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Polishing tricky areas

Hello everyone,

My pieces so far have been let down by poor finishing. I
am using a Dremel rotary tool with felt wheels and a blue polish then
jewellers’ rouge. I think I am too impatient. The main finishing is
fine but I find I can’t get into the tricky areas to polish them.
Would you recommend polishing some areas before soldering a join that
may be difficult to get to later? I think one of my problems may be
that I have been a bit zealous with the diamond burrs, therefore
making more work for myself!

Helen Hill

Helen…by all means you should do clean up and polishing (if
required) at each stage of your project. As you ‘lay on’ more layers,
the bottom layers become inaccessable. A mistake many beginners
make…they begin with metal that is too thin…they over polish it
trying to get into those hard to get places and end up with very thin
and unstable parts. ’

Begin with a gauge thicker than you expect to end up with, then
gently but firmly clean the piece and ‘reprepare’ the metal between
each stage. This may or may not mean polishing, but certainly you
want to keep the lower layers of the metal clean and neat. Be very
patient…and don’t over do it…time will tell you when the piece
is ready for the next step.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry!

Hi Helen,

Would you recommend polishing some areas before soldering a join
that may be difficult to get to later?

Yes, that is exactly what I’d recommend. Well, you don’t have to
actually take them to a polished level, but at least to pre-polish. I
learned early on that if you are soldering a part onto a flat piece,
for instance, you are not going to be able to easily get a nice clean
finish all around where the one part meets the bottom sheet, if you
wait until it’s all done before you start sanding & such. If you
think you’re going to encounter that problem when you clean it up at
the end, make the individual parts as clean & polish-ready as
possible before you start soldering on other bits that will make
cleanup harder later. There still could be bits that get messed up
again later on, but try your best to have them nice from the start,
and minimize the messing up along the way. By the way, the 3M wheels
are are really good for getting into tighter places, too. The felt
buffs are a bit bulky to ever hope to get into really tight areas.

Designs by Lisa Gallagher

Hello Helen Hill,

By all means, polish areas before soldering if they will be
difficult to reach later. Be sure to use a flux to stop firescale -
Prip’s comes to mind.

However, I must express concern about using your Dremel for
polishing. (Been there and regretted it!) You must avoid breathing
the airborn polishing compound. Let me suggest a couple options. One.
Get Judy Hoch’s book on tumble polishing, invest in an inexpensive
rotary tumbler and media, and avoid the airborn stuff. Two. Check out
the 3M products like bristle wheels in all grits. You may be able to
avoid using the polishing compound altogether. Much safer for your

We have Orchidians who are tech folks (Thackery with Rio, Michael
with McKinnon Global, Andy the Tool Guy with Stuller, to name a few.)
and I suspect they would be able to prescribe the best materials for
you based on your need and use.

Judy in Kansas, where a day spent hand-weeding equals Ibuprofen at
night! I’m not as young as I used to be.

Hi Helen,

In my experience polishing before soldering is a waste of time. The
soldered part will need cleaning up with 600 grit minimum, so I go to
400 grit before soldering and then clean up with 600 grit - tripoli -
rouge (or their equivalents).

Getting into tricky areas is a problem that jewelery makers have to
solve one way or another. There is always a way!

Gravers, and miniture scrapers and burnishers are great because they
are quick, precise, and produce a unique crisp finish.

For the traditional polish I have used short pieces of bamboo
skewers in the dremmel, sanded to an appropriate point in the
dremmel, and coated with 600 grit if necessary (obtained by burning
used sandpaper), followed by tripoli and rouge on different sticks. I
spin a bit of cotton wool onto the stick for bigger recesses, or use
the bare wood for really tight spots.

Thrumming is an excellent method, again the string can be coated
with 600 grit if necessary, but beware - the string cuts quite fast
even with tripoli and rouge. It must be slewed along the part while
sawing the string back and forth; try not to saw in the same spot as
it can cut a groove with a single stroke!

Then there are the end brushes, rubber wheels and points, and
endless other gizmos for the dremmel or flex shaft. I have tried many
but get by happily with the previous methods and only buy end
brushes, wheel brushes, rubber wheels and cotton mops for finniky
finishing and polishing.

Regards, Alastair


Thanks for your reply. What you say makes perfect sense. I have done
exactly as you’ve said, ie. started off with metal which is too thin
and then worn too much away when trying to access difficult to reach
areas. I will buy some thicker silver and learn some patience.

Thanks again.

