Recommended buffing wheels & compounds

Does this look like an appropriate set of wheels, compounds and
steps for finishing silver?

  1. bobbing compound on a yellow treated wheel
  2. tripoli on a yellow treated wheel
  3. white diamond on a tight weave muslin wheel
  4. zam on a flannel wheel
  5. red rouge on a flannel wheel

Also, what do you do between steps? Some people say wash with soapy
water; some say clean ultrasonically. I also know someone who gives
the piece a quick going over with a clean (no compound) balloon cloth
wheel at each interval. My instructor says do nothing - go straight
to the next wheel with no cleaning at all.

Marie - if your instructor really said to do no cleaning between
wheels, you need a different instructor. Think about what a bit of
bobbing compound would do to a wheel charged with rouge. It would
become a bobbing wheel.

Personally, if I was forced to finish silver on a wheel, I’d use
white diamond tripoli after proper filing and sanding. The clean the
piece very well - use an ultrasonic if it has places that you can’t
touch directly that would hold polishing compound. Using an ultra
sonic isn’t necessarily straightforward either, different subject.
Then finish with rouge on a wheel. I see no need for 5 wheels other
than to waste your time in class.

I prefer to use mass finishing techniques rather than wheels.

Judy Hoch

Hi Marie,

The sequence you propose will work, probably very well, after the
bobbing compound step, but it’ll chew up a lot of time.

The reason I say that is that the ‘steps’ between levels of abrasive
are pretty small. Most people use a ‘rough’ and a ‘fine’, you’ve got
2 roughs, 2 mediums and a fine.

Bobbing compound and tripoli aren’t vastly different from each
other, and white diamond is a sort of finer grade tripoli. (not
really, but in terms of how it cuts.) Zam is a slightly abrasive
final finish for some stones, and sterling. (Zam is usually where I
stop for sterling. It won’t hold anything finer for more than 2
seconds.) Rouge is rouge, and the end.

The treated buffs are more aggressive, and will leave scratches of
their own. On the other hand, they hold onto compound better. So
they’re good for initial cutting.

I’ve got all sorts of random compounds around here that I use
depending on material (and what’s ready to hand, truth to be told)
but generally for sterling, I sand to 600 grit, go to tripoli, and
thence to zam. If it were gold, I’d go from tripoli to rouge of one
sort or another. I have some white diamond, haven’t used it
personally in years, but the place I taught used it for initial
cutting in preference to tripoli. (it’s not as aggressive, so less
likely to devour details of the unwary.)

Your wheel selections look pretty good for what you seem to be using
them for. I tend toward loose stitched flannel for my final
finishes. (rouge, zam, whatever) The loose stitching gives them a
little more body. The totally unstitched ones just flop around.
(which is fine, for particular purposes, but not for every-day.)

will wear glasses, and tie your hair back, remove loose floppy
things from your arms, and practice with a ‘break away’ grip. If the
machine hungers, let it have your piece. Nothing’s worth losing a
finger over. Remember also: buff only from the equator of the wheel,
down to the south pole. (front lower quadrant, so anything it grabs
gets slammed into the table, not thrown into your face.) Remember to
always have the wheel rolling ‘off’ of an edge. Never let it climb
’on’ to the edge. It’ll grab and throw for sure that way.

Now back to the other question you asked: cleaning between steps.

Absolutely. Positively. Always. (Or they’ll fire you, in the real

Some people use ultrasonics, but I’m not that patient. I tend to use
dish-soap and a toothbrush to scrub all the tripoli residue off. It
is critically important that you get all the coarser abrasive off of
the piece before you transfer to your nice new ‘fine’ buff. If you
leave the crap, it’ll get dragged into the finer buff, and now you
can’t get a decent polish with the fine one. (If you’ve got access
to a steamer, that’s one of the things they’re made to do: blast
buffing crud out of nooks and crannies between buffing steps.)

The dry buff trick works as a final finish on plastics, but not so
much with metal. Yes, it rubs the tripoli off. But where does it go?
Onto the ‘clean’ buff. Which turns it into a very lightly coated
tripoli buff.

So it’s better to scrub it off with something that won’t contaminate
your downstream gear.


