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[Tool Time] Polishing

Dear Tool Timers,

This week I want to talk about jewelry polishing. The first thing I
want to address is how to spell the work polishing. I spell it MONEY.
Polishing is truly an area that will pay for itself over a period of
time. I probably could talk for a couple of hours about stories
centering around the polishing of jewelry. I’m not just talking about
shiny things here folks. Proper polishing will also get you a better
price for your jewelry.

In the manufacturing workshop I apprenticed in the owner once told me
that the material (gold) he polished off the castings (after
refining), paid all the polishers salaries for the year. He had eight
polishers working full time for him. He was very careful about where
all the sweeps and dust collection material went. Another shop in
downtown Minneapolis moved from one building to another. After they
moved out they went back tore out the carpet in the old location and
made $15,000.00 from refining the carpet. I spell polishing MONEY.

I will do two or three Tool Times on polishing. I’m sure all you
critics out there will have various opinions about what I recommend
but I value all comments. This is what I learned as an
apprentice, what I use in my own shop and what is taught in my
polishing class. This first thing I want to clarify is that I am
talking about jewelry store type jewelry. Within this jewelry store
definition are three areas of focus. The first is polishing in
manufacturing. The second is repair polishing. The third is polishing
one of a kind special order items. I will also compare a small shop
set up to large shop facilities. I’m sure many comments will fit in
any of these areas.

Within the manufacturing focus of polishing you need several
different specific polishing supplies. These supplies apply to flat
surfaces, curved surfaces and the blending the two areas together. The
preparation before polishing will also be of interest because in large
scale production very little is done at the jewelers bench. On fine
jewelry I also do not tumble finish much of the product. Not unless I
cannot reach by any other means the area I need polished. Tumbling
will round off the sharpness I want to maintain. I don’t want my
pieces just shiny, I want them polished to give me the best looking
product (which goes with profit).

With regards to manufacturing jewelry I will talk about the supplies
relating to the cast piece of jewelry. I don’t do stamping. The CAD
CAM stuff I do is also all cast. So you get the casting info. Rings
will be the example. I will talk later about polishing motors and dust

Let’s assume from wax to cast product everything turns out OK. After
cutting the object off the tree or spru button (as close to the object
as you can), you weight it. This fits in the pricing structure. If it
is a ring it may be lightly tapped round on the ring mandrel now. I
use a rawhide mallet. This actually helps start the polishing process
by compressing the inner material of the ring. Some folks hallmark /
trademark now some later. Again all done in the polishing room.

Here comes the tool time stuff. I don’t file the spru off I grind it
off. Let’s say I have 50 rings to do. I want my time spent wisely.
Remember you are paying yourself or someone else $15.00 to $20.00 per
hour to do this. I can’t be running back and forth from one area to
another doing one ring at a time. This grinding wheel I use is a GMX
120 or 180 grit aluminum oxide wheel. I use the 6" x 1/2" size.
Gesswein and Rio as well as others carry them. I also have older ones
in various sizes. It can go either on a special Bolt on spindle for
the polishing motor or screw directly on the tapered spindle. These
are shaped with a truing stone to what ever shape I need, flat, curved
or sharp edged. This will leave an emery stick surface on the object.
This replaces the file and emery stick at the bench. This is emery
paper rotating at 3500 rpm so be careful. As they get older and
smaller I shape them for different purposes. Flat surfaces work the
best with these wheels but you can round off areas also. Some rounded
areas are just left alone and wait for tripoli brushing (next week).
You do as much of the surface as you can reach. This is a LIGHT touch.
You can take and thin a piece down in the blink of an eye.

The ring inside is next and I use a rolled up piece of #320 3M wet or
dry emery paper. #220 will also work but my first choice is the #320.
Not emery cloth but emery paper. The sheet of emery is divided and cut
into thirds the long way. The sections are now rolled into a tight
tube. This is about 3 inches long. Usually two of these rolled sheets
will fit inside a ring nicely. If you buy them they are called emery
rolls and sold a lot shorter in length. A lot more expensive also. On
the one end I place a rubber band stretched and rapped several times
around. The rubber band end goes on the tapered spindle first. The
motor spindle rotates down so you need to put the rubber band on the
left side of the roll. If you put the rubber band on the wrong end
your roll will ruin itself when you try to use it. When one layer is
used up I can easily peel off another and have a fresh surface. Put
this spent piece in the recycling bin. When necessary add another tore
off sheet from your original piece. You can purchase the paper at most
hardware store for about $.50 to $.75 per sheet. When placing this
emery roll on the spindle for the first time if you have a steamer,
steam the hole at that end. It will soften it for putting on the
spindle. The spindle will score the steamed roll and help it spin true
and centered. This will again be like an emery stick surface. Ready
for tripoli polishing.

