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Polishing advice

After reading John’s posting about making jewelry that sells, I went
back and checked out some pieces I made recently. I’m happy with
them EXCEPT for the finish. Uneven polish, a scrape mark I missed,
rough spot in a place I couldn’t get to, etc.

Now that I’ve moved my business back into the house, the buffer is
out in the garage because I can’t abide the dust in my workshop and
for lack of room. I’m buffer-averse anyway, but this makes it worse
because I don’t want to schlep from my warm studio to my cold
garage. And it doesn’t get into the recesses anyway…not without me
losing my grip on it. Short of getting a strong-handed assistant to
do my polishing for me, can anyone offer me tips on what works for
them? I work mostly in silver (due to cost, not desire) and I know
how easily you can carve channels with a silicon wheel on a

in my early days I used to waste a lot of time over-finishing parts
before being brazed to another part, only to see a lot of new
cleanup after the torch was off… Now I wait until the end - and
can’t get into the crannies! Sequencing - this is my blind spot, and
I’m having trouble getting around it.

best regards,
Kelley Dragon


I prefinish my pieces before I solder them together and the final
finish just needs a nice smooth polisch with a good paste and
specific tools. Tthe very last step is handpolish with leather after
washing the rouge -or whatever- off.

A shortcut could be by using the plating procedure which is very
bright and that will give -when nicely done- a very high shine. This
shortcut however, needs to be payed for.

When I do some teaching on how to solder to students, I tell them -
and this is a very soft and gentle way of expressing myself- that
solder is like a glue and not like a filler. Soldered pieces do not
show that the’re soldered except that little seam where solder has
flowed. If one tries to fill a gap with solder (which can be done),
he is abusing the solder for what it is and that will cause more
finishing work. Nice tied fitting pieces need just that little bit of
"glue" in order to make that bond. Tomuch solder needs to be removed
and sometimes in little tiny spaces which gives one a hard time to
do. Knowing howmuch solder is needed is the trick and the experience
you need to create by doing it.

If you spend a lot of work during the making of an item by carefuly
sanding every piece, removing all the scratches and taking care of
the solderseam, you’ll have to spend less time and effort into
polishing and finishing your product on the next level. If you don’t
follow these steps Kelly, anyone will have more trouble by removing
or hiding little errors made in a previous state bu yourself. If you
don’t set YOUR standard high enough, except that this will reflect
your products. Polishing is not as easy as you believe. It looks very
easy but polishing is an art with a lot of craftmenship and it is
ment to give an item a high luster and not to remove scratches made
in a previous step. They need to be sanded and worked by the gold- or

By all means, if you feel like the polishing area is to cold to work
in, do you believe that another likes to work in that cold area?

Polishing is not strenght related. It is a very well tought process
by using the exact tools and materials for a specific surface
treatment. Speed and used materials do the job for you, not strenght
and hard labor. A very careful working lady can achieve more then a
stronghanded person. A fine working dust collector will be in the
benefit four you or your assistant. Polishing material is not the
best stuff to inhail for you or anybodys health. Another benefit is
that all that dust contains silver and depending on howmuch you
polish, it could end up making it worth collecting all that dust.

Don’t create a dusty area for somebody else if you don’t like do
work in this type of place. It’s a straight forward language but keep
it simple and honnest.

Have fun and enjoy

keep your work moving sideways in relation to the wheel. this will
virtually eliminate grooves or ‘channels’. Sometimes its better to
polish across a crown rather than along it, sometimes at an acute
angle. And at the risk of once again sounding like a broken
record…finish off everything with blue platinum rouge.

I typically use this sequence…file (if needed), soft silicone blue
wheel on the flexshaft, where called for a white bristle brush
sometimes with zam, sometimes not charged with anything!, then to
the buffer…hard wheel with zam, (maybe soft wheel with zam too),

After reading John's posting about making jewelry that sells, I
went back and checked out some pieces I made recently. I'm happy
with them EXCEPT for the finish. Uneven polish, a scrape mark I
missed, rough spot in a place I couldn't get to, etc. 

