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Holding metal while finishing

This is definitely a newbie question. I use my flexshaft and graystar
to pre-finish my AG pieces. It does a great job of removing scratches
but the piece gets very hot. What can I use to hold the piece while
working on it that won’t cause more scratches? I have been using a
nylon jaw plier, but it gets full of the greasy graystar and is
difficult to clean. There has to be a better way.

Thanks, Karen

Many suppliers sell protective tape for your fingers. Here’s a
link… 3M tape

I use a combination of things; I have an old wooden ring holder with
leather grip surface and I use those little rubber finger cots but
I’ve melted a couple of those (ouch) so I double them up if I really
need to put my fingers on it. Sometimes it seems there just isn’t a
good way to hold a piece you need to polish, so you just take your
time with it.

Just my .02 Looking forward to reading more inventive approaches.

JeffreyDesign Jewelry

but the piece gets very hot. What can I use to hold the piece
while working on it that won't cause more scratches? 

Well, you can tough it out holding it in your fingers until you build
the tell tale calluses found on the sides of the index fingers of
bench jewelers and silversmiths. Or if you want to go the “Hey I like
my fingers thank you” route, look for wooden polishing pliers. IJS
have them listed in their 2006-2008 Tool & Supply Catalog for $8.70.

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Rocky Mountain Wonders
Colorado Springs, Colorado

What can I use to hold the piece while working on it that won't
cause more scratches? 

Two choices:

wear leather fingertip gloves (only the fingertip “gloves” not an
actual glove)


work on more than one piece of metal at a time. Put one down, pick up
the other.

Helping You Make Your Best Impression in Clay

It does a great job of removing scratches but the piece gets very

This seems to be an occupational hazard. I was using a ring clamp to
hold pieces while polishing with the flexshaft, but I found that
there were only certain pieces that it would hold effectively and in
the end, to polish the last part of something, I needed to remove it
and hold it in my hand anyway. Also I found that my ring clamp is now
contaminated with my first cut polish such that I can do the first
half of, for example, a ring, turn it round to do the other half,
but the first half is then dulled by the polish contamination. And
obviously I can’t use it to do my final polishing for that reason.

You could have a different ring clamp for use with different
polishing media I guess. But at the end of the day, for some pieces
you just have to hold them. Your fingers get used to taking more
heat. Burned, chopped up fingers are definitely an occupational
hazard that people seem to put up with.

I think it was RER who mentioned that you can use things called
finger cots(?). They’re like gloves but just for the individual
fingers. They might be worth a try if you can’t get used to the heat.


Karen- The best thing I have found is “Mechanics Gloves” from Sam’s
Club. They are flexible enough to allow holding fairly small pieces
and provide a lot of protection from both heat and abrasion for my
hands. I find it much easier to work on something i am holding in my
hand rather than with pliers etc.

Cheers Jim J

What can I use to hold the piece while working on it that won't
cause more scratches? 

I keep a small bowl full of water by my polishing machine, just dip
the piece (my fingers and all) into the water, then back to the
polishing - sanding, whatever.


What about dipping it in cold water when it gets hot, I worked with
a silversmith who said that it made the Tripoli work better.

When you grind down a piece of steel you keep a bowl of water by the
grinder to dip the tool into, just do the same with your polishing.

Wearing gloves when polishing is DANGEROUS you want to be able to
snatch your hand out of the way FAST, not have something the wheel
can easily get a grip on

regards Tim.

The best thing I have found is "Mechanics Gloves" from Sam's Club. 

Gloves and rotary equipment are a recipe for lost fingers and severe
hand damage. Do not ever wear gloves while using polishing motors,
drill presses, lathes etc. If you want the protection then cut the
fingers off the glove and where only the fingers but even that can
be problematic if it grabs the glove finger tip and it doesn’t come
off cleanly. It is just not safe.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


Hi Karen,

I have apprenticed and trained a bunch of people over the years, and
the number one question posed by newbies in the shop is “How do I
hold this?” The most common comment made by newbies is “OUCH! That
gets hot fast!”

Leather and rubber finger cots, gloves, special tape, ring clamps,
pliers, rubber-tipped hemostats, tweezers, pin vises, temperature
sensitive plastics and cements, and an infinite number of gadgets
designed to hold things (and lighten your wallet) are all available
from tool suppliers, and all work to some degree. They all have their
drawbacks too. Nothing will ever beat your fingers as holding devices
for most jobs though, especially for polishing. Mother Nature knew
what she was doing when she gave us opposable thumbs.

