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I need a lot of silver polishing advice

Hello, I have two big finishing dilemmas right now. I apologize if these are repeats, but I’ve done weeks of reading and haven’t found answers. While I have found a ton of useful info, my questions are extremely granular and get glossed over in what I’ve seen so far.

  1. White post-pickle residue.

I broke down and got a magnetic pin polisher and it does a great job of getting the white pure silver layer out of the nooks and crannies… most of them. I have spent dozens of hours experimenting with various felt, bristle, and 3M radial bits and attachments on my Dremel flexshaft. I still can’t manage to get it all out and it’s driving me nuts. Check out my bee ring:
I’m proud of it and I really want to show it off, but after dropping it in the liver of sulphur, the leftover white layer becomes visible as a white to light orange color in the wing veins of the bee, a ring around the base of the stone settings, and on the baseplate where the bee legs connect. I did so much polishing on the amber setting that I have lost much of the scrollwork detail, and I’m afraid of losing detail on the bee as well.

How do I deal with this? Is there a minimum grit that’s known to eat up pure silver while being as kind as possible to the sterling? Am I leaving my pieces in the pickle too long?

  1. Smooth, flat texture and excess solder

I have been branching out from rings to big pendants, which means large flat areas. I cannot afford a buffing wheel until I make some sales.
Here is an example of what I’m up against now:
This is what it looks like after 2 rounds of 3M radials after the pin polisher (220 red, then 400 blue). It’s done a good job of removing that pin polisher texture, but I’m left with these swirls. Will these patchy swirls work themselves out as I progress through the grits? What if I don’t want a mirror finish? Should I switch to felt or fluffy bits after using the radials to go around the settings/balls/skull?

My more recent soldering work is more restrained in terms of solder placement and quantity (like the bee ring), but how can I remove the excess solder around the bezel and balls on this?

If you’re still here, thanks for reading all that. I have never taken a class, I have learned everything from blogs and youtube.

I don’t know what you mean by pure silver. I will assume that you are working in sterling, a similar alloy or fine silver with these comments. Before you bought a pin finisher, it is too bad that you didn’t buy a polishing motor, spindle and polishing wheels to polish with some combination of rough and finish polish. By that I mean Tripoli and Rouge, Luxi Blue and White and other compound combinations on 4" - 6" sewn wheels. Rough polishing should be done before you set your stones, especially if they are soft stones like amber that might get damaged in the polishing process. Once polished, you can set your stones and then touch up any damage done in the setting process. While you can spend a lot of money on a polishing motor, wheels, compounds and a hood, you can put one together fairly inexpensively with a good general purpose motor and spindle and building your own hood out of plywood making sure to figure out how to exhaust the polishing duff. I still use the hood that I built 45 years ago. It has gone through many iterations, but it is still the same basic hood. It is good that you have a flexible shaft tool as it can help you get into the small tight places and do a good job cleaning them up using the various wheels that you mention before you polish. I don’t own a pin finisher. It is on my list, but a long way from the top and I am not really sure why I need one. I have a tumbler with SS shot and it does a good job of cleaning up pieces that I have already polished, especially copper pieces. I also have a vibratory tumbler and all the media needed to tumble polish. I haven’t used it in years since I stopped doing shows and making a lot of earrings and small rings. Polishing is an important part of making jewelry. If I spend 30 minutes fabricating a piece, I spend at least that long polishing it if not more. If you haven’t already, buy some LED lamps to work under. You would be surprised what you can see under them that you can’t see under incandescent bulbs. There is a lot more to say and others may have their own ideas. Good luck…Rob

Dip item in baking soda and water to neutralize the pickle. Then scrub with a toothbrush.

Use a toothpick with polish in your flexshaft to polish the tight spots.

3M radials are agressive and should not be your final polish. Felt and fluff with polish would be better for the last polishing stages.


Try to use less solder to avoid having excess solder to remove. Removing solder is never an ideal chore, no matter how it’s done.

Books would be an excellent addition to the blogs and youtube.


Good morning Emily,

Welcome and congratulations on creating your ring and for teaching yourself.

