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Properly Polishing with a flex shaft

I want to learn how to properly polish my pieces using bench tools,
such as my flex shaft (this means without one of those big polishing
turbines). I have never been properly taught how to do this, and have
learned by a lot of trial-and-error. I purchased a set from Rio a
while back - it’s their AdvantEdge Silicone Polishing Kit, which
includes wheels, knife wheels, and cylinders in four different
grades: white (coarse), black (medium), lt. blue (fine), and pink
(very fine/high shine). I have barely used it, however, because I
don’t really know how, and my tentative attempts don’t seem to be
working. I have since noticed that the rubber bristle tools seem to
be popular, but I would like to learn how to use what I have rather
than buy something totally new. I look through the pages in the Rio
catalogue and am at a loss as to what to do.

One of my biggest problems has been that a lot of my work has a
large amount of flat planes, and it seems that when I try to use
polishing tools I get a weird pattern if I use my flex shaft. What
I’ve ended up doing is using sand paper and polishing papers instead,
and just go up to an extremely fine grit, because of my frustrations.
(I do have a rotary tumbler, but it doesn’t work well with the flat
planes, either.) But I feel like there is probably a better way???
Maybe you are going to tell me to forget about the polishing kit in
this case, and keep using what I’ve been using, but I want to know
what the experts have to say.

Can someone help me? Are there any good books that just focus on HOW
to polish?? Most books just mention polishing in passing, and don’t
really go into detail. I don’t just want something that tells me
"polish with this compound, then move to this, then finish with
this" - I’m talking about the technical things, such as how on earth
do you get corners and tiny areas polished?!? I look at a lot of the
work out there and am at a loss to explain to myself how they got
certain parts finished the way they did.

I really do want to learn how to do this all the right way, and am at
the mercy of your collective knowledge! Thank you!!


Hi Jen:

The flex-shaft isn’t always the right tool for the job. You mention
pieces with large flat planes. No matter how good you are, a flex
shaft isn’t the best option for big and flat. It sounds like you’re
on the right track using sandpapers. I use a flat lap for similar
sorts of things. For large-scale (Eg ‘bigger than your thumbnail’)
surfaces, a full-on polishing machine is the better way to go. The
larger surface area of the buffs will give you a more even surface.

The flex shaft is great for small, detailed surfaces, but it loves to
dig holes. On a convoluted, detailed surface, you’ll never notice,
but on a big flat area, they stand out like a sore thumb. If it’s the
only tool you’ve got, sometimes you have to fake it, but it isn’t the
’one-true-tool’. Part of learning how to finish is figuring out which
tools are best for which sorts of surfaces. The good news about flex-
shaft machines is that there are a seemingly limitless number of
polishing/grinding/finishing points for them. Experiment, find the
ones you like. Personally, for flat-ish surfaces, I love snap-on
disks. (All the suppliers have them) they come in a variety of
abrasives and grits, and are reasonably cheap. Get some, and play.

Brian Meek.


I don’t know if this will help, but here goes.

I use knife edge abrasive silicone wheels 3/4 " in the course
(white), medium (grey), pre-polish (flue) and finally the polish
(pink), on small flat areas. I use this about 30% of the time.

I use the 3M radial bristle brushes on all surfaces. I start with
the yellow and step through all 6 of them until the green. I use
these about 60% of my polishing.

Just recently I have gone to using Tripoli polishing compound on a
cloth (Flannel?) wheel on large flat areas. I then use Zam polishing
compound on a different cloth (flannel?) wheel. This usually puts a
great polish on the big flat areas, but sometimes the Zam will leave
black build ups on the metal. I then use the green (1 Micron) radial
bristle brush 3/4 inch to remove the black build ups.

Finally I use warm water with the original Dawn liquid dish soap and
a splash of ammonia to wash the piece along with a well worn out
tooth brush to lightly scrub it.

I rinse it of with warm water, dry it with a cotton towel and the
final touch is I use a natural chamois with a small bit of Jeweler’s
rouge to wipe it and polish it.

I have formed my polishing technique from 7th grade metal shop,
years in the automotive service industry and classes at our local
Senior Center Jewelry making classes.

The secret to polishing metal and as well as stone is starting with
big scratches and slowly work your way through the abrasives that
cause smaller and smaller scratches. The final polish melts and rolls
the finest scratches to a smooth surface.

Be persistent and it will shine.