Making jewellery is like cooking. In the same way like taste of a
dish depends on how clean the cutting board was during the
preparation, whether or not chef is practicing proper discipline, all
these factors affect the final result.

Goldsmithing is the same way. Polishing starts way before polishing
machine is switched on. For the jewellery to look professional, one
must get into the habit of leaving nothing for later. If you file
something, smooth it out with emery paper. Use solder very
judiciously. Not everything can be cleaned out later. Before
soldering two parts, pre-polish them, and so on. By practicing “clean
and finish as you go” by the time the polishing machine is switched
on, there will be very little to do and nothing will be missed.

One more advice. To help yourself to acquire discipline, if you have
a tumbler in your shop - throw it out, or at least lock it up in a
closet and do not use it, until cleaning as you go becomes second
nature. Tumblers are convenient, but people tend to leave everything
to tumbler, and that is not the way to the professional finish.

Leonid Surpin

Kelley- always a problem to get rid of firescale and other
marks-solder tracks,etc. I like to prevent most FS with Boric/alcohol
but some will always develop. OK- how to get rid of it? get some
inexpensive hoghair brushes(I like smaller onesabou2 in. -2 1/2in)
with 2 rows of hair. Use regular bobbing compound or Matchless(fairly
greasy) and you can usually get in tight spaces and eliminate the
offending areas. This technique can but rarely does remove detail.
Use care and check your work and you can take care of most problems.
However use a dustmask! I assume you have a collector. If you dont,
get one. Money well spent. And save your sweeps! I know I blew at
least3 or 4 pounds of sterling out the door in the last 24 years. The
nxt step is…white diamond compound on a treated buff( a 6 in.
razor edge works for me). It will reveal leftover problems before
going on to final finish. I usually use rouge. A sonic between steps
is a good idea esp. a final one. Your flexshaft and small brushes and
/or the new feather discs with various grits should get most if not
all blemishes. I always darken the recesses with blackening. that
hides whatever might be left.


Hi Kelley-- There are two things I’ve been using instead of the
noisy, cumbersome polishing machine, which I found very scary. One
is a small, rotary tumbler with stainless steel mixed shot. A few
hours, sometimes just one or two gives my sterling silver a really
great shine. It gets into most of the crevices, but when I need to
improve that I use a brass brush on the Flexshaft, with a very light
touch, What I really love is a small, plastic object that is about
4" long and maybe 2-3 " thick, It has a hole in it to accommodate
the flexshaft, and bottom flanges that are put into a vise, It makes
the Flexshaft horizontal and into a little polisher (or grinder).
Once it is assembled, it is still possible to change the wheel. I
bought it at quite a while ago from Rio Grande, but I just checked
their online catalogue and could not find it there. It is a
remarkably useful little attachment. I particularly like the fact
that the speed is variable even though it takes longer to polish a
piece than the big one.

If you would like, I could send you a picture of it. You can contact
me ofline Perhaps someone else is familiar with it and knows where
to find it,

Best Wishes
Elegant Insects jewelry

Kelley, Gravers and burnishers.

Regards, Kevin

Tumblers are convenient, but people tend to leave everything to
tumbler, and that is not the way to the professional finish. 

I’ll second that thought, as well as the rest of Leonid’s post. For
people having trouble getting a good polish, especially in hard to
reach areas, well, read Leonid’s post twice.

Polishing is the last step in getting a good finish, not the whole
one. If you do things right along the way, then the final polish
won’t make you tear your hair out. If it is difficult to get that
desired final finish, the problem is not with polishing in many
cases, but in how you prepared the work for polishing, or
anticipated the need for polishing as you made the work.

If you find during polishing that there are file marks or scuffs or
grinding marks or coarse sanding marks that are difficult to polish
out, then the problem is not with polishing, but with not doing a
proper job of prefinishing, ie fine files and finer and finer
abrasives to get a nicely prepared and refined surface before you
ever get near to a buff.

