-Mite pre-cut
papers 300/400/500 grits with a split mandrel. (I don’t have to use
the 400 or 500 except on some 950 plat pieces). *-- A tip for those of
you who use the 3M tri-mite, cut the papers into strips, a paper
cutter is good for this, then use a different color magic marker and
put a strip of color ( I use black for the 300 grit, for example, and
green for the 400) at the bottom of the strip closest to the handpiece
about the width of the wide marker tip. This is done on the grit side
of the paper so that you can tell at a glance which grit you have (if
it slides off the split mandrel), mark the whole length the paper so
you will know which grit it is when you progressively tear off the
paper–. I put Simichrome Paste polish in a little plastic jar and use
a cotton muslin buff on a mandrel to polish the inside of a piece. It
puts a mirror shine on about everything- fast. All of that is done at
my bench. The fact that I use a Foredom #52 quick change handpiece
helps my speed greatly. I also have a Vaniman bench vacuum system at
my bench to collect the grindings and dust from polishing. Then I use
greystar tripoli and Simichrome paste for final polish on the buffing
machine. I like Magic Green in my ultrasonic. Steam and serve with a

Bob Staley
B.Staley, Goldsmiths
Precision Laser Welding
469 East Main St
P.O.Box 2103
Cartersville,GA 30120
Toll Free 877.535.9938 or Metro Atlanta 770.382.8268


Dear Dave, Hi, I too work alone and that’s why I am glad to have found
Orchid! I have one main retail account along with some personal work
also. The work I do includes carving wax, casting, setting and
finishing custom pieces along with the typical repair work. One
thing my account always comments on even after 2 1/2 years is my
polishing. I have found by working alone it could be easy to let
details slide unless I keep a mind-set of personal excellence and
pride along with honoring all my teachers by doing my best. I was
taught that a polisher can make or break a business. So, with all
these people in my head (and it’s very crowded!) the way I polish is:

I do most of the work with my files #4 and #6 in order to keep the
surface crisp and well defined. File using clean deliberate strokes
and watch how the light plays on the surface. My sanding sticks
(kelly-moore paint sticks) are as tightly wrapped as possible. By
using them in order up to 2500, I can then finish off with rouge. I
use red on yellow gold and I love the carrot rouge for white gold,
silver, and platinum. I haven’t use tripoli in years and I use a
minimal amount of rubber wheels because they tend to “muddy” the
surface. I use them when the design is “organic” such as vines and
leaves. One thing I think helps my polishing is I will switch from
my #5 Optivisors to #10 when getting to the fine detail work. If it
looks good there, it will look great to the naked eye. I worked for
a watchmaker/jeweler who always louped my work! Another thing to
keep in mind is to complete each step, making sure to remove all
marks from the previous step just like you would in lapidary work.

I would love to try every product in the book but time & $$ override
that prospect. My tried and true products include but are not
limited to:

#2, #4 & #6 files - all shapes Tightly wrapped paint sticks using 3M
Coated abrasive sheets (Stuller pg. 6) Snap-on sanding discs (Stuller
pg. 11) 3M Wet or Dry Tri-M-Ite polishing paper (Stuller pg. 22)
Polishing pins (Stuller pg. 22) Red Rouge Carrot Rouge (Stuller pg.

Best regards,
Marta Irvin in “dang it’s windy” Sacramento


Dave, Could you be a little more specific about the “thingies”? I
have some castings that need attention in hard to get at places.
Would appreciate the info. Thanks Heaps. Joyce Albers


Marta Irvin, I just read your ‘post’ an you will become one of the
finer craftsperson around. I read with delight in how you use the
correct files and papers. and the optivisor #5 & #10 . you are doing
nothing wrong at all. Keep up the good work, eh! personal feelings
towards your craft and self esteem in the ‘finishing’ is paramount in
the over all appearance! I think you are like me, a perfectionist!
gerry, the cyber-setter/ teacher / etc’s…:>) pat on your back
here! (…pat, pat)


Hello Silverhorn, This is so different from my experience. I still
have the same bristle discs on the mandrel I started with, and they
show little wear. I figured I’d be passing them on to my heirs
. I wonder, are the bristles mounted pointing in the direction
of spin, or in the opposite direction? They should point in the
opposite direction. Just wondering. Judy in Kansas, where we got
such a good rain last night.