Ken Moore

1 Like

It is easier to discuss the subject if we substitute “finishing” for
"polishing". Another thing is that I am going to mention Beilby
layer. I know it is a controversial subject, so if someone does not
believe in Beilby layer, just ignore it. I will also have to
translate some terminology from Russian, because I do not know the
proper english terminology, so I hope someone will contribute the
right wording.

We can talk of degree of finishing as a deviation from the mean
dimension of an object. Suppose we have a sphere of 1 inch diameter.
That is a mean dimension. However, if we try to take different
measurements, we could get 1 inch + or minus some value. That value
called delta, which is a Greek letter of triangular shape. Delta
indicates number of decimal places, or precision.

In jewellery work, it is customary to require at least delta 1,
which means that all dimensions should be within 0.1 mm ( one decimal
place - delta 1). For stonesetting, higher precision is required and
in some cases delta 2 (0.01 mm precision) would be needed.

To archive mirror polish, the surfaces must be prepared to at least
delta 3 standard. Only then polishing can begin.

Mirror polish means that any imperfection on the surface must be less
that 1/2 of the wavelength of reflected light. Since light wavelength
are measured in angstroms, which is delta 7 or 0.0000001 mm
precision, there is no mechanical means to achieve this. So polishing
reduces to locally applying heat and pressure to transform surface of
the metal to a layer with required level of precision. Some call that
layer as Beilby layer. ( google the term for more info ).

Practically, do not attempt to polish unless surface conforms to
delta 3 standard and then big wheels and high speed is required.
Flexshaft is not a good choice. If is all you have, you must run it
at the top speed, which is going to kill your handpiece in a short
order, so might as well buy the right equipment.

Leonid Surpin

Hi Jen

Polishing and finishing are two techniques used to finish a piece.
It’s depends where you want to stop working and what kind of texture
including mirror finish you want to give to the object. the bests way
to do this is starting with files, then sand papers of different
grits (coarser to finer) and then buffing with tripoli and rouge. So
you just erase the scratches made for the previous tool. and don’t
skip over any steps unless you want a different texture. The flex
shaft wheels are great to get into small areas and inside rings, you
can go around the outside trying to cover a big area and don’t stop
in any spot. For big flat areas the small wheels doesn’t work good
try to make or get some sand paper sticks 220, 400, 600 and over
grits for that or use the papers over a flat surface like a glass
and rub the piece on it. Another option are the 3M bristle brushes
that you can get at Rio those are quite expensive but are fabulous,
don’t push them hard, just the end tips

I hope this help
good luck

Hi Jen,

I’m NO expert by any means and I’m still going through my own steep
"polishing" learning curve - but I can offer up what I’ve found in
my own work.

I do ALL my “polishing” with my flexshaft and am starting to be much
happier with the results I’m getting. I’ve been making for about
eighteen months and also wearing my creations for that length of
time. This has shown up the fact that my finishing techniques were
sadly lacking. Pieces have become very dull, scratched in appearance
and tarnished in a very short period of time. I have put this down
to three reasons:

  1. not work hardening the piece enough so that the piece quickly
    shows scratches and appears dull

  2. not preparing the surface properly prior to “polishing”

  3. not “polishing” the piece sufficiently

In working on these three things, other problems have shown
themselves and have had to be worked on. For instance, I bought a
tumbler and after preparing pieces with a rubber wheel, I put them
through the tumbler. When they came out, it showed that my technique
with the rubber wheel in the flexshaft was not good. There were
hills and valleys in surfaces I had thought were sufficiently flat. I
HAD been going over the surface much as a child might colour in a
picture - back and forth. To eliminate this, I NOW use the rubber
wheel in circular motions and no longer suffer the hills and valleys

So to address point number one, I use my tumbler to work harden my
pieces so that any shine I then apply to them will hopefully remain
for a much longer period of time. I’m now very careful to prepare
pieces in such a way that they will come out with an even surface
rather than hills, valleys or orange peel.

Addressing point number two, I thought that I was filing and sanding
sufficiently - until I noticed that in performing the later
finishing stages, insufficient preparation was being exposed in the
form of unfiled scratches! This of course meant that I was then
having to go back several steps to eliminate those scratches, filing
with successively finer grades of file and then sandpaper, until the
scratches (which I had thought were gone) were indeed finally gone.
To save myself the wasted time, I now loupe surfaces constantly
before moving on to the next stage.