To answer your questions:

  1. White post-pickle residue.

Looking closely at your ring, The orange bit is not the fine silver, I think that you have a touch of fire stain, as well. I have had this problem at times when working with silver. To prevent it you need to make sure it is protected with borax or your choice of flux. There is plenty on here about preventing fire stain and is very useful. The toothpick in your dremel with tripoli should remove it, just take it slowly. It will also remove the fine silver left from the pickle. You can also remove it with sandpaper. My advice is to start with a higher grade, say 400 max and work through to a finer one, I usually end up with 1200 grit before polishing.

  1. Smooth, flat texture and excess solder

The swirls are, I think a result of using the 3m radials, as has been said they are aggressive. There are a few different ways of getting rid of these. Rather than using the 3m radials, you could go through the different grades of sand paper or different grades of silicone rubber wheels.

If you don’t want a mirror finish, the way you finish your jewellery depends on what you want to achieve and I would recommend you experiment on scraps of silver until you are happy with the result.

The excess solder can be removed using a file to remove most of it and then going through the different grades of sandpaper. You will learn how much to use through practice.

For the final polish, as has been said, don’t use the 3m radials. I would suggest you try Cotton, or Calico wheels. If you use Calico wheels you need to prepare them to remove any loose threads and continuously check to ensure there are no loose threads sticking out. These can be burnt off easily.

I hope this answers your questions. If you would like any more information, pm me and I’d be delighted to help you.

Good luck with your jewellery and keep learning and experimenting.

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It’s my understanding that the white layer left on a sterling piece after pickling is pure silver, as the pickle dissolves the copper on the surface. The copper is also the cause of the blue-green color of well-used pickling solution.

I have been using felt wheels with Dialux blue and black, so I do have some experience with polishing compounds, as well as impregnated silicone polishing wheels and cylinders, just not on a full sized machine. I’ve also tried out the Luxi compounds with fluffy bits and not gone far, so I think I should try them with felt or chamois minis on the handpiece. A full sized polishing motor is my next high priority, though, and I’ve been sent a private message with details about diy’ing one, so that sounds like an interesting project especially if I can get my hands on one of those octagonal plastic fish tanks from the 80s.

My rotary tumbler with steel shot was one of the first pieces of equipment I bought. The pin finisher gives a more thorough base for polishing than the rotary tumbler with its larger steel shot, since the small pins get into more places. I’m not sure it what order I should use them, though. With all your experience, maybe it would be superfluous since you’ve probably got your polishing techniques mastered.

I do also have good lighting, with a general lamp and a magnifier with a ring light built in (from an office depot dumpster, no less) that I use for detail work.

A retiring dentist gave me a ton of platinum and ceramic polishing compounds, and I’m not sure if I’ll have any use for those :woman_shrugging:

Betty2, How do the dialux and luxi compounds compare to the 3m wheels as far as when I’d switch from what radial to which compund? I’m working on figuring out the correct order for all these steps.

orlalevy - thank you so much for all this information! I admit I don’t know much about firestain, and I have been ignoring flux mostly because I use the solder paste with flux already in it. I’ll try fluxing first anyway - it’s just so sketchy how it makes things slippery.

I do get similar types of swirls from silicone wheels, particular on the backs of the pendants where there’s more open flatness, so I’ve started leaving the backs as just finely sanded satin finish. I do think the wheels are necessary for getting under things and in crannies, like around the balls and little charms I like to add in. I’ll try sandpaper for the excess solder and the toothpick trick, too. My more recent work does have less excess solder as I’ve learned to be more precise and apply solder on the inside of the bezel only.

Thanks again!

Good morning Emily,

Glad to help.

When you heat silver you need to protect it from oxidation. This causes the copper to raise to the surface, which causes the orange staining. As I said there is a lot on this site as to how to protect your silver. I use a borax cone, which I grind in a dish, as I was taught. I suggest that you read up about preventing fire stain and then experiment to see which works the best for you.

As for the silicone wheels, have you tried to use the cylinder shaped ones or the side of the bullet shaped ones? These are good to produce a flat surface and are not expensive. I would suggest you experiment with the different shapes to see which you prefer.

Good luck with your adventure in making jewellery.