Hi Lisa,

Thank you very much for your advice. I will learn to be more patient
and take each step a little more slowly in order to get a more
pleasing finish. By the way I have looked at your site and your work
is stunning. I love your chain work. I’d like to learn the technique
at some point as I don’t like buying in findings. I like to make
things like mounts myself but at the moment am buying in chains.

Thanks again Lisa.


However, I must express concern about using your Dremel for
polishing. (Been there and regretted it!) You must avoid breathing
the airborn polishing compound

Wow, thank you for pointing out the health and safety side of such
polishing techniques. The thought had briefly flitted across my mind
but I had dismissed it thinking “it’ll be alright”, but reading what
you say brings it home to me that I need to rethink. I will look out
for the book you recommend and look at the rotary tumblers. They
sound like a great idea!

Thanks again Judy

Hi Helen,

It is best to polish under any add on parts before soldering.

Pre-polishing does two things.

  1. It makes finish polishing much easier.
  2. I cleans where the solder joint will be.

Be sure to clean the polish off the metal before soldering.
Definitely use a fire scale prevention flux.

Lee Epperson

In my experience polishing before soldering is a waste of time.
The soldered part will need cleaning up with 600 grit minimum, so I
go to 400 grit before soldering and then clean up with 600 grit -
tripoli - rouge (or their equivalents). 

That is an interesting point of view, but not the one I would offer.

Polishing before soldering is not a waste of time, it is a must. When
soldering done properly, there should be absolutely no clean up
required. It is a very essential part of jewellery skills to be able
to plan the sequence of assembly in such a way as to polish every
component and assemble them with solder preserving the polish of the

Leonid Surpin

When soldering done properly, there should be absolutely no clean
up required. 

I manage fairly well at soldering and do plan ahead. Regardless of
the means used to prevent oxidation and changes in the polished
surfaces it still occurs at some level on most occasions. I work
with materials (sterling, fine silver, shakudo, shibuichi, copper
and bronze) besides high karat gold. No platinum yet.

Please share with us the different techniques that might help some
of us to advance our skills. I believe that many others beside
myself would be thoroughly excited to be able to complete pieces
with absolutely no clean up. For me, so far it has been an elusive
goal. I freely admit that I would be very grateful to improve my
soldering skills. I certainly admire people who have developed high
skill levels and can repeatably produce excellent work.

J Collier
Small Scale Metalsmith

Hello J,

Small Scale Metalsmith 

I just visited your website and would like to say that your work is
lovely. You’ve got some great finishes on your pieces. It’s very
different to most of the work I’ve seen up to now.


In soldering previously polished area there are 2 primary issues to
deal with.

  1. To avoid “gosting” ( traces of melted solder ).

  2. Preserve original finish.

To avoid gosting planning is critical. it should always be possible
to place the solder on the outside areas of contacts to avoid
cleaning in confined areas.

To preserve original finish it must be true polish. In other words,
simply because piece is shining it does not mean it is polished. I do
not want to go into long technical disputation on the subject. If you
google on “beilby layer”, you would know what I mean. Once true
polish is achieved, dip piece into solution of Boric Acid and
alcohol, dry carefully and slowly warm the piece sprinkling
additional Boric Acid to create a protective coat. Use easy solder,
and do not overheat the piece. Heating must be to the point when
solder just flows and not a second more. That require joint to be
perfect and to be a mechanical joint ( solder must not play any
structural part )

When done do not pickle, coating should be removed by hot water. If
pickling is necessary ( piece was over-heated ) than brightness can
be restored with cyanide dip.

In case of copper alloys the technique would be less effective of
course, but still should produce the results worth extra time

Leonid Surpin

Hi Helen!

Thank you for your kind comments. I do enjoy working with the
surfaces and coloration of metals. It becomes more expressive, I

Welcome to the forum. I gather from your current posts that you are
only recently beginning to get your feet wet working with jewelry?
From following your savvy questions and follow-ups I can tell that
you will be a most proficient metal worker in short order and I must
add, one with a rather cheery outlook. If there are questions where I
might be able to help, feel free to contact me off line.

All the best.

J Collier
Small Scale Metalsmith


To avoid "gosting" ( traces of melted solder ). 

I’ve had that problem before and because solder is harder than
silver it won’t polish away, and you end up removing silver around
the solder trace. Not good so I do my best to avoid that now.

Regards not pickling, I didn’t know that you don’t have to pickle.
Everything I’ve read tells me to pickle to remove all traces of

Thanks for your help.