It is possible, even with silver but even more with gold or platinum
or other metals, to prepolish everything, and have it remain, even
after multiple soldering operations, still almost polished at the
end, needing just a little touch up. If you have trouble with fire
scale or fire stain giving you a hard time with polishing, then learn
how to prevent it from forming in the first place. Proper use of
prips flux (check the many past posts in the archives) is one way to
do this. There are others as well. (and a side note, the common use
of boric acid and alcohol, as used for preventing fire scale on
gold, does NOT work well on silver. It helps, but does not fully
prevent fire stain in particular.) If you want a really effective and
easy preventative, then spend the money of Firescoff, that new
ceramic based commercial spray on product. Works well, so long as
cost is not an issue. Prips flux is a bit more work, but since you
make it yourself, it’s very cheap. And used properly, it works as
well as anything else on the market, including Firescoff for
preventing fire stain and fire scale on sterling silver.

If you find little blind areas with excess solder or solder scars or
scuffs or marks that you can’t polish, the real answer is not to look
for other polishing tools, but rather to pay more attention to not
getting those defects in the first place. The extra time you spend on
that, will be more than repaid in the time you then save in final

Now, with all that said, there will still be times that things go
wrong and you have to fix mistakes that should not have happened. A
couple thoughts on that. Be careful not to assume that you need a
motor behind every tool. Rotary tools in a flex shaft can be
wonderful, but they also can make circular swirl marks in that
otherwise nice clean square corner. Burnishers can be made of the
old broken burs and drills you may have around, and shaped to get
into virtually any tiny space. Same thing with things like scotch
stones (water of ayre stones is another name for them. Very useful
fine slate like abrasive stones). Or toothpicks with a bit of polish
compound or a bit of lapping paste or other abrasive on them can get
into tiny details, either under power or just rubbed manually. Cotton
swabs can also be tiny soft buffs in the flex shaft.

Or if these sorts of things don’t work, don’t be afraid to change
the game plan. If you cannot polish a recessed defect, then how about
changing the finish from polish to some texture, perhaps with a small
chasing tool, or a tiny sharp pointed bit in a vibro graver, or
sand/bead blast. Or just (with silver) a black oxidized finish. Or
add some small ornament. Or pierce it out. Etc. Etc.

As Leonid suggests, jewelry making can be like cooking. While many
times one follows the predetermined recipe, most cooks are not shy
about modifying it when it suits their taste buds… And if you come
up against something that doesn’t want to work within your skills and
the state of the piece that you’ve reached, don’t be too stubborn
about it. You don’t have to tilt at the windmill. It’s Ok to walk
around it instead.

And please, folks. Polishing machines are found in virtually all
professional jewelry workshops for a reason. They’re often the best
tool for the job. Don’t let them scare you. Used right, they do
things you can never do with a tumbler or flex shaft. If you avoid
using that big noisy thing just because it scares you, but then
think your tumbler is giving you a wonderful finish, well, perhaps
you’re happy with that. But understand that you may be simply
deciding to accept an easy but limited solution. If the finish a
tumbler can give you is the RIGHT finish for the piece, then
wonderful. If, instead, it’s the lazy finish because you don’t want
to go through the process of properly polishing it when that polished
finish would be the best end result, well, you need to at least
recognize that for what it is. You put all the work and effort into
making your artwork in the first place. Make your decisions on finish
based on the aesthetic needs of the piece, not on whether the
polishing machine happens to be noisy or dusty. (If those are the
problems, find a way to solve them. It’s not hard.) Take your jewelry
and it’s design and process of making as seriously as you’d like your
customers or viewers to take the pieces themselves.

Peter Rowe

Hi, Kelley,

garage. And it doesn't get into the recesses anyway...not without
me losing my grip on it. 

Have you checked for example the Rio Grande for tools for polishing
small crevices, such as polishing string and pointy flexshaft


Polishing is not as easy as you believe. It looks very easy but
polishing is an art 

Not to be evasive, but there’s just about no answer beyond the
above. Leonid (for once) pretty much laid it all out - polishing is
a process that begins at square one. As I like to put it, if there
are scratches there it’s because YOU put them there. Neil likes his
platinum blue compound, I like Zam, they like green rouge and we all
get to the same place in the end.