The only thing left are the ring sides. This is done last with a
thinner GMX wheel. This wheel is also sharpened to reach tight areas.
Keeping your jewelry edges sharp will give you more of the jewelry
store product. Even junk pieces get more money spent on them if they
are polished well. In a larger shop most of the GMX work is done on a
split lap polishing motor. this will be addressed when I talk about

Now here is an interesting thing to do. If you have weighed the piece
before, weight it again. You have now reclaimed a small amount of
material. Multiply that by 50. You can see why my old boss loved the
polishing of jewelry. Also remember you have priced out your piece as
a rough casting. The difference you pocket! This is how the
manufacturers do it. I don’t write the rules I just try to learn them.
Isn’t this a great idea! Charge the customer for material you keep. Do
it with gold and smile all the way to the bank. Again I’m talking
about production jewelry runs.

The pieces are now ready for the next step. Tripoli polishing will be
next week.

It’s 12:30 am here so good night all.

Best Regards till next time Tr the Teacher Todd Hawkinson

Dear Todd,

Thanks for sharing this with everyone on Orchid. I am learning how to
make jewelry, having taken a few sessions of classes at two private
studios and a summer class at FIT in NYC. I have a lot of books, but
none of them are particularly helpful when it comes to polishing. I
have a small workshop in my house, and would like to set up a
polishing area. I am at a loss as I want to make sure that I do it
with health and safety precautions as my highest priority.

So far I have done any needed polishing either by hand, very slowly
and not very well, or using buffs in my flex shaft which I really
don’t like because it’s a mess. After reading many Orchid posts from
professionals like you, I realized that the common sense that told me
that all the debris and fibers flying around while I attempted to
polish with my flex shaft and a cloth buff couldn’t be good for my
health, was correct. My instructor at FIT never mentioned this as a
safety issue.

I just finished two beautiful hollow bracelets in fine silver- one
smooth, and one with a hammered texture- and I am at a loss as to how
to polish them. I made them at the classes I just finished and the
session ended before I could polish them in class. I know they are
going to get banged up a bit, so I don’t want to mirror polish them,
but I’d like to get the file marks off, and maybe scratch brush or
pumice them.

I am looking forward to your next “Tool Time”.

Dear Gail, Many years ago, I got a polishing lathe double spindle with
hood and cleanable filter from Rio. It still runs, and I use it for
everything but the smallest and finest work. At one point in your
letter you wrote

“So far I have done any needed polishing either by hand, very slowly
and not very well, or using buffs in my flex shaft which I really
don’t like because it’s a mess”

One thing you should know, is that polishing is never a clean job.
Even using tumblers for the beginning stages takes time, and clean up,
and maintanance. Any polishing using a polishing lathe or flexi shaft
is inherently messy. For safety, even when on a large machine, you
should always wear your safety glasses, and at least a dust mask over
your nose and mouth. I just read your orchid letter, and wanted to warn
you, no matter what you do in the future for your polishing… don’t
expect it to be clean, untill you can farm that task out to another

Alex Austin
Austin Creations
PO Box 1109
Rimrock Az, 86335

(520) 567-3044
fax (520) 567-3345

Gail Middleton referred to a polishing opportunity in her recent
Orchid posting. The new 3M Radial Bristle Disc brushes might work you
Gail. They run much cleaner than cotton buffs with rouge and will
leave a variety of finishes up to a polish. They were recently
demonstrated at the JCK Show in Las Vegas and were well received. Also
look them up in the Orchid Archives. The current sizes are 9/16", 3/4"
and 1". A 2" and 3" are in the works and if all goes well a 6" will
be introduced as well. Good luck Gail. Rick Pihl 3M

Hello Gail,

I really want to emphasize that you need to save your pennies and buy
a buffing machine with filter and intake fan… at the very least. I
was polishing things with my dremel (a slow chore) at first, then
converted a grinder with spindles for the buffing wheels. Threw black
stuff everywhere. The day I coughed up gray phlegm after polishing
for a couple hours, was the day I bought the right equipment.
Initially hurts the pocketbook, but you will be glad you did it!
(I’m glad Todd the Teacher is talking about polishing on tool time.)