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Extension Associate
221 Call Hall Kansas State Univerisity
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-1213 FAX (785) 532-5681


Are you guys maybe mounting them backwards? I started using them for
a satin finish on some production work and love them. I have been
using a stack of the blue ones forever and am finally getting close
enough to the hub to think of switching to some fresh ones. Seems
like someone early on posted that when the wheels are mounted wrong
the bristles would fly off - the curve (not the points) should be the
leading edge of the wheel. If it isn’t, try turning the other side
to the shaft when you mount them. The 3M abrasives are the greatest!

Pam Chott
Song of the Phoenix


Hello orchidians, I am interested in several comments about the series
of changes some of you are doing in your polishing methods. But what
I can’t understand is how and where do you do your cleaning of the
piece between compounds or papers? I keep getting up and going to
the kitchen sink and washing and drying between each polishing wheel
and compound work and it seems to lose so much time. Is this what
all of you do? What about all the dust from sand papers and wheels on
the work bench , how to keep the metal from being contaminated?

I hope you can understand the question as I really feel this is one
of my main time lost areas.

Sharron in Saigon where the 5:30 a.m. sunrise is painting the sky pink.


Mostly White Diamond and Zam on either felt or muslin buffs. Soft
felts are more aggressive than muslins, treated muslins are more
aggressive than stitched, stitched muslins are more aggressive than
loose stacked muslin. I prefinish by sanding down to 600 grit, either
sticks or the 3M bristle wheels. The bristle wheels are useful for
fine detail because they remove material fairly consistently over the
surface, without removing the detail. Then it’s White Diamond on a
soft felt. A round toothpick chucks into a standard 3/16" collet, and
is useful for those really tiny areas, like gallery settings. It can
either be used with a little cotton wrapped around the tip with the
compound, or the end can be frayed by chewing it and the fibers pick
up the compound. This is followed by a quick application of White
Diamond on a stitched or treated muslin buff. Then I switch to the
Zam on a stitched muslin buff, followed by Zam on a loose muslin buff.
If something has to have a really special finish, then this is
followed by rouge on a loose muslin buff. Black or green rouge on
white metals, red or yellow rouge on gold colored metals. You might
check to see if RGA has their old finishing chart for compounds and
buffs available still. It will be outdated on some of the material,
since we now have a lot of new "improved"
things, but a lot of the stuff on compounds and buffs is still valid.

( What do others do? Do you even use Cratex wheels anymore? Has
anyone switched to the new 3M plastic) 

Greetings Dave, I too am ‘isolated’ and rarely get to see how
others divise methods of finishing. It seems tho, that you either
missed a step or simply skipped it in your description of process.Or
you have developed a way to go directly to a fine Cratex wheel. I
think once I get to the Cratex, I’m almost home! Years ago I had some
cylindrical mandrels machined for flex-handpiece, of various
diameters. about 1 inch or so long, with a slot for emery paper. (I’ve
seen them in small sizes on catalogs.) With different grits of emery
paper, these work great for lots of procedures, (especially inside
ring shanks) but also out side rings and round and flat surfaces.
Which you can use to ‘cross’ sand from 2 or 3 directions.The largest
is 15 MM dia.I keep a hand piece with one in at all times, for I use
it regularly with grits from 220 to 600. Another tool I use a great
deal is the Moore disc.My ‘fav’ is 1-1/2 inches across. Really comes
in handy for all kinds of uses. Also I have the disc in every other
size, down to a new one with a special ‘tiny’ snap on tip for super
small disc.Would have to look up, but think their in Gesswein catalog.
Then I keep a good deal of various ‘Cratex’ rubber wheels in different
grits. Some I slice in half or smaller for a very thin rubber surface
thats semi flexible. Then I go to handpiece buffs, bullets, tapers
brushes etc.Next is to the polishing machine where I use a non toxic
tripoli form Stuller, and a blue rouge(Japanese I think) I got from a
suggestion from instructor John Cosgrove. It has lasted so long I
can’t remember where I got it. Have tried the 3M plastic, good for
some light scratch stuff,don’t last too long.

