I'm learning my metalsmithing in tiny bits from here and there.
Could you tell me why red rouge is a bad thing? What do you use
Red rouge is Not a bad thing, in and of itself. It's the polishing
agent capable of giving just about the highest level of polish to a
number of the metals we use. And chemically, it's just iron oxide
(same as rust), which is not toxic at all, plus whatever wax or
grease may be used as a binder.
However, rouge (any type) and other polishing compounds, when used
in buffing, generate air born dusts. You apply it to a wheel, and
polishing takes some off the wheel and converts it to air born fine
dust. All such dusts are, at the least, a good way to get your face
and hands exceedingly dirty, and more seriously, are respiratory
irritants when inhaled. It is for this reason that decent polishing
machines are set up with dust collectors to suck the dust laden air
away from the buff before it can reach the user, or why when using
such compounds at the bench without a collector, a dust mask may be
advised. Even with a manual polishing method like just rubbing the
work on a cloth or felt stick that has the compound on it (though the
manual methods like that are much less of a problem than a machine
driven method) can put some dust in the air.
Rouge, being made up of very small particles, is as able to produce
these fine dusts as any other compound, so the protections you should
use with it are equal to what you'd use with any. It is actually
safer than some, however. Some rouge compounds may be more chemically
active and toxic, and those based on silica containing materials
(white diamond, tripoli, etc) may pose a specific risk of silicosis
if inhaled chronically over time. Some of the more aggressive buffing
compounds, the ones intended more for initial cut down, if they
contain the harder abrasives like aluminum oxide or silicon carbide,
can put nasty scratches on your glasses really easily, which red
rouge won't do.
The bottom line is that you should treat all polishing operations
with due care. That means some means to avoid inhaling any of the
compounds, as none are good to breath, even if some are less
dangerous than others. While you're at it, remain aware that
polishing motors in general can be dangerous if not used correctly.
Work not held correctly and buffed correctly can catch in the buff
and be pulled from your grasp, or pull your fingers into the buff
causing potential serious injury, not to mention doing serious damage
to the jewelry as it slams into the back of the machine, or gets
sucked into the dust collector, or gets spit back out over your
shoulder traveling at high speed to some amazingly hard to guess
hiding place in your workshop... Even polishing "at the bench" with a
flex shaft or dremel, etc, is quite capable of throwing a small
piece a long distance across the shop if you're not careful...