Appropriate steps? Appropriate is what works. Your regimen for
buffing is certainly a usable one but to me a little overboard. I
haven’t used bobbing in 40 years. Very fast cut and if piece is
finished right not necessary. I use Tripoli, “Fabulustre” (your
white diamond and "Zam stage) and a red rouge. Each compound on a
dedicated buff but do nothing movingfrom one buff to the next. Other
than that more wheels for specific purposes (inside ring buffs, hard
felt for a flat finish [those soft buffswill round corners), knife
edge hard felt for some crevices, and brushes for around heads and
delicate areas) Gary

If you go straight to the next compound without cleaning the piece,
you risk contaminating that next buff with any of the previous
compound that remains on the piece. Always clean the piece between

Linda Kaye-Moses

You do not say what size or type of silver piece you are polishing.
If you are doing jewelry size pieces, you do not need to have as
many steps involved. I sand to a 600 grit or prepolish with tripoli
before soldering so my assembled pieces are clean and free of
defects. I use tripoli with a stitched muslin wheel (or a black
bristle brush if there is a lot of detail). I wash after each
compound to avoid contaminating the next wheel, either with hot
soapy water and a soft brush or via the ultrasonic. Examine the work
to be surethe surface is evenly polished, clean and dry, then
proceed to rouge on a flannel wheel.

If you are polishing larger raised work, you may want to have that
many steps (I only work on a smaller scale, so not speaking from
experience), if onlyto proceed in smaller increments towards your
final finish. I would still want to wash between compounds, it is
not my experience that cleaning on a wheel without compound will be
adequate. Each cleaning pass on that wheel willbe picking up
compound from the previous wheel and there will be an accumulation
of compounds on that “clean” wheel. Wheels can become
cross-contaminated, and your rouge wheel will end up with tripoli
compound in it.

Melissa Veres, hand engraver and goldsmith

Hi Marie,

I clean between polishing stages either by scrubbing in hot water
with cloudy ammonia or 10 minutes in the ultrasonic cleaner with
Actavax at 60C



way to many steps. Finish piece with 1200 grit or 3000 grit if you
can get it.

Polish with tripoli, wash with detergent and hot water or ultrasonic
if you have one.

Then polish with Hyfin if you can’t get Hyfin use blue dialux rouge
is better for gold. Wash again.

I use stitched cotton buffs or unstitched swansdown.

all the best

And now for something completely different. I used to use compounds
on a buffing wheel, and it was nasty and messy and got my studio
very dirty. Then I discovered the 3M radial bristle discs, and it
completely changed my polishing regimen. Now i use them for
everything but the very final finish.

Janet Kofoed

I don’t know anyone who cleans between compounds. Not because it
would be a bad thing to do, but because it takes too long and there
is no real noticeable difference between doing it and not. I also
think you only need a cutting compound and a high polish compound,
not that these are better but I like Gessweins Grey 800 for cutting
and green rouge (also Gesswein) for high polishing. I use untreated,
stitched muslin buffs, just remember to cut the stitching out as you
work up to it.

Keep in mind I’m not working with much silver but I do use the same
system and compounds for it. I spend a lot of time preparing pieces
for polishing at the bench, using emery and various abrasive wheels
to remove any scratches and maintain the shape. Then, still at the
bench (with a dust collector), I use high polish silicon wheels and
small brushes (usually with Fabuluster) to get in the hard to reach
places. All the scratches are pretty much gone at that point. Then I
move the split lap, to get any flat surfaces and some of the curved.
Only then do I go to the buffs and inside felts on the polishing
machine. Mark