What are you polishing? is the question of the day. Polishing a
teapot is entirely different from polishing filagree, etc. Some
generic advise, though: Start large and go small. Use your 6" muslin
or cotton first, then brushes, then maybe the flexshaft if needed.
The final polish/buff of rouge or whatever should take about 30
seconds for a wedding band. If you are chasing irregularities or
scratches then your previous step(s) were incomplete…Beyond that,
you just need to do what’s necessary: the shank takes muslin/cotton,
the undergallery needs a bristle brush, this little spot needs a
little endbrush, and there’s a place there I can’t get to, so I’ll
use a toothpick for that. And you just do it, whatever is necessary.
A good portion of it is also knowing what a good polish is,
otherwise known as an “eye”. We had some students wanting some
setting, years ago. I said it should be polished first, eh? and they
said it already was, though it was covered with file marks. They just
didn’t see it and didn’t know. Like all things, this comes with

I don’t have a polishing buffer at all so for now, use only my
flexshaft. I did learn that it helps to polish before soldering but
avoiding solder “spills” in the first place is always best. However,
sometimes it just happens and there’s no use in crying over spilt
solder. :slight_smile: At those times, I use my flexshaft with 3M
sanding/polishing disks. The nice thing about them is that they can
get into really tight spots. But you need to be careful because it’s
easy to leave marks with them if you’re not. You should see my first
completed bezel ring. LOL I’ve got a dip down the center of the back
of the base I didn’t realize was there. Using the disks takes some
practice but they are perfect for getting into tight spaces.


There are two things I've been using instead of the noisy,
cumbersome polishing machine, which I found very scary.

This is a sentiment that I can’t really understand. All tools are
dangerous- lathes, torches, hammers, gravers, anything you can think
of could cause serious damage if misused, and of course we are all
always at risk of accidents.

Polishing lathes just need to be treated with respect, but not fear.
If anything, they are the most predictable tools - I’ve had more
cuts and scrapes with a flexshaft than with a polishing lathe,
because I know exacly where the mop is, and where it is going. The
speed is also consistent. If the item is placed at the right point
on the mop, it won’t be dragged by it; more care must be taken with
soft loose mops than with hard compact mops, because the soft ones
are more likely to grab the item.

It’s obviously very upsetting if a block of polishing compound or a
piece of metal is pulled into the machine - it always sets my heart
racing - but this is caused by operator error, not by the machine.

Going back to what other people are saying about pre-finishing
components, the polishing lathe shouldn’t take a long time to use -
tripoli and rouge give lustre and gloss respectively, but neither
should be used to grind out scratches. If you take more than a
couple of minutes on each mop, something isn’t right. In fact, when
I’m using rouge, it’s almost a matter of briefly introducing the mop
and the item, and on simple items will take just a few seconds. The
mop is also what does the work, not you - don’t push the item onto
the mop, just let the mop rub past it.

Platinum and silver do take a little more effort in my experience,
but the same principles apply.

Jamie, A couple of comments. First I agree with you and all the
others regarding the need to carefully prepare each component of a
piece as you assemble them. This is something I stress over and over
to my students. Second, a common reason why the buff catches the
compound is because people get a bit careless and use only one hand
when applying it to the buff. I insist my students learn to use both
hands to hold the compound when applying it. This means they must lay
down the piece being polished and do it right. And third, I find
beginners use most of their polishing time removing firescale from
silver. Again, it is a process of ensuring the are well schooled in
the use of a firescale retardant such as Pripps flux. Even then,
silver will often acquire at least a small amount of firescale and a
common method of removing it is with Fabuluster. I also find the
first few times they use the lathe is the worst. Usually after a few
times on the wheel they settle down and many actually enjoy

Cheers from Don in SOFL.

This is a sentiment that I can't really understand. All tools are
dangerous- lathes, torches, hammers, gravers, anything you can
think of could cause serious damage if misused, and of course we
are all always at risk of accidents. Polishing lathes just need to
be treated with respect, but not fear. If anything, they are the
most predictable tools....