First the Beilby layer which you have shrouded in some sort of
mystery that only a chosen few may have knowledge of is achieved in
the final finishing of a crystalline structure and layment of chromic
oxides on a perfectly smooth mineral layer- or so I was taught…but
that is so very dated that it bespeaks the same of using cyanide dip
in the small scale studio…which many Orchideans have and are set up
for, as well as the beginners that come here seeking .to
assert that they should even CONSIDER USING CYANIDE is irresponsible
at best.

Next, Cupronil works as well as the continual sprinkling of boric
acid on a piece; it is an excellent firecoat, as is Prips flux, but a
bit more effective than prips overall…in part due to the spraying vs
painting on of the product…modern advances in old school compounds
yes, but far less work…

To assert solder does not or must not play a part in structure is
equally incorrect…I would no more use easy solder on a structurally
relevant component than i would glue… hard solder is critical in
some applications such as safety catches, tensegrity retaining
points, weight bearing joints etc particularly if there is any
soldering to be done at a later point in the piece…then the initial
parts should be polished first to some degree that only the maker
can determine in planning out the sequential steps in the
process…additionally the composition of easy solder lends itself in
silver to creating premature oxidation from the breakdown of Zn and
perhaps bismuth-depending on the maker of the easy solder reacting
with the cupric oxides/copper in sterling ( another argument for
using fine silver!!) Pickling a piece does certainly not simply
indicate a piece was overheated…plain and simple…Often it is used
to help create varied and unique finishes, reticulate, build an
oxide layer, etc and in patinations.

In high karat golds pickling may be unnecessary as in platinum work,
but many Orchideans work in sterling…So to you sterling
silversmiths…pickle away and disregard that you have overheated
anything…plain and simple it is untrue.

A bright dip can be created with nitric acid-(and perhaps for many
that should be the strongest chemical you consider to use in the
small scale shop…) and equally an extra strong(3x) solution of
sodium bisulphate (95% or better unless Ph down or sparex is only
available ) works almost as well as nitric acid, but keeping a
supply of nitric has, many uses so why not buy a pound for 2-3
dollars? ( it can also be used to make gold testing solutions, etc.
(versatile stuff!)…bu at this point, unless you are in an OSHA
inspected manufacturing plant with excellent air filtration and
safety systems in place or a plating facility equally controlled
environmentally I highly DISCOURAGE anyone using CYANIDE for small
scale production without excellent and complete training in its
handling, neutralization, disposal, emergency treatment, possible
reactions with other shop chemicals, facility for emergency showers,
eyewash stations, etc IN PLACE before letting it across your

R. E. R


Thank you also. I have had lots of fantastic and very useful advice
since joining the forum. I am thoroughly enjoying making silver
jewellery and hope to work with gold soon too.

Thanks again and I will contact you for advice if the need arises.


Pickling to remove flux is the standard procedure, but it leaves
surface matte. In the final stages of assembly, hot water can be used
to remove flux to preserve polished finish.

Leonid Surpin

Dear R. E. Rourke,

I am sorry that my mentioning of Beilby layer have disturbed you. At
a time it seemed as a reasonable shorthand to avoid technicalities,
but now I see the error of my way. I also realize what a mistake it
was to suggest googling on the subject. In your case it only
contributed to the confusion.

I also concede that sometimes my comments do betray my age. I have to
admit that every time I leave my house I write on a piece of paper my
name and my address in case I would need help in finding my way back
home and your comment only reinforces how prudent this practice is in
my case. [snip]

I do not advocate using Cyanide, but apparently your are not aware
that in jewellery Sodium Cyanide is used and not the truly dangerous
Potassium Cyanide.

Also, your recommendation of using nitric acid instead of Sodium
Cyanide is not a good one as far as safety is concern. In all my
years I cannot recall a single health incident involving Sodium
Cyanide, but I know of many involving nitric acid. In any event
cyanide dip was mentioned as the way to correct effect of
over-heating. In normal practice it is not necessary.

You did not explain why using Cupronil is better than Boric acid, so
I am going to stay with my old technique.

To say that solder, any solder whatsoever, have a structural role to
play is the ignorance of jewellery making principals, and if this
forum should serve as a source of the for the beginners,
this is the most destructive statement I have ever encountered.
Therefore I will restate that solder should never be used as a
structural component. [snip]

I leave to others to comment on your suggestion to use pickle as a
means of creation “varied and unique finishes”.

Sincerely yours,
Leonid Surpin.


In the final stages of assembly, hot water can be used to remove
flux to preserve polished finish. 

Useful to know as I’ve had to resolder items already polished and
then I’ve had to repolish them after pickling. But hopefully that
will become less of a problem as my soldering is improving heaps.