As others will tell you, don’t forget the safety goggles, dust mask,
and close-fitting gloves. If you are a woman, check out the
Salvation Army, Goodwill, or other second-hand stores for the dressy
leather gloves ladies used to wear. I scarf those up whenever I find
them to wear during polishing. Best of luck, Judy in Kansas

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Extension Associate
221 Call Hall Kansas State Univerisity
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-1213 FAX (785) 532-5681

To Judy from Kansas,

I’m sure others will jump on this also, but I had to respond. Please
don’t use gloves ever when polishing, for your own safety. There are
several products out there if you need help avoiding heat or the
"black hand" syndrome, but gloves can get caught in polishing wheels,
causing severe damage or worse. I am currently training a newbie
bench person in the fine arts of polishing, and would never, ever,
allow gloves to be worn. My trainee is my daughter, and I love her
too much to do that. JMF

Judy in Kansas: STOP. Please, do not wear leather gloves while
polishing! Cut off the fingers maybe, but do not wear the whole
glove. I know that wearing gloves sounds like a great way to protect
your hands, but it may have just the opposite effect. The buffing
wheels have a tendency to grab things, and we’ve all witnessed a ring
being pulled from our fingers and bouncing around the polishing hood.
But if the buff grabs the glove…that could be your hand bouncing
around in there! Wearing gloves around a buff spinning at 3500rpm,
attached to a 3/4 hp motor, is as dangerous as polishing chains.

Doug Zaruba

I think one needs to be talking respirator rather than those white
dust masks. I do all my buffing outside plus wear a respirator. There
is nothing better than natural sunlight. To keep my fingers clean I
use cheap latex gloves. Your idea of garage sale leather gloves is a
good one - it just pains me to mess up a pair of $30 gloves even
though I only pd $2 for them.

You’re right about getting a buffer as opposed to using a dremel. I
cause more damage than improvement when buffing with a dremel because
the wheel is so narrow and inevitably I leave spindle marks. I love
my buffer from the folks in Simi Valley (Hi-Tech). I’ve had it for 5
yrs - no problems, maintenance free. Even though I don’t always do
it, sparkling jewelry will always sell better than jewelry that hasn’t
been buffed when placed side by side.


On the thread on polishing issues, Alex Austin notes, in his comments
to Gail, “One thing you should know, is that polishing is never a
clean job.”

Well, maybe not if you use a method that doesn’t involve compounds.

Try the Tri-M-Ite polishing papers from 3M, available from Rio (page
360). An assortment of six grades will set you back $4.65.

To test the efficacy of this simple, clean system, take a hammer or
burnisher that you would like shiny. Remove any big marks with files,
then take out the file marks with ordinary sanding paper of any kind
going from rough to fine there, and then when you have that in shape,
start using the polishing papers going from coarse to fine.

When you reach the end of the polishing papers, you will have a finish
that rivals any that you can produce with a buff. Hard to believe,
but try it yourself.

I use these papers to finish platinum pieces which are notoriously
time consuming to polish, and though the hand finishing process is
laborious and time consuming, the finish that results reflects the
"hand-rubbed" aura that inheres in much jewelry from antiquity. You
may not see it, but you can feel it.

Instead of trying to save time all the time, consider how you might
spend time wisely.

Riccardo Accurso
Ricco Gallery of Contemporary Art Jewelry
125 W German St /PO Box 883
Shepherdstown, WV 25443-0883

    I really want to emphasize that you need to save your pennies
and buy a buffing machine with filter and intake fan.. 

