Polishing Techniques for Antiqued Silver

I’m finding that when I antique my sterling, sometimes the results
are not consistent - which I know is normal. If I mass finish the
pieces in a tumbler, sometimes the blackness does not go away at all.
I’m left with the black both in the recessed areas as well as the
raised areas, which ruins the look of the design.

I’ve figured out the solution to this is to finish the piece and
tumble polish it with sterling silver shot for a few hours. This
seems to get rid of any porosity that the silver may have. Then once
it goes through it’s first tumbling process, I will antique it and
tumble polish it again. When I do it this way, I’m almost always
guaranteed that the blackness on raised areas will be polished away
in the second tumble cycle.

But here’s a question… sometimes the tumble polish is not fast
enough. I find that if I have to fix a piece or make any solder
changes, I have to go through this tumble polishing all over again -
and it can hold up an order for at least another day.

I have a large polishing machine with 4" wheels and I’m wondering if
there is a way to polish antiqued metal using the some type of
polishing wheel. I tried it tonight and it was a mess. I’m pretty
certain I will need to replace the polishing wheels tomorrow because
they are now full of “gunk” and my polishing file isn’t doing any
good as far as removing the black gunk from the wheels. Are there any
techniques for polishing antiqued metal on the polishers? If so,
what type of wheels would I want to be using?

Second question… should I be using a separate set of polishing
wheels for gold than I use for silver? I use Zam and Fabuluster for
finishing - and I know that both these compounds can be used on gold
and silver… so is there still a need for separate wheels?


…I meant to say “stainless steel shot” in my above post regarding

I have not found that steel shot is very good for removing
oxidation. I use quartz-impregnated plastic cones in a vibratory
finisher to remove the darkened color from the outer areas of the
piece, and then use s.steel shot to brighten things up. But when I am
just touching up one piece, I usually buff it with a six-inch sewn
muslin buff or hard felt buff and tripoli. I then clean the largest
chunks of tripoli off with a toothbrush and maybe a wooden toothpick,
and tumble it in steel shot to clean off the rest of the tripoli. Of
course you have to frequently clean the shot solution, but that has
to be done anyway. If you want, you could go to a red rouge or Zam
finish after cleaning off the tripoli very well by hand, and skip
the whole tumbling process. I sure wouldn’t wait a day when it can be
done in a few minutes at the polishing machine! If you insist in a
totally scratch-free high finish after rouge or Zam, you can get a
steam cleaner to blast the polish residues off, instead of scrubbing.
Okay, that costs money, but waiting a day costs, too.

The buffs must be raked when tripoli builds up on them. I use an old
hacksaw blade, never wrapping my fingers around it. Or you can buy a
little rake from a catalog.

M’lou Brubaker, Jeweler
Goodland, MN

The buffs must be raked when tripoli builds up on them. I use an old
hacksaw blade, never wrapping my fingers around it. Or you can buy a
little rake from a catalog.

M’lou - The problem I run into using the felt polishing wheels on my
polishing machine is that it’s too much power and ends up taking all
the antique finish off the piece in a matter of seconds - even if I
just lightly touch it to the wheel while the polisher is on. So I
end up having to antique the whole piece again and I’m back at square
one… take it to the polishing wheel again, and I run into the same

The ideal solution would be to find a brush/polishing tool that I
can put on my Foredom so that I have more control over how much of
the antique finish is cleaned away. I have used the brown 3M wheels,
but it will give a slight brushed/scratched finish to the piece, and
I’m looking for the high shine on the areas that are not antiqued.
The only thing that comes close to solving this for me has been the
3M brown wheels, but it’s still not what I’m looking for. If I could
find some sort of pumice wheel that at the same time would not
texture the surface, I’d be set. I should mention that I have an
etched surface on these pieces, so I need to be able to clean away
the oxidation from the top, while keeping the blackness underneath -
and at the same time have it be soft enough not to eat away at my
etched design.