You can always identify a true metalsmith by looking at their
fingers. Even after a two week vacation, there will still be black
stuff imbedded in their heavily calloused index fingers and thumbs.
Eventually you will wear your permanently dirty, rough and calloused
fingers as a badge of honor. The sooner you start to build up
callouses and split fingerprint ridges, the sooner your fingers will
become a source of pride instead of a source of aggravation and pain.
Callouses are Nature’s finger cots. And they work.

No matter how long you do this though, every now and then you will
still be scratching your head and wondering, “How am I going to hold


I use those little rubber finger cots but I've melted a couple of
those (ouch) 

The leather finger cots are much more heat resistant, and if you want
to double up, you can use a rubber finger cot inside the leather

I use those little rubber finger cots but I've melted a couple of
those (ouch) so I double them up if I really need to put my
fingers on it. 

Finger cots come in leather. You could also cut off the tips of
cheap gardening gloves.

But what about the old stand-by of just dipping the piece in water
every little bit?


Tim…agree completely that wearing gloves when polishing IS
dangerous. I have not actually seen the damage it can do to ones’
hand(s) but have heard a number of gruesome tales of what it can do.
I advise alllllll my students not to wear gloves. Instead we use
either the green self stick tape (can’t remember what its called) or
the leather finger cotts.

Just think folks…that motor is turning at 3450rpm. (note: I never
use the 1725rpm as it just does not do the job…unless that is,
there is nothing else available). The rpm is measured at the center
of the spindle/shaft. But the rim speed of the buffing wheel is
actually much much higher; and the larger the polishing wheel, the
higher the rim speed. Rim speed is calculated using a reasonably
complex formula (for us mathematically challanged) but suffice it to
say that it you might be shocked at the actual outside rim speed of a
polishing wheel. This is a REALLY DANGEROUS machine folks if not used
properly. So, sans the gloves and save a finger!!!

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

My polishing teacher simply said ‘If it’s not hot, it’s not
polished’. And so far it has seemed to be true, that was 10 years
ago. I find the heat reassuring and frequently feel as if I’m
actually trying to evenly cook the piece. The downside is you’ll not
be able to trust the first two fingers or thumbs on either hand to
tell you how hot your coffee is.

I did work with a guy that moistened his polishing compound with
kerosene, and it did seem to polish things up a little faster but
you wouldn’t believe the mess. Not sure if it cooled anything much.
It did leave me with the distinct urge to stay away from any open
flame (but in a jewellery studio? HA!).

Other bits of random advice:

  • First turn off the machine step away calmly and THEN swear and
    flap your burnt hand in the air.

  • Don’t stick freshly burnt fingers in your mouth, it will taste
    awful. All day.

  • (Not relating to hot metal while polishing but I really wish
    someone had told me this in college) If you know you are going to be
    chasing firescale don’t wear a purple shirt (it will reflect on the
    metal and look just enough like firescale to be a real headache).

Best of luck
Norah Kerr

I use bicycle gloves (fingertips are missing) when hammering or using
any type of reciprocating movement to ease the stress on the hand. I
had a hand therapist suggest this to me. It helps the hand and the
wrist. Just make sure the hand is well padded, that is why these
gloves work…

jennifer friedman

Gloves and rotary equipment are a recipe for lost fingers and
severe hand damage. Do not ever wear gloves while using polishing
motors, drill presses, lathes etc. If you want the protection then
cut the fingers off the glove and where only the fingers but even
that can be problematic if it grabs the glove finger tip and it
doesn't come off cleanly. It is just not safe. 