Judy is absolutely right! You could hook up your shop vac using a
cardboard box as an intake manifold for a temporary solution, but
take care for the noise. Those things are loud enough to damage your
hearing. Maybe put it outside the room where you work and run an
extra hose with a little duct tape. Remember, the cutting agent in
tripoli (and some other polishing compounds) is basically just silica
sand. You can get a condition similar to the black lung that coal
miners get called silicosis. I can’t imagine the iron oxide in rouge
is good for you either. You are at risk for lung disease of one sort
or another. Take care of yourself now, or pay later. Who knows, you
might decide you like this place we call earth and want to stick

David L. Huffman

After just agreeing with Judy, I’ll have to part company here.
Working with a dremel tool, you’re not in too much danger wearing
gloves. Worst thing, you might be whacked in the face with the tool,
and hopefully it doesn’t have a nasty sharp bit in it. But you get
around a serious buffing machine with gloves, you are risking serious
injury. Gloves, even leather ones (they have stitching) can tangle
in the fibers of the buffs and pull your hand into the machine,
tearing ligaments, and possibly breaking bones. And I have
definitely seen this happen. Watch out with long sleeves unbuttoned
too. Scarves, long hair, neck-ties, you can get your face pulled
into the machine. I suspect Judy was only talking about wearing
these things in conjunction with the dremel tool? On a side note, I
used to wear safety glasses till I got a heavy bracelet thrown into
my face. My eyes were protected, but I needed 3 stitches in my lower
lip and the dentist had to patch up one of my front teeth. Now I
wear a full face shield, especially with hinged bracelets. That
hinge is perfect for grabbing the buff, wherein it goes around and
around and it comes out here, if you catch my drift. As for keeping
your hands clean while buffing, Stuller makes a great product “pr88”.
It’s a hand cream you put on, then when your hands are good and
dirty from polishing, you just rinse off in water and the black goes
right down the drain. Works great!

David L. Huffman

In the many “polishing” discussions I have read, I haven’t seen
anyone mention rubber wheels and cylinders for the flex-shaft. These
abrasives can eliminate many sanding operations and cut your polishing
time. In many cases you can go directly to rouge after using. The
dental laboratory profession uses these to finish the gold crowns and
the metal frameworks they make for dentists.

I want to put in a plug for a bench shield to reduce the amount blown
into our faces when we must use a flex shaft. Someone was kind enough
to post directions for building one (if I remembered whom, I could
give proper credit!) I built one for myself according to the
directions, it was easy to do and it cost under $20 and is GREAT! If
the individual who posted those instructions could give us the web
site page for it again, I am sure it will be well used!. I don’t have
room for a bufing machine - stretched at the seams in my tiny studio.
But it is on my wish list!


Riccardo, Your post reminded me of a few things regarding non lathe
polishing… so I wanted to respond. yes, polishing with polishing
papers is a less “messy” method as the excess being removed doesn’t
FLY… But, being a silversmith, I can also safely say that sanding
and polishing with the papers has ruined many pairs of jeans and truly
given my leather apron a nice worn look. If being clean is the issue,
I just don’t think metal is the right field. (but than again, my
house gets messy even when I am cleaning it, so perhaps I am just not
the right person to ask about it. chuckle) Another point for
finishing that many may find useful is how to clean the inside of a
curved surface, or even the outside of some curved surfaces. Sometimes
a file won’t fit, or isn’t the right size or shape, and you just have
a difficult time, and the surface is too big for a riffle file to be
considered efficient. PUMICE stone, the kind you use on your
soldering turn table. It is soft enough that with some rubbing, it
becomes the shape of what you are fileing, but abrasive enough to
eventually wear down a nice uniform finish. Pumice would be the first
step, equivalent to your first two files, down to a medium sandpaper.
Then you can go in with sand paper, but often, if not on fabric, and
even sometimes on fabric, it is unwieldy. If sandpaper isn’t the
right tool, try putting a piece of shammy on your shaped pumice stone.
The texture of the stone will grab the leather, and you can put what
ever compound you need on it, and go from there, and then change to a
fresh piece of leather for your next stage. For the final polish, if
you don’t want to, or cant use your polishing lathe, strap the leather
with some tacks to a steady surface. Hold the other end, and rub your
work back and forth across the strap. The tacking of the leather
strap to a steady surface ensures you can pull your strap taught, so
you can create a good surface to polish against, with out worrying
about rub marks from corners or such. My one final little bit of
on this is that bulk cotton is something every one should
have. You can buy it at feed stores, and it is called bulk cotton.
It comes in rolls, wrapped in paper, and then in a plastic bag. It is
the same stuff cotton balls are made of, but in sheet. If you need to
polish a corner, you can tear this and while your lathe is spinning,
get it on the tapered spindle, and put compound on it, and presto…
corner polishing away. It is also one of the only things that won’t
scratch a TRUE mirror finish on silver or gold. Now for the smaller
work, this may not be noticeable, but when I finish a chalice for a
church, and it is true mirror… the minute it is placed on tissue
paper, or wrap, or any other surface, it gets tiny ity bity
scratches… This bulk cotton works great. (also customers seem to
prefer to get it in bulk cotton over old cotton t-shirts. grin)
Again, with the pumice, and leather, and all that, I wouldn’t
recommend doing this in your house. It will take loads of mopping and
vacuuming to clean the floor and the chair you are sitting on if you
do. Trust me, I know. laughing I made that mistake many years ago
when I was still a student, and I don’t think my roommate appreciated
it. Good luck to all, and I have to say, I am finding this thread
really informative.