In addressing a completely different concern - that of firestain - a
dear friend (and Orchid member) suggested to me that I was not
polishing sufficiently for firestain to even show itself. I was
adamant that I was not getting this dreaded thing called firestain
and didn’t even know what it looked like. He deliberately created
some and photographed it then emailed it to me. “Oh no” says I, “I’m
definitely NOT getting any of that”. He warned me that when I
developed my polishing methods to a high enough standard, the
firestain would show itself. Guess what? Yep, you guessed it - he was
completely right. As my polishing became better, the dreaded patches
started to appear! This prompted me to start using Pripps, on the
advice of a number of people on Orchid. But that’s another story. The
whole point to this paragraph is that it showed that my "polishing"
had NOT been up to scratch (excuse the pun) and needed more work.

In addressing the third point, that of polishing, my latest
enlightenment happened whilst polishing a piece I made prior to
using Pripps flux. I thought that I had got rid of any remaining
patches of firestain. I had done the filing, sanding, rubber wheeling
(grey/ green and then pink) with flexshaft, tumbling to work harden,
Dialux yellow with bristle brush and flexshaft and finally Fabulustre
with bristle brush and flexshaft. However, those pesky bristle
brushes always seem to leave minute scratches of their own, which you
can always see in one direction when the light hits them, and this
was annoying me to the max! So I decided that I needed a further
step. I mounted a cotton mop in my flexshaft and broke out my block
of rouge. Fantastic!!! Finally, those bristle brush scratches were
disappearing, leaving a beautiful mirror shine! But guess what else
appeared? Yep, patches of firestain!!! Grrr! It took some serious
buffing to get rid of them once and for all but I did it in the end.
But it just went to prove my friend right - until the work was
polished properly, the firestain wouldn’t necessarily reveal itself.
It’s no longer a problem anyway, thanks to Pripps, but I now work a
lot harder getting a better polish than I ever used to.

So in summary, I file (progressively finer), sand (progressively
finer), rubber wheel in flexshaft (coarse then fine) using CIRCULAR
movements to help maintain flat areas, tumble with stainless steel
shot and burnishing compound, Dialux yellow/bristle brush in
flexshaft, Fabulustre/bristle brush in flexshaft, then finally
rouge/ cotton mop in flexshaft. If setting stones, I do that after
the tumbling stage, before final polishing with Dialux, Fabulustre
and Rouge. I also do the polishing steps using circular movements to
maintain an even surface.

Loupe, loup, loupe in between each stage to make sure it’s done
properly before moving onto the next stage. Something else I now do
is plan what finishing stages needed to be completed before
soldering certain elements together - to avoid having tricky areas
which are difficult to polish later. I will prepare and pre-finish
elements and tumble them before soldering them together, if they are
going to prove difficult later. Then when polishing, the lightest
flick with the bristles of the polishing brushes in the flexshaft
restores their shine. One pesky problem which irritates me with the
flexshaft, is that you’ll be getting to the stage of a beautifully
polished piece and you can slip, scratching the piece with the
shank/mandrel/shaft of whatever bit you’re using, or even the
handpiece itself. I frequently end up putting dinges into my work
this way, and then have to go back and repeat certain steps to remove
those scratches - very irritating indeed - but with care it happens
less often.

Sorry for such a long reply. Hope it helps.


1 Like

Hi there Polishing flat areas can not really be done on the edge of
any rotary tool, as that cuts a cusp - the pattern you are referring
to. The only way to do this mechanically is by using a lap or a
linisher, both quite specialist tools.

You can do it by hand though, as long as you have a fair bit of elbow
grease to spare. Get yourself a flat surface and cover it with
something appropriate which you can charge with polishing compound
(writing paper, newspaper, cloth, leather, kitchen towel - your
imagination is your only limit here) and use something fast cutting
like high bright. You have to have sanded ALL of the scratches out
first, and take it down to at least 1,200 grade, further if you have
it. Polish with a rotary motion, very fast and without pressing to
hard. Generally works a treat, though it can be messy and time
consuming. Also, be aware that if you scratch a flat surface, you
have to grind the whole surface down to the level of the scratch to
get it out, otherwise you are left with an obvious dimple in a
mirror finish.

For detailed area polishing you talk about, you can carve little
probe polishers from bits of wood so that they fit, impregnate with
compound and then rub in the recess you are trying to finish.
Threads with polishing compound work well for open work (called
threading and traditionally used to finish bezels) - hold one end in
a vice, thread through your piece and hold the other end while
whipping the thing to be polished up and down the thread.
Pre-polishing is also an accepted technique - make it look nice
before it gets cluttered with findings, then solder very carefully
and don’t firestain it. I look forward to hearing what other advice
is out there.