Let me know if you have any questions.Enjoy your post! Attached is a
new piece of mine. Thomas Blair Island Gold Works


I’d have to look and see which direction the bristles are pointing,
but I know when I load the mandrel, the 3M logo is on top. ;} Someone
said something about using too much pressure making the discs shred.
I’m pretty heavy handed, so maybe that’s it.


Hello Bob: I am one of the “lurkers” enjoying all the fantastic
gleaned from Orchid. In your thread to Dave you
mentioned the Vaniman bench vacuum. I am updating my studio and very
much need a vacuum. Any about this bench vacuum and where
to purchase it would very much appreciated.

Thank you.

Sharon Sawyer


Sharron… howdee,eh? just what I do is when I finish a step in
polishing is to go to the soni-cleaner and remove the ‘grease’ and
then go back and rouge polish … get rid of that compound, as why
would anyone mix tripoly AND rouge together. steam out all of the
original compound, and carefully select what kind of rouge you will
need, Now you are working ONLY with the rouge and nothing else! Where I
am located, they have TWO SONI-CLEANERS one for Tripoly and the second
for only the Rouge, this is even taking it a step further and its done
with habit, they never mix the two tanks together. Dirt in one, and
clean in the other! …gerry! the cyber-setter / teacher / ?


Sharron, The only time I wash between polishing compounds is when I
am working in platinum. Silver and gold don’t get the same
consideration. With silver and gold I jump up from my bench from hand
finishing ( as opposed to wet finishing with a drum sander) and start
polishing with tripoli. I’ve been doing this for years and am very
pleased with the results. My work is very finish intensive and have
gone to the lengths of doing time studies on many different projects.
Finishing was the focus of most of my monetary investment in order top
cut time. I can eliminate allot of filing by using drum sanders then
hand emery. Tripoli, white diamond and rouge usually finish the piece.
Cleaning the piece is also time consuming. We operated with out a
sonic cleaner for 2 generations (grandfather & father) then I
purchased one and would not be caught with out one.I takes 75% of
wash time outof the work and drum sanders cut 90% of filing time. Let
me know if this helps.

Sam Patania, Tucson, AZ


Sharon, The bench vaccum unit I have comes from Harris Discount
Supply, Ltd. Toll free 800.227.8524 They
are a discounted dental lab equipment supply house. Model # V-140 1/2
hp 53db disposable paper filter, with large accumulator. I also have a
remote foot switch VMC A460 and a VMC-A390 workstation. I got tired of
grindings and polishing dust in my face at the bench, not to mention
the gold that was “walking” out of my shop! (one rug I have on the
floor that goes from my shop to the retail area of the store
collected 1 1/2 ounces of gold in about 6-8mos. That was gold off my
clothes and shoes that “fell” off as I got up to go to the retail
area. Who knows how much went elsewhere!) This vaccum system mounts
on my bench and I polish and grind right over the hole. I’ve
collected @ over 6 ounces of material since mid Dec. in the vaccum
collector. Who knows how much is in the filter bag?!? A little pricy
@ just under $700, but what is the price of my health (almost 22 years
without it) and it looks as though it will pay back in material
collection rather quickly. It’s a work horse and not that loud
either. It sits on the floor in a corner beside my bench. By the way,
I don’t get commission for sales of this unit, just a very satisfied
customer! If you decide to purchase one, call me or email me and I
will show you a handy way to attach it to the bench and be able to
move it out of your way also. It involves BenchMate accessories from

Bob Staley
B.Staley, Goldsmiths
Precision Laser Welding