While I agree in principal, and would advise someone not to be afraid
of a polishing machine, I’d also say that this is one of those tools
in the shop where one does have to be fully aware of what one is
doing. Mistakes with a polishing machine can cause a good deal more
severe damage than with a flex shaft, simply because that motor has a
lot more power and inertia. I’ve seen flex shafts get out of control
and damage a piece, but I’ve never seen one completely destroy one,
and that is something I’ve seen more than once with improper
polishing technique. And injuries too, that I’ve seen with a
polishing machine, also include some of the most severe I’ve
encountered in my jewelry career (second only to accidents with
punch presses, a tool somewhat less common in the average jewelry
shop.) The worst I recall was a young man, fairly new, hired as a
polisher in a company I worked for briefly in the late 80s. He was
polishing silver oval bangle bracelets on a machine, wearing thin
cotton gloves to avoid fingerprints on the silver (as instructed by
the chief polisher there, to my considerable dismay. I told em I
thought that was too dangerous, but they didn’t believe me.) In
addition, to that, and not as instructed, he was holding the bracelet
wrong, with a finger hooked through the bracelet rather than a
"pinch" grip, and then he was using a small buff roughly the diameter
of the bracelet, and THEN he was polishing across the bracelet’s
wire, not with it. Pretty much every mistake he could make, he was
doing. But it cost him dearly, when predictably, the bracelet snagged
on the buff, pulling itself over the buff and catching on it, and
thus dragging the glove with it. The glove pulled right off his hand.
Unfortunately, his index finger remained in the glove. Surgeons were
not able to reattach it. Yeah, that’s a gory story, but it happened.
The lesson learned is that polishing machines have a motor with a
lot of power to them, and that as a result, they MUST be used
correctly, or there is risk of injury to the user or damage to the

But the same can be said of almost any power tool, and a fair number
of the manually used tools too. Stabbing a graver through your hand
may not be quite as bad as removing a finger, but it’s plenty gory
enough. I’ve seen broken saw blades driven right through a finger
tip, nail and all (with the owner of that finger, apparently not yet
feeling any pain, asking the class instructor what she should do
about it… And to this day I’ve no idea how she managed to achieve
that situation)

The lesson, I think, is not to avoid using a buffing machine because
it’s noisy or seems dangerous. If you take that approach, you
probably shouldn’t be using a whole bunch of the useful techniques
and tools available to jewelers. instead, get the needed instruction
or usage so you will be able to use the buffer (or any
other tool) safely and effectively. Noise is easily dealt with (and
frankly, I’ve not seen any small buffing setups that were really all
that noisy, at least not compared to the larger stand along dust
collectors that many commerial shops use (some of them need you to
wear hearing protectors if you want to work in any degree of
confort…) Set the machine or other tool up properly, know how to
use it safely and correctly, and get the job done as it should be.



I couldn’t agree with you more. Metalsmithing is FULL of dangerous
processes. You can hurt yourself with almost any tool in the studio,
but to avoid using certain tools and equipment because of the
potential of injury just doesn’t make sense to me. As Peter says,
learning how to use tools and jewelry-making equipment safely is
really the answer. Hopefully anyone who would be instructing
workshops or classes would be vitally concerned about the safety of
their students, and focus on keeping everyone safe.

The polishing machine, despite its potential for injury, is just the
best machine we have for producing a high quality polished finish
quickly. The combination of power, speed of rotation, and diameter of
the spinning buffs are an ideal combination for polishing soft
jewelry metals. You’d work much harder and for a much longer time to
get the same result from a flex-shaft and small wheels.

Your story (first hand) about a co-worker losing a finger by
polishing with gloves on should be a good lesson to anyone using a
powerful high-RPM polishing motor. Just deal with dirty fingers ( all
10 ) than potentially losing one or two by trying to keep your hands
clean by wearing gloves. We keep a cup of water on top of our buffer,
to dip your polishing job into to cool it off during buffing.

It’s a dirty, dangerous business, but what heavenly creations come
out of these brutal processes!

Jay Whaley

I don’t believe polishing is at all mysterious or even an art. Its a
mechanical function. Its not difficult.

