Perfecting finishing techniques

I hope someone can help me. I’m still having problems with the
finish of my jewellery. I’ll outline the steps I currently take and
the problems I’m having.

I use files of different grades to get rid of any small bits of
excess solder and blend the solder seam into the rest of the metal
and of course to refine the shape. As some have suggested, I will
work perpendicular to the previous filing, when going onto the next,
finer grade of file. I loupe it between each stage to make sure it’s
ready to proceed to the next one. Tops and bottoms of bezel settings
get sanded with different grades of sandpaper on a smooth, level
surface. Any burrs are removed.

I then use various grades of rubber wheels, again, louping between
each one - only those rubber wheels which give a smoother finish
than the files I’ve already used.

Then I use different grades of polish. Yellow Dialux really cuts
where necessary. I then tend to put the piece in my tumbler with
steel shot and burnishing compound for two hours to give a certain
degree of work hardening. I’ll set any stones at this point. Any tool
marks are filed with a fine file before the piece is polished with
Fabulustre and then jeweller’s rouge.

However, my problem is that after all that work, when the piece has
a lovely glossy shine, in certain lights and at certain angles,
deeper (but now rounded and smoothed out) scratches are then showing
up from earlier in the process. Scratches which appeared, even
through the loupe, to have disappeared - although they obviously
hadn’t! I’d liken it to ploughing a field, then ploughing again, but
perpendicular to the first ploughing. The first furrows appear to
have gone, but if you were to go up in a helicopter, you would
probably still be able to see the original ploughing.

This is really annoying me and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.
Others can’t even see what I’m talking about, as it’s only visible
in certain lights, but if I can see it, then someone else might and
I’m not happy to send it out. I’d appreciate any advice on how to
overcome these problems - thanks.


Ghost marks, that’s how I describe them.

Years ago I did a lot of engraving removal from sterling trays etc.
Try it sometime, you’ll see how tough it is. As with you, the
technique of perpendicular sanding directions was handed down to me,
“This is how you do it”. And I would usually get ghost marks.

But when we’re doing platinum do we abrade perpendicularly? Uh, no.
In circles. Silver and plat have this in common, very much unlike
gold. When sanding in straight lines you are setting up a pattern
that can show thru successive polishing. Round motions leave a more
random set of marks. The brain is a funny thing…it wants to see
order, even if its chaotic order. So a few parallel lines in the
reflective surface and the brain goes “Aha!”

I might suggest for you to not try so hard. Skip some or alot of
your prefinishing steps. I think that’s what’s setting you up for
ghost marks. Use files only for shaping, not smoothing. I have only
one file, I forgot its number but its medium aggressive and 12 inces
long, yeah I do fine work with it. Sanding can be accomplished in
steps of 180 or 220, then 320 grits (circular motion) 400 plus are
usually overkill, then on to either a hard Tripoli or zam wheel
(really, you should try zam, it seems to ‘pull’ the surface more
easily) followed by blue platinum compound.

Its a safe bet that the more time you spend in finishing, the less
satisfied you’re going to be with the result. As with alot of
things, when it seems to just fall into place you get the best

Hey Helen, I think your problem may be after tumbling. I wouldn’t go
from a fine file to fabulustre, use sanding sticks in between.

Good luck,
Jim Doherty

Hello Helen,

Try a coarser polishing compound before your red rouge. Try bobbing
compound or tripoli. Either of these will remove any and all
scratches. Carefully clean the piece, removing all traces of the
coarse compound before going on to the rouge. Be sure you do not
scratch the surface while cleaning as this is easy to do.