Hi Emily,
Ive read your post and waited till others have replied before my thoughts are put to you.
Im going to start from a different tack, your mention that your not taught. Now, that is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact its a blessing for you, as all youd get at a beginners course is what you have found out for yourself and with the mental limitations that a fixed course imposes on you.
Most class teachers instruct in the basics of metal fabrication, what they dont and cant is teach TALENT!.
Thats something a maker has or not.
Looking at your ring, im so impressed, it tells a story frrom the bee to the amber ( honey) and the stone the flower it gets the honey from. that takes talent!!
If I had the choice of a diamond set in platinum, or your ring Id choose yours.
Dont try to make it something thats super polished, it does not need it. the discolouration that could be fire stain is best left. Its part of its character.
Ok, I was going to suggest you use solder paste but you beat me to it!, you already do that.
you need to look at your joint construction . Always put the solder paste BETWEEN the parts to be joined, clamp/ preload if you can, then heat perhaps with some additional flux, more on that later, youll find you will get better the more you make things.
As for making larger flat surfaces on pendants, small areas mirror finished can add emphasis, but lots? NO, dont remove the character youve put into your piece.
Re fluxes,
borax is the most basic non reactive. Most folk find it does all they want, however there are others that are far superior , from the industrial brazing world. Those are the ones i use, why? because if for example your working say 18ct gold and stainless steel you need the right flux formulated for dissolving uhe nickel and chromioum oxides. there called reactive fluxes.
On silver, or copper of gold the joint is so strong you can forge it through 180Deg, and the joint wont break. Also you get a very neat fillet , no blobs of solder!. It adds to the solder’s flow.
I Dont use anything else.
Also dont try and copy whats done before by others, , just carry on doing what your good at, making from your heart, and youll become a real success.

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Practice with everything you have on scrap. It’s useful to remember there are numerous ways to achieve the same result.

Use our search engine and read everything. Our archives are incredible. Be sure to search on Barrier flux.

Also search on safety polishing motor. It is a seriously dangerous tool, so study every possible source for safety information.

It helps to have a jewelry supply catalog at hand to study.

Like the toothpick in a flex shaft, an extremely useful way to get into those crevices is with the silicone polishing pin kit. You don’t need an entire kit, but you need the pin holder and some silicone pins.

If you need a different shape of silicone wheel or cylinder, you can grind it against an abrasive stone with the silicone polisher in your running flex shaft.

The pin finisher is specifically for a piece with many details and tight spots. Otherwise, it may create more unnecessary polishing work for you. I probably would not use both a pin finisher and a rotary tumbler on the same piece, but if I did, I would use the rotary tumbler last.

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Emily…I was unable to open your pictures last night as they appear to be links rather than attachments. I got them open this morning. For first projects, you are doing well. As Ted said, I especially like the bee and amber story. You talk about white silver color and then an orange cast in the low stops. Others will know better than I, but could you have heated and pickled enough to form a reticulation layer? You usually need 80/20 alloy for this to happen. As others have pointed out, the orange color tells me that you might be dealing with firescale, especially if you have only been using solder paste and no additional flux. Flux is your friend. It also helps a smaller amount of solder flow further and better. There has been a recent discussion on flux that you might find helpful. I usually give my pieces a good soak in water after I am done fabricating. It’s a good reason for a cup of coffee. It seems to help remove the left over glassy spots of flux that you would otherwise have to grind off. An LED lamp helps to find the firescale and other imperfections that you might miss under incandescent light. Make it a habit to also look at your work in sunlight. Put a sharpie mark on the spots that you find that you might not be able to see once you get back into your shop. There is nothing wrong with being self taught. In many ways it is the best way to learn, but it can be frustrating at times. Resources like Orchid can give you learn what you need when you need it. Working through questions like yours not only helps you, but also many others who may be able to connect a problem that they are having with a solution. Personally, I take much more from Orchid than I can give. Have fun and good luck…Rob

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Rob, the 80/20 alloy is not necessary to form a reticulation layer. I learned reticulation on sterling in school and never felt the need to try 80/20.

Emily you have had some great advice from a lot of talented people. I can’t add very much. I always get something from these posts that help me just about the time I think I have heard it all. The tooth pick trick for instance. After pickling I am a fan of soap and water and maybe a brass brush if the work allows it. When I solder pieces that are wide open areas of plain metal I will always do a fire coat of boric acid and alcohol and then for flux on the joint I use any generic green flux like batterns. The boric acid and alcohol is a great flux on its own. The heat from soldering turns the boric acid into glass on the piece but running it under hot water and scrubbing with soap and a toothbrush will take care of the glass.