I have to confess… I’ve only used stainless steel shot in my
tumbler. I do, however, have a large dual Lortone tumbler and I
think I will try the other shot that you have suggested for the first
polish to see how that works because running these pieces in
stainless steel will give me a shine, but not do much for the
removing the surface oxidation. I think I’ll give that a try.

I don’t know how big you are working but a smaller wheel will remove
less and a less aggressive buffing agent such as Zam. If your piece
is well polished before antiquing, you can use your finger tips and
baking soda to remove it from the high points. After that, tumbling
will restore the shine or a brass brush will give a softer "butler"


You might want to try AdvantEdge silicone polishing wheels, carried
by Rio. Comes in a variety of grits, and because of its very firm
surface, doesn’t scrub out light etchings. I would still finish with
a very loose muslin buff and either green or red rouge, with a light
touch, for the final mirror polish. If you prefinish the piece
before antiquing, then the pink AdvantEdge wheel and the rouge
should be all that you need.

A bench jeweler once told me when applying rouge, if there is any
rouge deposits coming off the wheel, you’ve used too much and it
will cause scratches, and your piece should never get hot when doing

Hope this helps get you out of the pickle.

The problem I run into using the felt polishing wheels on my
polishing machine is that it's too much power and ends up taking
all the antique finish off the piece in a matter of seconds - even
if I just lightly touch it to the wheel while the polisher is on. 

I think you should try the hard felt buffs, not the sewn ones. Or
maybe a felt lap. The softer buffs do reach into shallow designs and
pull the patina out. But very hard felt buffs don’t do thatso
readily. I often just use a hand buffing stick made of wood with felt
or suede or leather glued on it. Rub a polishing compound on it, and
you are ready to go. They’re controllable and portable and cheap! I
keep several handy with different compounds on them. Also great for
overlay work with patina behind it. You could craft your own with
paint stirring sticks. I hope this works for you!

M’lou Brubaker, Jeweler
Goodland, MN

A couple of years ago I acquired an OLD, nifty little buffing knob
in one of those buy-a-bunch-of-old-stuff-and-sort-thru-it auctions
on ebay. It is essentially a wooden, mushroom-shaped knob, with a
suede leather disc, about 3" in diameter, that is glued flat onto
the slightly domed mushroom head. A tapered whole in the “stem” of
the knob threads onto the end of my tapered shaft buffer. I drilled
an extra large hole in my muslin buff so that it runs up the
tapered shaft far enough to thread this knob onto the end of the
same shaft. This Allows me to get double duty out of one side of my
buffer. (I do the same thing with an inside ring buff on the other

Because the polishing surface of this tool is leather, backed by
solid wood, it gives me the control to polish only the high spots
on a piece without any fear of wayward bristles, loose cloth
fibers, or soft felt fibers reaching down into the low spots on my
jewelry where I want the antique finish to remain. I use red rouge
to get a highly polished, mirror-like finish.

This same little mushroom is fantastic for polishing the edges of
rings that have been sized. I press the edge of the ring against
the spinning leather disc,and because the motion of the disc is
kept perpendicular the direction of the join, it polishes the edge
without raking the solder out of the sizing joint. It is also very
good to help preserve crisp, angular lines because the wood backing
will not allow the polishing surface to deform into soft curves.
Spherical items can be “rolled” across the disc, but be careful and
keep your piece moving, as it is very easy to put a flat spot on
your polished object with this tool. Never try to polish with the
very center of the leather disc, always use the outer/lower edge.