Tom Arnold

Helen- It sounds like you are over working your stuff. I use a #2 or
#4 file, maybe two grades of emery and I avoid rubber wheels like
the plague. They tend to drag out pits and lines. I use them only
when necessary. Also the longer you buff the more you will drag out
old scratches.I start with #2 or #1 emery then I use 0 or 00 emery at
the last. After that I use bobbing compound, Zam, then blue rouge on
silver, red on yellow gold and green or white on white gold and
platinum. I always tell my students to file a bump 80% off then go
to emery. The less time you spend on the buff the better. Have fun
and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

Hi Helen,

Have you tried cleaning your mops with a mop “rake”? I found one on a
website you mentioned a few days ago.

Any compound left on the mops can cause scratching while giving a
final polish to an item. Also, ive always used emery paper rolled
into sticks rather than rubber wheels (purely because i was taught
that way). I would imagine its easier to get a more even finish on
the outside of rings compared to a rubber wheel.

I also polish first with tripoli, then green dialux, then rouge. Im
sure some people will say im wrong but this works for me!

Use a different mop for each compound and make sure you use
sufficient compound on the mop otherwise scratching may occur. Also
remember different compounds are for different materials, (Gold,
silver, platinum, base metal, plastics, steel, etc.)

Sorry if you know all this already!


deeper (but now rounded and smoothed out) scratches are then
showing up from earlier in the process. 

Helen, I’m sure you’ll get much advice… Polishing is an art -
it’s deceptively simple, and probably the one place novices lack
skills in… I’m going to keep my thoughts general…

Those scratches are there because you put them there - that seems
obvious, but it’s the key to everything. You list a lot of steps,
and I’m sure you don’t use all of them for all pieces (I hope not,
anyway). One thing is to make sure your files don’t have little
nougies of silver in the teeth - those will give you drag marks.

We used to polish turquoise jewelry in 3 steps, and many still do:
fine file or 6"/15cm cratex wheel, to white diamond on a muslin
buff, to Zam on a cotton buff. Mirror polish…

There’s no need to pound silver into submission, it’s just silver
and polishes easily.

Everybody’s familiar with Fabulustre, but I’ve never used it…
Looking up Dialux I find it’s popular in Europe, but I’ve never used
that either. Contenti says green and blue are the most popular…

BUT… since tripoli or white diamond (which is a fine tripoli) will
remove file marks all by itself, I suspect that you are missing that
step - an aggressive pre-polish. You’re trying to do it all with
compounds that are too fine for the job - I suspect. Your first
compound generally won’t leave a shine, it will be a soft finish.

The other thing is power - if your silver’s not getting hot then
you’re not using enough pressure on the wheel. Polishing is about
power vs time.

As you get better and more confident on the wheels then you can
really get in there and push. Don’t take that as a reason to have an
accident, of course, but most inexperienced polishers just kind of
waffle the work on the wheel. Brute force is what does the job…

Skip some or alot of your prefinishing steps. 

Helen (no doubt others…) there’s been much good advice… I’ll sum
it up, though. A good polisher is worth their weight in gold. When
you think about all the various items, situations and metals that
need to be done, it’s a big subject. Lately I revisited the site of
an Orchid member who’s fairly active in posting. Front and center
was a lousy polish. Aside from knowing how to do it, there’s also an
eye for what a good polish IS. Plus there’s more to it than just
getting a shine - it’s also blending metal and refining curves and
getting everything just so. Kind of likea #20 file or 20,000 grit

With that said, polishing is also easy, you just need to know the
combination. Forget about compounds and trade names for the moment.
You need to prep the work - call it sanding, generically. All books
and all school programs I’ve heard of promote over-sanding (some
grossly so). Next is prepolish, which is a grit that cuts. Think of
that as 1500 grit sandpaper on a wheel. Tripoli is the most commonly
used product for that - white diamond is very nice, too. Greystar
and bobbing compound are pretty aggressive. Then there’s the final
polish, whatever is used (there’s only 1,000 compounds out there…)
Generally those are more of a burnishing action, though some also

The easy part is that if you do everything properly and in sync it
will just go bing-bang-bing. You should be able to touch the piece
to the final polish for a second and have a reasonable shine
immediately. A real poli= sh is more than that… Getting that
combination where each step preps for the next, and each next step
is easy because it’s ready for it, is the learning curve. But once
you get it, you’ll have it…

And don’t do anything just because - sand it if it needs sanding,
don’t if it doesn’t. Pay attention, do what’s necessary - much silver
can go straight to the muslin wheel…


It seems to me you’re doing all the right things, but other’s will
come up with some suggestions I’m sure.