(A word about shop safety: alcohol is very flammable so a lot of care is involved in this process. There are other fire coats that are safer to use, Look into those. I have used Borax in suspension in hot water. Check out PRIPS flux as well. The alcohol is a concern for many but this is my process and I will probably continue with it.)

That’s pretty ambitious stuff for someone so new to the craft. Keep it up. I am only now starting to set the occasional stone after some decades at the bench.

Good Luck and have fun.

Don Meixner

---- Emily Pulskamp wrote:

Betty…I have only reticulated once, at least on purpose. It was with 80/20. I will have to try it on Sterling. Thanks…Rob

Betty, traditional reticulation is achieved by
heating and pickling reticulation silver 5 times.
When the metal is heated the 6th time, the
outside or skin of fine silver does not melt, the
metal inside does and that forms the reticulation.
True reticulation looks like how landscape
looks like mountain terrain from an airplane.
Not to be argumentative, if you look up
reticulation in. Jewelry Concepts by Oppi
Untracht, you will see process described and
I studied with Harold O’Connor, you can
look at his work and see true reticulation.
I have not seen reticulation done with
sterling that can achieve the pattern of
peaks and valleys achieved with reticulation
Pictured is one of Harold’s pieces.
What I see people doing is producing
what I would call heat damaged metal and
calling it reticulation.

Dear Richard,

Can I ask about this sentence:
I have not seen reticulation done with
sterling that can achieve the pattern of
peaks and valleys achieved with reticulation
Can you tell me the difference between sterling and ¨reticulation
silver ¨ ??? I don’t know the difference between or what is. ¨reticulation

That brooch, I assume a brooch, is wonderful. I just want to touch it and
then put it in a frame to look at over and over everyday. Simply


From: Jewelry Concepts and Technology
chapter 9 Surface Ornament with Heat
subheading: Metals used for Reticulation

“Different metals and alloys can be subjected to reticulation. Pure silver can be reticulated, but more usually, silver copper alloys ranging from 92.5 - 80% silver are used. Pure and alloyed gold was commonly reticulated by Faberge, and plain copper and its alloys can also be reticulated.”

Untracht continues by discussing the metal thickness, indicating thinner sheets tend to form holes if overheated … which I assume would be considered “heat damaged metal”.

He says thicker sheets need more heating.

I heat and pickle 10 times with a fuel/air torch before the final use of an oxy/acetylene torch to bring out the texture.

Hello Emily,
As to DIY buffers, ti would be in the archives, but look at thrift stores and flea markets for a grinder with a 1/2 or 3/4 hp motor. In my area, they are available for $25 to $35. Remove the grinding wheels and attach the proper shaft size spindles, one left hand and one right hand, to the motor. You can use this outside as is, but you can fashion a hood from thin plywood or even a large cardboard box or foamcore board that has been cut and taped to the proper size. Spray paint cardboard or foamcore to make it more durable. Use a shop vac or old vacuum cleaner to provide suction and cut a hole for the hose. Use some kind of furnace filter material over the hole so that you can recycle your sweeps to the metal refiner. Additionally, fashion some kind of cone to use at the bench to carry polishing debris away and salvage that, too.

A pair of spindles are about $20 on ebay, so $50 plus the cost of wheels will get you started if you can brave the elements and the cardboard box hood option gets you going inside for about another $30 for a vacuum. So $100 should do it, bare bones, and it would be worth it for the time you would save.

I agree with the use of the blockade flux and the borax cone trick will work, altho’ some prefer battern’s or prip’s and cupronil and firescoff are the premium, but expensive options. You decide. Even the premium options are worth it if you don’t have to fool with firescale, which can be a big time soaker. I don’t think anyone mentioned prefinishing as much as possible before assembly, which could easily be done with fine sandpaper followed by your tripoli and rouge. Polished tools leave less in the way of assembly scratches to remove later. Toothpicks in the crevices are better than polishing wheels which can create more problems by abrading larger areas. If your sanding steps are careful, and finish with 400 or 600 grit, you should be able to go to tripoli and then rouge from there and a minimum of polishing leaves details sharper. The larger wheels of the buffer and a light touch leave you less swirls and funhouse mirror effect to deal with.

Maybe if the pure silver layer is giving you problems, less time in the pickle would help.

Sterling is .925, 92.5% fine silver.
Reticulation silver is 80% fine silver