Thank goodness for this forum

Alex Austin
Austin Creations
PO Box 1109
Rimrock Az, 86335

hello all,

A small addition for the protection of the best tools one can have !
Use a good quality of handcreme BEFORE you start polishing jewelry.It
will not prevent you from blackening your fingers,but you don’t have
to scrub that hard to get it of and in the same while you’re keep
your skin in a good shape.Go for the one which dry’s up real quick.
For people who love there best tools … and their students !!

Regards Pedro

A neat (well, really slightly messy) small buff for your flex-shaft
can be made from a Q-tip broken in half. Insert broken end in
flex-shaft and spin cotton end on polishing compound block. Buff or
polish small areas of work.

-Sailmaryo in parched Florida

Greetings, all!

As for holding objects to be polished, I.J.S. offers wood pliers.
Anything snagging breaks free of the jaws to fly where it must. We
also offer little leather-and-elastic finger protectors, real nice
with flexshaft work for protecting your hands from dirt and excess

As with any dangerous activity, don’t do it when you are flustered
about anything. I sacrificed a piece of right thumb to a table-saw,
and had my right index and ring fingers recontoured by a falling slab
of heavy wood. That slab was holding drying intaglio prints flat.

Be safe,
Dan Woodard


Thanks to all for the very correct warnings about using gloves when
polishing. I apologize for not being perfectly clear. If I may
offer a bit more.

Anything loose is a safety concern around that spinning wheel. I’ve
seen recommendations for wearing those cheap, brown, cotton jersy
gloves - I think those cotton gloves are too loose. The texture is
also easily grabbed by the wheel.

Yes, I wear gloves, BUT they are skin-tight leather - nothing loose -
and discarded when the fingertips stitching starts to come apart.
Remember the fine leather fashion gloves ladies used to wear until
the 70’s? That’s why I find them at rummage sales… not fashionable
now. These are not an option for guys unless they have very small
hands. The smooth leather finish isn’t caught by the wheel like
cotton jersey.

I occasionally use surgical gloves that stretch on and have no loose
ends to catch the wheel. They help keep hands clean, even if they
offer little heat protection. Of course whenever possible, I use a
clamp to hold the piece during polishing, but we all know sometimes
there’s really nothing to clamp on to.

Just wanted to offer a more complete explanation and thanks to all
who jerked my chain!

Judy in Kansas
Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
Extension Associate
221 Call Hall Kansas State Univerisity
Manhattan KS 66506
(785) 532-1213 FAX (785) 532-5681

arghhh… don’t mean to labor this point but I was wearing those very
thin very tight surgical gloves that you describe wearing, Judy -and
they tore - wrapped around the spindle and almost broke my wrist. I
know the dirty hands are a drag but they are far superior to broken



For the past few days I sort of kept an eye on this polishing/dirty
hand thread hoping that someone will mention the ultimate protection
against almost all dirt - it is called the INVISIBLE GLOVE, a cream
compound that must be applied before any dirty work is done, i.e.
painting, gluing (epoxy type) and polishing - rub it on until it dries
on the skin and you’ve got you invisible glove. At the end of the job
it washes off with plain water!!! Since it is water soluble and if
you polish with water spray, your finger tips will necessarily become
dirty, but not the rest of your hand. Invisible Glove is available
(at least in Canada) in every major hardware store.

Regards, and clean hands,

Joe Bokor