One thing I have noticed is that if I don’t have the light shining
on the inspected surface in just the right way I can miss those very
last furrows from the previous rougher step. This can bedevil me even
when filing a flat surface on a mortising chisel. Inspecting curved
surfaces can be more difficult.

I’d thought of using something like a sharpie pen to color a piece,
then wipe it off with the intention of having some material left in
the scratches. but whatever I use to wipe it off ends up wiping
everything off. Didn’t work well at all.

The best solution I’ve found is rotating and moving the piece in
bright light (I’ve found sunlight best for me) and using binocular
vision. This means using my optivisor, then if I think I’ve found
something, zooming in on that found spot with a loupe to verify.

Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Henderson, NV

A coarse file or saw - fine file (or scraper, or scorper) - 400 grit
paper - 600 grit paper - tripoli (or bright cut) - rouge (or their
equivalents) will achieve a good polish on most metals. Platinum
needs more steps. Silver, 9ct gold and brass can get away with

One point to remember is to use each step to remove all trace of the
previous step…and then some!

I find that it’s quicker to proceed as above without undue close
inspection until the final step. Then inspect closely and if there
are any imperfections go back and fix them.

It is more important to take care with cross-contamination from one
step to the next. A stray 400 grit particle on the polishing buff
will show up loud and clear in your final polish!

As a repairer my view is slightly prejudiced. Polishing the item
after a repair will make the item appear much better than it was.
Polishing a newly created item is more demanding because we want it
to be as perfect as possible. This is a conundrum…

Why is a perfect mirror polish so ingrained? Is it because of the
polishing machine? The polishing machine it the quickest and
cheapest way. What about a burnished shine, a bright cut, a very
unique scraped finish, or some of the many wonderful other textures?


I might suggest for you to not try so hard. Skip some or alot of
your prefinishing steps. I think that's what's setting you up for
ghost marks. 

Thanks Neil. I have gone back a few steps somewhat, since I added
additional steps to the process - the overall finish is more glossy
lately - but I’ve obviously been ruining the foundations of my

I’ve not tried Zam. I was introduced to bobbing compound and
Fabulustre by a fellow Orchid member. I didn’t like the bobbing
compound, although it was very good. It had all sorts of horrible
health warnings, and did actually make me feel unwell when using it -
not just because I’d read the warnings, I’m not that neurotic. So I
looked for an equally aggressive cutting compound without the dire
warnings, hence the yellow Dialux. I should use it more as it is
great for cutting. Too much and it looks as though the piece has been
eroded by water for thousands of years, rather than having a lovely
crisp look. However, it is VERY dirty! I always end up looking like a
chimney sweep after using it. It kinds of takes the joy out of making
jewellery. So I’ve been using it less, and using very fine rubber
wheels instead - but I think they are my downfall, as Jo Haemer
pointed out.

I’ll give it some thought. Thanks for your advice.


You have to be careful use the files to a minimum so you don’t cut

Once you have the shape defined ( or even before) move to abrasives.
Start with a grade that is just finer than any scratches. Move to a
finer grade as soon as you have the surface refined.

Never go back! At first you have to remove everything above the
deepest scratch Then you keep removing then the next smaller ones.
You can make abrasive files by gluing abrasive strips cut from
sheets to sticks. Abrasives remove material. At some point buff.

Buff with a finer material than your last abrasive. Buffing will
flow the surface and blend small scratches.

I think the best abrasive materials are made by 3 M who does make
and sell in the UK.