For both corners and flat planes try a 7/8" soft white bristle brush
on the flex. Motion is what will do the job.

For corners have the rotation parallel to the surfaces of the
corners to get in deep and then perpendicular and sometimes even at
an angle to soften edges. It depends on the piece.

For larger flatter areas what you need to do is keep that wheel
moving side to side. Stay in one place for even a tiny bit too long
and it’ll groove or dig out. If there is a raised detail in the midst
of a plane you need to bring the brush toward the edge of the detail
but not concentrated there. let the bristle tips just lightly lick at
the detail. And keep changing direction. Never linger in one spot. If
you get a groove, don’t panic, you can polish that out(assuming its
minor) with the same procedure, just more carefully this time.

The trouble is white bristles don’t work well on silver, great on
gold/plat but crummy on silver. The compound tends to load up on the
silver item. You can reduce this by 1) going slower on the RPMs, with
practice you’ll get the feel of it, 2)making the item and/or brush
hot. Try running the wheel at high speed on some clean stainless
steel to build up some friction, then apply compound and return to
the piece.

The brushes will leave tiny polishing lines but you can reduce those
by following up with a clean soft cloth. No the ideal situation but
short of a full sized buffer it works reasonably well.

Jen, for “large flat planes,” I most often use something between a
bench grinder and a flex shaft, viz., a drill (preferably with
variable speed) held horizontally and upside down in a drill holder,
C-clamped to a bench. I use Cratex rubber abrasive wheels (4-inch
diameter with a 1/2" center), mainly the Fine, although I find
Coarse and Extra Fine useful as well. I also use cotton buffs, mainly
with White Diamond because I work primarily with brass.

This arrangement does not have the speed and danger of the bench
grinder, nor does it throw off as much “stuff.” Of course, one
should still wear a mask and/or a face shield and keep long hair
pulled back.

If you keep your piece moving as you polish, you will not get little
craters in it, because the Cratex wheels are about 1/2 inch thick.

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman, Owego, NY

1 Like

helen, sorry for the long answer as well, i like sanding discs on
the flex shaft, buy or make yourself, gives a flat surface, you
pull the disc across the surface as it sands, and it works large
areas for small jewelry, they work especially well if you reduce
speed on flex, you can go as slow as possible sometimes, and it will
be just what you need, wheels dig in, but you’re right, they work
better in circles, another thing i don’t know if you know, is that
the flattest, cleanest polish comes best, after very quality sanding
and then touching on the buff, as opposed to beating on the piece
with tripoli, etc to get out scratches that should have been filed or
sanded, the heavy polishing causes uneven surface itself, proof
is, you can wear away detail with tripoli, i am excited that you
have learned to sand things so well, and are into it(i just get
excited when that happens to serious craftspeople), and lastly your
problem with slipping of the handpiece, that is because you are
holding your right hand in the air, it is too free to slip, there is
really only one way to do it properly, if you are going to use a flex
shaft, that you use your thighs for leaning on when you work,
handpiece hand-elbow on right knee, hand holding piece-elbow, on
left knee, or you can use the bench instead of thighs, to lean on,
but the object is to lean, as if you were leaning on something
solid, then in addition and very important, you are holding piece
being worked on in the air with left hand, your right hand, with
handpiece, actually your fingers, thumb on thumb, must lean on your
other hand, the harder you lean, the more secure from slipping, if
you are going to hold the piece in the air, you must make a table, so
to speak, in the air, you must find a fingering that you like best,
it is easy, this also works well with both hands down on the
bench,there is even more support that way, when you support your
palms on the bench, the only part of your hand that can move to screw
up would be the front part of your hand with fingers, because the
back half is planted on the bench, very little chance of slippage
that way, the more support you give your arms and your hand, the
better, like the support you give your arms when you polish
something on a bench motor, you hold your arms close to your body,
squeeze them close(this technique should also be used with
flexshaft), or when you use a bandsaw you keep your hands down,
leaning on the saw table, never in the air-free, maybe you could
think of other ways, i just learned from time put in carving with a
flex shaft, something just occurred to me, you could be holding
handpiece in left hand, dave

You guys are all awesome! Thank you for all of the answers, and I
look forward to seeing what else people have to say! I’ve learned
more about polishing in the last two days than I ever learned
before! Now, hopefully I can apply it!