Its something you do and get better at if you pay attention to
detail. Look at what you’re actually doing. See the result. If its
not satisfactory do it differently to address the deficiencies.
That’s how you learn, you try new things.

Polishing without hurting yourself is another matter. The dangerous
aspects can be mostly addressed by simply…‘get a two speed
buffer’. At low speed tricky items don’t snatch nearly so much and
if/when they do, they merely slip out of your grasp and not go with
an embarrassingly mighty kabang in the dust collector.

I understand they are not inexpensive to initially obtain,
especially for new jewelers. But you know what? Jewelry and therefor
its make, is expensive. Its not a cheap endeavor. There’s something
to be said for stepping up and doing it right. My two speed Baldor is
now about 23 years old. That’s a lot of undamaged jewelry and
fingers. For only 9 1/2 cents a day.


My two speed Baldor is now about 23 years old. That's a lot of
undamaged jewelry and fingers. For only 9 1/2 cents a day. 

There’s a less expensive alternative to a Baldor for beginners like

When polishing, I mount my Dremel in a wooden handscrew clamped to a
table. I can then hold my piece and polish just like the big boys!

Andrew Jonathan Fine

Your story (first hand) about a co-worker losing a finger by
polishing with gloves on should be a good lesson to anyone using a
powerful high-RPM polishing motor. Just deal with dirty fingers
(all 10 ) than potentially losing one or two by trying to keep your
hands clean by wearing gloves. We keep a cup of water on top of our
buffer, to dip your polishing job into to cool it off during

I don’t like wearing gloves during polishing because I need the
flexibility. But it’s not just dirt that gloves protect against:
buffing and polishing produce friction, and friction produces HEAT.
And heat can hurt fingertips.

So I strike a balance by wearing leather fingertip protectors.
Indian Jeweler’s Supply (IJS) sold them for about 50 cents each, they
come in both thumb and finger versions.

Andrew Jonathan Fine

I thought I might throw in a little bit of advice as well. Being a
jeweler for 35+ years and working with some of the best polishers and
seeing some of the best at work made it an “art form” all by itself.
Tommy and Jim are probably a couple of the best. I will leave their
last names out of this post. They polished for a living and the
pieces they came forth with were thread scratch bare. I truly
believe there are two forms of this ritual, polishing and buffing.
The two speed polisher is advantageous in many ways…I have a Red
Wing 1/4 horse two speed and a Red Wing 1/2 horse single speed. The
dangerous part of either is the handling of the objects you are
holding. To the point, hold the objects between 3 and 5 o’clock on
the wheels, if you are polishing pull against the wheels and in your
final buffing (rouge) go with the rotation of the wheels. Use
stitched buffs for polishing and non stitched for buffing.

One other thing…cross contamination of polishing or buffing
compounds with the wheels is the most caused problem in the final
finish. Now one has to wonder how can you go from one to the other
with the compound on your fingers? This is one reason and plus for
using the polishing fingers as you can change the tripoli ones for
the rouge ones when doing either operation. I have polished for
years just using my fingers as this thread has said, but always
washed up between the polishing and buffing operation to minimize the
contamination…Separate the buffing rakes as well.

Russ Hyder
The Jewelry CAD Institute

And injuries too, that I've seen with a polishing machine, also
include some of the most severe I've encountered in my jewelry

Peter W Rowe As I read your post, I placed my hand in my mouth, my
toes curled, and a low moan issued from my throat. The further I
read, the harder I bit down, the more my toes curled, and the louder
the moan got. Although I stand by my previous post, I hope that
everyone gets some decent training before they buy a polishing
lathe; I’d hate to see anyone get injured on my account!It’s easy to
take my own experience for granted, and forget that not everyone has
the benefit of being trained in a decent working jewellers shop. I
can’t say I’ve ever encountered a problem with fingerprints that
proper cleaning wouldn’t solve, and I wouldn’t wear gloves to polish
if you paid me. What I do use, for rings, is a strip of leather,
passed through the ring, and held so that the mop will pull it out of
my hand if it catches.