All their endless list of products are on line in the UK. The fine
diamond files are shown in the catalog.They are not expensive. I
think these are mostly made in the UK… use the wet or dry abrasives
and use them wet as much as possible.

Polishing anything is a stepwise process and can take a while if you
have very high standards! You will have to learn what the abrasive
grading numbers mean. Remember never go back a grade!


Hi Jo,

I think you are spot on with my problem. After I read your reply, I
thought about it, and I don’t recall getting these horrible
scratches before I started using the rubber wheels. I’ll stop using
those and use sandpaper instead.

Thanks so much for helping to identify my problem.


Hi Jon,

Thanks for your reply. I’m going to try using the sandpaper more
than the rubber wheels, as I don’t recall having the problem before I
started to use them. I’ve only realised this after today’s replies.

Hopefully that will help enormously, even though I hate the feel of
sandpaper! :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks again,

Hi Jim,

Hey Helen, I think your problem may be after tumbling. I wouldn't
go from a fine file to fabulustre, use sanding sticks in between. 

Sorry, I should have clarified. The offending scratches are in the
body of the piece - for example, if I’ve made a large, tallish
bezel, they’re on the bezel walls. The tool marks which I get rid of
at the end are just on the top edge. I’m not going back into the
offending scratches with the fine file and fabulustre, just getting
rid of any facet-like tool marks from my setting punch.

I think I’m overcooking the whole thing as others have suggested.
Less, but more appropriate steps is probably what I need.

Thanks for the input into my problem - all answers are much


Hi Tom,

Try a coarser polishing compound before your red rouge. Try
bobbing compound or tripoli. Either of these will remove any and
all scratches. Carefully clean the piece, removing all traces of
the coarse compound before going on to the rouge. 

I do use two courser compounds before rouge. Yellow Dialux really
cuts silver, and then Fabulustre is in between that and the rouge.
It says it gives a final finish, but it’s not as good as rouge so I
use it as an intermediate. I clean the piece in my ultrasonic with
soapy, ammoniated water between each stage so as not to contaminate.

I think the offending stage is the rubber wheels I’ve been using.
Thinking about it - and after Jo Haemer mentioned them - I don’t
think I had this problem before I started to use them. I prefer using
them to using sandpaper, as they go in the flexshaft and I don’t get
that horrible dry, sanded fingertip feeling. However, I’m going to
have to put up with that and use the sandpaper type abrasives I
think. That seems to be the consensus.

Thanks for the input.


Hi John,

I'm sure you don't use all of them for all pieces (I hope not,

You’re correct. I just listed everything I do so that peeps knew
what they were dealing with in answering my question. Some situations
call for some of the steps, others for others.

since tripoli or white diamond (which is a fine tripoli) will
remove file marks all by itself, I suspect that you are missing
that step - an aggressive pre-polish. You're trying to do it all
with compounds that are too fine for the job - I suspect. 

I think you’ve hit one nail on the head. My yellow Dialux is a very
aggressive cutting compound - too aggressive if I let it be so - but
I hate using it because it’s SO dirty and I also end up so dirty that
it takes the joy out of making jewellery. So I was trying the rubber
wheels in successive finenesses - the last one supposedly gives
almost a polish - but they’re just not cutting the mustard. I need to
go back to using my aggressive cutting compound, after one filing
step and some sandpaper steps and see if that improves the situation.
I guess if I do it right, I wouldn’t need too much time with the
aggressive, dirty stuff anyway.

The other thing is power - if your silver's not getting hot then
you're not using enough pressure on the wheel. Polishing is about
power vs time. 

Oh don’t worry - it gets hot alright! I frequently burn myself when

Thanks for the advice as always John.