Jen :slight_smile:

1 Like
there is really only one way to do it properly, if you are going to
use a flex shaft,,,,that you use your thighs for leaning on 

You’ll find a lot of benches have an arm rest, sometimes two. Slide
into a routed slot or hinged. Mine’s padded with leftover display
shadow suede, comfy. If you’re right handed…right elbow/forearm on
armrest, left hand on benchpin with work. This lets you make
whatever motion with the tool while still maintaining good control
and stability. I like to get my face up close when I’m polishing this
way. But sometimes, I look like a coal miner by the end of the day.

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your post. You’re right. I have learned to file and sand
rather than polish scratches (and detail) away with tripoli and the
like - that gives very unsatisfactory results. I now take a pride in
good preparation and minimal polishing - things turn out so much
more crisp and neat-looking.

As for the flexshaft slipping, it doesn’t happen anywhere near as
often anymore. But the fact that it does still happen sometimes must
mean that I’m doing something wrong. As I’m typing on my computer,
I’m unsure of exactly how I do hold the work and flexshaft, but I
will check it out when I’m at the bench later and see if I can put
your advice into action - I’m sure I’ll be able to.

Thanks again.


i really didn’t know they had them, not a jeweler, thanks, will
look for one, or make one, my carving buddy glued a piece of
wood/leather onto his apron so when he sat down and put his foot on a
secured stool, he had a little bench on his knee, for carving 3
dimensional the knee is a comfortable distance for armlength, 2
knees, more stability you should use a dust collection system for the
coal dust neil, or wear a double filter facemask, take all
precaution with lungs, dave


There is a cool tool out there that I adapted to hold things.
Finding easier ways to hold things is something that I am developing
but for now, look for a tool called a Lowell Pattern Vise.

Contenti has one:

I made an adaptation by gluing thick leather onto the sides. It
works pretty well for gripping small items like rings or small
fabricated pieces, or even for drilling pearls.

It’s meant for gripping wire through a drawplate, but I find it
quite useful. It’s perfect for holding things for the flexshaft.

Hope all is well.
Karen christians

You’ll find a lot of benches have an arm rest, sometimes two.

Yes I’ve seen them but unfortunately, although I have a lovely
bench, mine doesn’t have the armrests. I will, however, see what I
can do to make sure my arms are held more securely as I’m sure this
will help.

I like to get my face up close when I'm polishing this way. But
sometimes, I look like a coal miner by the end of the day. 

That sounds familiar! :wink:


Someone during the past couple weeks asked for more comprehensive
on buffing and polishing. I can’t find the original
post, so I apologize if this doesn’t meet your needs, but the
following link is a page booklet that might be helpful.



At least one arm rest is the minimum. I have one on the right and a
pad in the dust tray for my left elbow. Other than my wrists moving
my hands aren’t going anywhere (even if my chair rolls around :slight_smile:

You make stuff and I seem to remember that your hubby knew which end
of a hammer to hold. Make one or two rests, the quality and ease of
working go way up.

And get a proper polishing motor (or reasonable fake out of an old
washing machine etc), even if it uses a cardboard hood and silly
little fan to collect and blow the black crap (and $$) out a window.

Even textured or blasted surfaces I give a pretty good high polish
first. Flex shaft is good for small details but nothing beats a 3/4
HP 3450 rpm with a range of 3/4" brushes to 6" buffs for most
everything else. A split lap IS nice but a rather scary machine. Goes
into the chain saw class, but both do wonderful work.

Finish is the first thing people see, start off with a bad first
impression and they are gone. I once worked with/under a couple of
"Jewellery Designers", they drew and I made and there were frequent
inspections. Even dealing with ‘professionals’ I quickly learned that
polishing even a rough concept wax worked to my advantage. Same wax
would produce the same finished results but that shine worked
wonders. I never told them but the guys on benches next to me went
from thinking me totally nuts to being converts. Probably cost the
big boss 15 minutes of labour each time but bench jewellers don’t
make the rules, on good days we sometimes just discover them.


Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

My husband just gave me “The Polishing Report” by Charles
Lewton-Brain today for my birthday - this is awesome! There are a lot
of little things that I just never knew and wasn’t taught properly. I
think this handbook will help me a lot!

Jen :slight_smile:

A split lap IS nice but a rather scary machine. Goes into the chain
saw class, but both do wonderful work. 

It’s not my intention to hijack this thread – moving it to a topic
heading of its own is fine with me. But the split lap comment caught
my attention.

Can anyone point me to about how to use one? I know from
reading they’re the best way to lap flat metal surfaces but I’ve
never seen one used and can’t find any instructions in all my great
quantity of “how-to” books and articles.

Thanks in advance.
Rick Martin