I suspect this little gem is every bit of 30-40 years old, maybe
more, and I have never seen any of these offered for sale from a
wholesaler. It would, however, be easy enough to create one for
yourself though:

Search around for a 3-4" diameter section of dowel rod, tree branch,
or similar chunk of wood that is 3-4" long. (A dense hardwood like
boxwood, dogwood, or cherry, would work best.) Drill a hole in the
center of one end that will be large enough to allow it to be
threaded onto your tapered shaft spindle. Thread it on, turn on
your buffer, and with a file and/or sandpaper, shape a mild (Mine
is <1/4" difference from the center to the outer edge.) convex dome
onto the very end of your wood knob. If you want to get really
carried away, cut away wood right below the dome shape to create a
resemblance to a mushroom stem, as this will give you a safe place
for fingers and knuckles to be when using the polishing knob. Cut
out a corresponding size disc from some heavy suede leather and
glue it onto the dome with some rubber cement. I suggest rubber
cement because it won’t dry to leave hard bumps beneath the leather
like wood glue or epoxy could. I suspect the design would work
pretty much as well if you blew off the dome and just glued the
leather onto the flat end of a rod, but that’s just a guess.

One thing I can guarantee; if you make one of these beauties, it’ll
be a permanent fixture on your buffing machine!

Good luck, hope this helps, and always remember to play it SAFE
when using your buffer,

Steve Stempinski (whose lil’ wooden mushroom AIN’T for sale!!!) :wink:
Steve’s Place
Jewelry Repair

If the recess for your antiquing is etched or shallow and wide, I’ve
found that using a flat stick of wood with a piece of felt or
chamois glued to it, and charged with white diamond, will
effectively remove the excess antiquing without touching the recess.

Judy Hoch

A bench jeweler once told me when applying rouge, if there is any
rouge deposits coming off the wheel, you've used too much and it
will cause scratches, and your piece should never get hot when
doing rouge. 

How do you prevent your piece from getting hot when Rougeing?=A0I’ve
never Rouged a piece without it heating up

        How do you prevent your piece from getting hot when
Rougeing? I've never Rouged a piece without it heating up 

Leather finger tip gloves are terrific. You can keep working even if
the metal is hot.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Rob, I think you have received good answers on heat control for your
chain link soldering. I’d just like to comment that I think working
with soldering links of brass or copper with silver solder is an
excellent way to learn solder control, because the difference in
color shows you clearly where you have too much solder. You just want
to fill the joint, no more & no less. On a round wire, the joint
should just look like a continuous thin silver line around the wire.
The less filing you have to do to achieve this, the better. If you
make oval links and put the joint in the small end of the oval, the
joint is almost hidden in the finished chain. Good luck with your

M’lou Brubaker, Jeweler
Goodland, MN

Hi Catherine,

A lot of pieces I do, particularly small lapel pins with incised
details, require the kind of oxidization and cleanup you’re
describing. I’ve had good results oxidizing the whole piece by
dunking it, or just painting areas that need oxidization, in
Silver/Black. Then I usually take off the excess oxidization with
the 3M discs - usually the 220 (red/brown) or 400 (blue) grit.
Stacking three or four discs and using a light touch helps ensure
that the patina doesn’t get removed from recessed areas, but I do
have to occasionally re-blacken a piece when I’ve gotten too
enthusiastic with this step.

After the bristle-disc treatment, I chuck the pieces in the tumbler
with s. steel shot, which leaves a bright finish. An even higher
polish can then be obtained by touching up with rouge - I like red
rouge, and I use it with a 1" muslin buff on the Flex-shaft (though
I just got a buffing setup, so this may soon change!). The rouge
residue can be removed by soaking in very hot water with dish soap
or Simple Green.

If you want larger areas of black patina on your piece and the
bristle discs take too much off, why not try rubbing the piece with
3M Tri-m-ite papers? Then you could hand-rub the final finish with
rouge on a cloth. Maybe a bit time-consuming, but this might be the
look you’re after.

Anyway, HTH,
Jessee Smith
near Lecanto, FL, where I’m frittering away vast swaths of time and rather
enjoying it

Keep a bowl of water by the buffing machine and dip the piece in
when it gets hot. Alternatively you could stop rouging so much. I
have a problem with overheating when buffing pieces but if I spend
so much time rouging a piece that it gets too hot to handle I’m way
past making the piece look nice.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Are you doing enough pre rouge buffing with more aggressive compounds
such as tripoli? Rouge is not meant to remove scratches nor

marilyn smith