Hi Helen

My finishing is not fantastic, but I work with a lot of flat
surfaces and have played about with different techniques quite a lot.
It sounds like you are using a flex shaft to do quite a bit of your
polishing, the small size of the wheels makes it quite difficult to
buff things flat with these (I use flat in a loose sense, a court
ring is fairly flat in my world, a delicate setting is not). If you
swap to a sanding stick (just tape some emery paper to a bit of wood
of about the right shape) after the filing, and take it from 400 to
1,200 then you will get rid of many of these furrows.

I’ve found that I get a bit of texture on the metal when I tumble
(some times referred to as orange peel), so I tend to tumble after
sanding and then give a quick going over with 1,200 to restore the
flat surface so that it can reflect well. Burnishing by hand instead
of tumbling can do a good job of helping a finish as well, though I
am not great at that particular technique (or I need to upgrade from
a polished bent 3 inch nail in a bit of wood I use for the purpose).

I then polish on a big (6 to 12 inch) mop whenever possible as these
give really good results, and use the flex shaft or manual polishing
to get at difficult to reach areas. A grinding motor from B and Q
will do the job, Cookson’s sell polishing spindles that will fit most
motors, so you can set this up for very little outlay, though a
proper polishing motor with good dust extraction would be a great bit
of kit to own.

For silver you can get excellent results using Hi Brite (the white
polish marketed for polishing steel, I only use this and sometimes
rouge) - it cuts much faster then Tripoli and leaves a finish not
far off of rouge. I’ve also used this on brass, copper, gold,
platinum and palladium to good effect, but I don’t have much
experience with these metals. Works wonders on steaks and hammers
too, and gives you a kind of satanic French polish.

If you want to mechanise the sanding, medium greasy on a plastic
bristle brush on your polishing motor will take off a lot metal
quickly (good for getting rid of fire stain and file scratches).

Pre-polishing can also be useful - get everything nice before final
assembly and as long as you avoid firescale (pripp’s rocks) then the
final finish is much easier to attain.

Also working by hand can be surprisingly effective. Some hi brite on
a string for threading or a bit of leather backed on wood can give
you a great finish on certain shapes. I do love my flex shaft, but
sometimes it is just not the tool for the job.

Chris Penner

Hey Helen,

A not untypical problem. The reason you are seeing this is that you
never (really) got rid of the initial coarse filing grooves. And you
so right - inspecting under different light will show different

A quicky solution, to help you develop your eye, would be to put a
fast polish on the piece after the first two levels of filing. It
will show if yo’ve gotten rid of all the rough grooves. Remember you
can use less and less pressure as you file.

For me personally, when I’m in repair-job mode I’m always in a hurry
(production, production) so I will use several different rotary
devices on my hand-piece and seldom pick up an actual file except for
the 1/2 round (too slow). Steps would be steel rotary file, coarse
sandpaper disc, fine sandpaper disc, abrasive wheel. All via a
quick-change handpiece. The piece is now ready for polishing. In a
repair shop there are people that would solve your problem with a
high-speed polishing motor, tripoli, and lots of hand pressure. BUT
that indicates the piece wasn’t prepped correctly in the first place
as you are trying to do.

A caveat with the rotary tools mentioned: you will have particulates
flying in your face, so you should have a collector station if you
use these routinely.

Try the intermediate-stage polishing tip, maybe ease up a bit on the
coarse file, and I’ll bet you have an “Ah-HA!” moment.

Good luck,

PS - one other thing, maybe dump the #00 cut altogether if you’re
using that

Tom…I’m sorry if I seem to be picknicky here…don’t mean to be
but use of the term ‘scratches’ can be very misleading. Neither
tripoli nor bobbing compound will remove actual ‘scratches’ unless
you are prepared to do a LOT of polishing. Any scratches must first
be removed with various grades of sand paper/cloth first. The tripoli
and bobbing compound (first cut) are only meant to ‘smooth’ the
surface and remove only the slightest blemishes, prior to second cut
(whatever ones’ preference might be) followed by the rouge (third

And, as you say, the surfaces must be washed clean between each cut.

Cheers from Don in SOFL