It depends a bit on what you are making, but, if it is sterling
silver jewelry sized pieces, you might pare down the steps a bit.
Assuming that the piece is properly prepared ahead of time, lets say
to 600 grit using a wheel or sanding pads/paper or some other
method, go to tripoli and then rouge. You can do whatever patination
you are going to do after as long is you clean the piece well before
you apply the patination. Then carefully buff off what you want gone
and keep the rest. I start with 6"sewn treated muslin buffs and keep
them in separate containers (I have used the same small cardboard
boxes labeled with the type of polish on the wheel for 40 years). I
do clean between tripoli and rouge as you don’t want to cross
contaminate your wheels making a rouge wheel a tripoli wheel. I
have, by mistake, applied tripoli to a rouge wheel. You can either
make it a tripoli wheel or use a wheel rake (file tang), and try to
remove the tripoli. You can tell looking at the finish of a test
piece to see if you still have tripoli in your rouge wheel. Between
wheels, and when you are done, you can clean with an ultrasonic sink
if you have one or take a good soak in a solution of ammonia and hot
water using a soft tooth brush to remove what you can. I saved the
little brushes that the kids got to clean their braces. They will
sometimes helps under a stone or some other similar location. In the
end, like much in life, we measure progress with our eye (sometimes
aided with low magnification). If you see something that you don’t
like, figure out a way to change it and don’t just rely on the fact
that you went through the steps. I also keep a small wheel and tube
of Zam in a ziplock bag. Zam works well on some stones and you can
get a decent polish on the setting that it is in at the same time.
Plan the construction of your pieces and pre polish what you can
when you can before it all goes together. This makes final finishing
a lot easier. It is my personal opinion that a lot of jewelry is
poorly finished to the point where we have created a market for
poorly finished jewelry. If you want a rough, unfinished, masculine,
or whatever it is called, finish, because that is what sells, don’t
achieve it by not constructing or finishing your jewelry well. Do it
right and then figure out how to apply a finish that will sell. This
comment harkens back to our recent long and torturous conversation
about art jewelry, but it is an opinion that was expressed by many.
My two cents. Good luck. Rob

Rob Meixner

Judy - what would you say more about ultrasonics?


Hi gang,

Well, this is another case where the Orchid gods ate a part of my
post, which made the remainder seem a bit less than comprehensible.

It was mostly OK, except the part about buffer safety.

This is what I really sent.

“Beware: the looser the buff, the more it likes to grab things. So
you will wear glasses, and tie your hair back, remove loose floppy
things from your arms, and practice with a ‘break away’ grip. If the
machine hungers, let it have your piece. Nothing’s worth losing a
finger over. Remember also: buff only from the equator of the wheel,
down to the south pole. (front lower quadrant, so anything it grabs
gets slammed into the table, not thrown into your face.) Remember to
always have the wheel rolling ‘off’ of an edge. Never let it climb
’on’ to the edge. It’ll grab and throw for sure that way.”

Not that it makes that big of a deal, I just wanted to set the
record straight.


My instructor says do nothing - go straight to the next wheel with
no cleaning at all.

Here is what I want to ask your instructor to do. Change the oil in
their car. Don’t worry about getting oil and dirt on your hands. It
will happen no matter how hard you try to stay clean. Now that you
have changed the oil, just go straight to the kitchen and prepare a
meal without washing you hands. No need to worry about that oil and
dirt, it will magically disappear. Right?

What happens to the left over abrasives and binding agents? do they
just evaporate in the time it takes to get to the other side of the
buffing wheel?

I have never had anyone show me a piece that they have done, that I
could not polish better and quicker, because I took the time to
clean the jewelry between polishes. So yeah, clean the pieces
between. I like to use my ultrasonic but I think that is morea case
of personal preference. I learned on my own, that cleaning between
polishes gives a better, more uniform finish. It only takes a few
lines from a courser grit to ruin a high polish from rouge.

Gerald A. Livings

If you go straight to the next compound without cleaning the
piece, you risk contaminating that next buff with any of the
previous compound that remains on the piece. Always clean the
piece between compounds. 

That thinking makes perfect sense. But in practice, if your buffs
are well used, you get no negative results from not cleaning the
piece before you go to the next buff and compound. You get excellent
results either way. I’ve spentmy career in big ‘high end’ shops that
polish hundreds of pieces a week. Nobody stops to clean between
steps because it takes too long and doing so makes no visible
difference in the end result. The buffs are so heavily used that the
little bit of compound that comes over from the previous buff is
just overwhelmed by the next buff and it’s charge of compound.

