I don’t own a “real” buffing setup, so I do a lot of polishing with
my flex-shaft. Usually, I start with a black silicone wheel to
remove surface imperfections. Depending on whether the piece is cast
or constructed, or whether it is organic or more geometric in shape,
you may want to use sanding sticks instead to preserve crisp edges
and smooth planes. Rubber wheels will sometimes create a ripply
surface, and they’ll round edges over very quickly. Use your
discretion, and be sure to constantly move the rubber wheel gently
in small, circular motions as you’re sanding. Hovering over one spot
or using excess pressure will create a dent. In all steps, be
careful not to hit the piece with the screw on the mandrel!
Practice on scrap to get a feel for the abrasive, and rinse residue
from the piece when you’re done.
Depending on the type of surface and the finish you want, you may
find it handy to give the piece a going-over with a 3M radial
bristle disc. These things are great - I use the 50 grit wheels to
create texture and the 220 and 400 grits for finishing. The fine
bristles on the discs allow you to get into textured areas and tight
spots. You can also make a nice satin finish with these wheels.
For the next step, I usually go over the piece with tripoli on a
plain 1" muslin buff - I’ve tried the treated ones and didn’t like
them. The tripoli should remove all remaining scratches and leave
you with a good, nearly-shiny finish with a slight hazy cast. Again,
use a moderate pressure with the buff - pressing too hard will
create streaks and drag lines. Wash your pieces well to remove the
tripoli residue. It’s important that no tripoli residue remains on
the piece, or the abrasives in it will continue to work on your
piece and it will never get past a tripoli polish. Rio Grande’s
water-soluble Sunsheen tripoli is a real boon; it washes up quickly
and easily with Simple Green or dish soap. A gentle scrub with a
toothbrush will help remove residue from crevices.
Using a new muslin buff, go over the piece again with rouge. I use
red rouge, but many jewelers prefer black rouge or Zam (or green
rouge) for silver. They’re not expensive, so experiment to see which
one works best for you. With the application of the rouge, you should
see the shine “pop” as the final finish develops. Once you’re
satisfied, give your piece a final bath in dish soap or Simple Green
(don’t scrub it!) and dry it on a soft, lint-free cloth.
Practice good polishing-compound hygiene: be sure to keep your
muslin buffs separate from your tripoli buffs, and isolate the
compounds themselves from one another. I’ve found it handy to keep
the buffs with their sticks of polishing compounds in photographic
Bear in mind that polishing compounds often contain silica, and that
particles from polishing processes can be irritating and damaging to
your respiratory system. (I wear a dust mask and face shield
whenever polishing, and I still need to get myself a decent
respirator. I have too many times regretted not putting on a dust
mask when making some tiny touch-up with a rubber wheel, and I end
up sneezing all evening.) Finally, clean up your bench and go and
wash your face to get all the gak out of your pores
There are literally hundreds of different combinations of buffs,
abrasives, and compounds to try when polishing - this is just what
has worked out well for me. Play with different finishing approaches
to find the one that works best for you.
HTH - Good luck, and happy polishing!