I’ll second that thought. The single worst accident in the jewelry
industry I ever actually saw was a guy, new to polishing, who was
wearing light cotten (photo type) gloves while polishing a bangle
bracelet. The bracelet caught on the buff, and the glove caught
between the bracelet and the buff went with it. The kids entire first
finger stayed in the glove. surgeons weren’t able to reattach it. Too
badly mangled when ripped from his hand. Granted, he was doing
everything wrong, polishing this bangle with a buff small enough to
pull inside the bangle, just barely, plus he was buffing across the
wire, not in it’s direction, AND he had that finger hooked through
the bracelet, rather than holding it in a pinch grip. But it seemed
certain to the doctors and others nearby that he might not have lost
the finger had the glove not been there too. Who knows. But they make
it harder to fully control where everything is and how it’s held.
Dealing with the heat of polishing is the least important of the
issues. Safety, and remember that the surface of a modest sized buff
can be moving at 60 miles an hour without too much trouble, plus the
inertia of a powerful motor behind that speed, and it’s more
important to protect your hands from all that energy than the heat of
buffing. Once you’ve addressed those issues, and know you’re safe
with them, then worry about the heat. Finger cots, extending not past
the first knuckle, will pull off easily enough if caught that they
are safe. Buy them or cut the finger tips off gloves to make them.

Other useful methods:

For smaller flat shapes, especially if you’re doing many of the same
item, benefit from a polishing jig or nest. Take one piece, and heat
it hot enough to let it burn it’s way slightly into a block of wood.
That depression will now nicely house the pieces while that hard to
hold surface is buffed. Small things like pendants or things with
jump rings or the like can be have one end of an unfolded paper clip
(bend to an S shape hook) put through the hole to hang onto it, while
you hold the other end of the paper clip and support the work,
pressing it to the buff with a small bit of heavy leather or wood, or
the like. Strips of leather can be wrapped around the outside of a
finger ring to provide insulation while you polish the inside finger
hole of a ring. That operation heats up a ring fast, so the
insulation helps a lot. Plus, if the ring jams on the finger shaped
buff, as they sometimes do, the suddenly spinning ring will be
hitting the leather while you pull your hand away in surprise, not
milling its way through your finger tip. For a lot of general
polishing, though, just be prepared to take a break for a moment when
the work starts to get uncofortably hot. Most likely, your dust
collector will have a screen over it’s intake to keep things from
being sucked into the dust collector. Resting the hot work for a
moment or two on that screen, puts it into a fairly strong air flow,
which will quickly cool it again, ready for more buffing. Or work on
more than one item at a time, and switch back and forth as they heat

You may also find that different buffs, and different buffing
compounds, differ in the degree to which they heat up the work. Some
compounds seem to work with less friction for a given amount of
cutting. I happen to prefer and use the somewhat aggressive platinum
polishing compounds for most of my buffing work, in part for this
reason. Based on aluminum oxide abrasive, finely graded, these
compounds cut faster than tripoli, and seem to heat up less. They
also offer the advantage of solving the problem of solder seams in
some types of metals (white gold in particular) seeming to polish out
leaving lines. The buffing compounds are aggressive enough that
differences in hardness in the metal seem to cause few problems.
However, for the same reason, they may not be appropriate when
buffing things with softer stones (facet edges on softer stones can
get rounded over). And another product you may wish to try are the 3m
radial bristle brushes. No compound needed, it’s built in to the
brush. Graded abrasives, so the coarser grades can be quite
aggressive, evem more so that bobbing compound, while the finest
grades can almost replace rouge. Less messy to use, and the open
bristled brush structure creates a strong airflow along the surface
of the work so it really doesn’t heat up much. Try them. You might
like them.

Hope that helps.

1 Like
Wearing gloves when polishing is DANGEROUS 

I know someone who did this - bad friction burns and bruising on
their hands. What was worse was the damage to their neck. The glove
got caught, pulled them in violently their hand came away when the
glove ripped apart- they had to wear a collar for a number of weeks.

I use a piece of thick leather, cut off the edge of my skin, about
1x6 cm for rings.


Gloves and rotary equipment are a recipe for lost fingers and
severe hand damage. 

Couldnt have said it better, Jim. I might put it another way,
though-- to paraphrase the sign about flossing in my dentists
office: Feel free to wear gloves on any hand parts you don’t really
need to keep!


I would recommend the old fashioned Swingline rubber fingertips or I
just ordered the Tory brand (haven’t tried them yet). The dipping in
water can get very messy and the leather style are a bit too think
to get a nice grip on the piece. I’ve been using the Swingline and
they have saved me from years of dinged up fingertips, compound
permanently embedded under nails and the stamina to hold HOT pieces.
Someone years ago on this forum also shared the tip of unwinding a
paperclip and using the one hook end for holding small pieces. It
works great!

Cheers, Reba