That said, there is sure nothing wrong with cleaning between steps
and I’m not trying to change your mind. If there is anything I’ve
learned from this forum it’s that there is always more than one way
to arrive at good work. Mark

Always clean between abrasives otherwise you contaminate the buffs
with inappropriate compounds. Seriously the more you clean the less
work you do later buff ultrasonic it takes what 15 minutes at tops?
then buff and clean. Why waste all the time an effort you put into a
piece at the end by skipping steps and having a rookie finish on it?
I agree with Jeff Herman (My superhero silversmith) on this mirror
finish takes time, but anyone can do it properly and in the end it
produces a better product. Also for goodness sake clean the
ultrasonic and replace the fluid when it needs to be changed. Just my
humble opinions.


Here’s what I do: Cutting compounds, such as Bobbing and White
Diamond (I use White Diamond for final finishes as well), are used
on the same buffs, but rake in between. I separate buffs for Zam (I
use Zam for final finishes as well), Red Rouge, and Green “Rouge”
(pure chrome green which gives a finer finish than Red Rouge.) The
Red and Green Rouges are kept in sealed containers to eliminate
contamination. Also, before I use the Rouges, I clean the inside of
my polishing enclosure Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation: Silversmithing Shop View #4 to
prevent coarser particulate from falling unto the buff.

As a smith who tends to work on larger objects like coffee pots,
vases, and large trays that require a consistent finish over larger
areas, it’s more crucial to have a system.

Jeff Herman

I’m going to chime in here and agree with Mark. When I started out
working in busy trade shops I was a polisher until they let me work a
bench. We never cleaned in between compounds unless there was a big
chunk of tripoli on the edge of a ring from the lap. Then we’d just
wipe it off with a finger while it was still warm enough to be gooey
and go on to rouge.

That said, when I am working on a large highly polished piece of
silver like say a bowl or tray or I am getting ready to silver plate
a large mirror finished piece then I get pretty fussy. But for
jewelry? Not so much.

There are so many compounds out there it takes a lot of
experimenting to get the finish you want. I use different compounds
depending on the metal and what I want it to look like. We have
bobbing compound, grey star, tripoli, Zam, crystal polish, red rouge,
blue rouge, white rouge, yellow rouge, black rouge and green rouge in
our arsenal.

Oh and as an old dog I learned a new trick from someone here about
using blue rouge for silver. Just amazing. It’s more expensive than
the other colors of rouge but worth it Although polishing is seen as
drudgery and the entry level job in a shop, a good professional
polisher is worth his or her weight in gold. The quality of the
finish can make or break your reputation. I really wish schools would
teach how important this last step is.

Pieces can be spoiled by both being under finished or over polished.
I’ve seen some lovely pieces that needed crisp edges that got rounded
off, girdles of stones exposed in a channel or bezel, or prongs
weakened by a carless polisher. Pits too can be drug out and made
worse by over polishing.

Satin finishes can be just as tricky. I takes me at least two hours
to get a Rolex watch perfectly refinished with both polished and
satin finish on it. Lucky for us Rolex owners are willing to pay good
money to have their watches look perfect.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

Over the years I have found that spraying my buffs with wd40 before
I add the polishing compound holds the polish to the buff longer and
gives me a muchhigher polish then without. Also helps to cut down on
polishing dust a little.

Hi all

I don’t clean between compounds because I now use Argentium. I sand
with 1200 grit and polish with Hyfin (Dialux Blue would work as well
but is much more expensive).

That’s all folks. So much time saved. Argentium polishes so well
with only one compound.

So change to Argentium but read the instructions it works a bit
differently from sterling not hard just a bit different. The
instructions are available from Argentium International and Cynthia
Eid just google them. Or email me off line.

But make sure the oven is really clean before you cook the
Argentium, as this fool found Argentium does not like left over roast
beef. I now have a cheap $80 oven to cook the Argentium in works
great. Cook at 220 degrees C for 2 hours. Pickle and give a quick
re-polish. Shines like a dream.

The only problem with Argentium is it makes sterling look like an
inferior metal. I have had trouble selling off my “old” sterling
stock. When the customers see the Argentium next to sterling they
just buy the Argentium and I sell the Argentium for 40% more than the

And the flying unicorn stamp is just icing on the cake.

From a sales point of view do your home work on Argentium. The story
is amazing and knowing it is great for sales. “Peter Johns and
Tiffany are a great story for customers.”

all the best