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Tutorial: Polishing Metals


#1

Was: How to use Tripoli compound?

Miachelle, I’m not sure the following answers your question
specifically about Tripoli but it might give you some useful overall
polishing hints. Hope it helps…this is a paper I prepared for my
students at the Boca Raton Museum Art School in SOFL.

Polishing Metals
Don Dietz, Aug 2007

Polishing is not as difficult to understand as many think. A few
simple rules help.

  1. Never try to polish out scratches. If there is a scratch or
    blemish you must first remove it first by filing if necessary
    followed by successively finer sand paper…usually 300, 400 and/or
    600 if the 400 is new and leaves a matt finish. The exception to
    this is simple surface scratches with no depth. These can be polished
    off. Remember, polishing is an abrasive process and as you polish,
    you also remove metal. An experienced jeweler will plan ahead when
    selecting stock to ensure the various clean up and polishing
    processes don’t leave him/her with 26 gauge when 22 was intended.

  2. No matter what kind of polishing compound you use they all
    basically can be referred to as ‘cuts’. First cut will be the most
    coarse such as tripoli or bobbing compount, second cut will be
    medium such as Fabulustor or ZAM but white diamond is considered by
    many as second cut also, etc. Third cut will be the rouges such as
    red rouge, gray rouge etc.

  3. Use the appropriate speed on your buffer lathe. Many people are
    afraid of the machine and use only low speed…around 1700rpm. I
    use 3450 almost exclusively unless doing some special job.

  4. Use the appropriate pressure on the wheel. Beginners tend to use
    too little pressure and can’t understand why nothing is happening.
    Use sufficient pressure to obtain a clear surface. If heavy black
    areas appear (called “keep”) know that the polish is not doing its
    job beneath that area. If keep should appear, just give a firm push
    against the wheel in that area and it will dissappear.

  5. Do not overload your wheel with compound. Using two hands, press
    the compound against the wheel only briefly to apply a light coat.
    Reapply only when the wheel stops cutting. If you do overload the
    wheel, you will need to ‘rake’ it off with a rake. The rake can be a
    narrow board with nails in it that protude about 1/4 inch. This will
    remove excess compound…it also reduces the size of the wheel!

  6. Protect yourself. Wear safety glasses, use a buffing board (a slip
    of wood you can lay flat pieces on whilst you polish so the piece
    won’t bend or get caught in the wheel. You can also use finger cotts
    (leather pads with stretchy material that holds them on your
    fingers). There are other items you can use on your fingers also.

DO NOT WEAR GLOVES! Gloves tend to get worn through and
tear…taking a finger with them. Keep all loose items away from the
wheel such as long hair, dangling jewelry (in fact, don’t wear
jewelry while polishing as it can be damaged). You can purchase
protective ‘finger cotts’ which are leather patches with elastic on
one side to hold them on your fingers. Use a wooden mandrel when
polishing the outside of rings so they won’t burn your fingers. In
our shop, we use polishing boards (3x6x1/4" pieces of plywood) to
polish flat pieces. Simply hold the piece on the board as you
polish…it supports the metal and allows additional pressure to be
used.

  1. Never present a prong or protrudence against the rotation of the
    wheel! The wheel will grap it, bend it, rip it off, or worse. Always
    present the piece downward – in the direction of the wheel
    rotation.

  2. Hold the piece firmly lest the wheel grap it from your hand and
    fling it against the back wall of the lathe or out into the room
    somewhere.

  3. Do not mix compounds on a wheel. Always mark your compounds or
    place them in a unique bag, box or somewhere they won’t get mixed
    up. Mark each wheel so you know what compound is on it. Because we
    have a number of teachers using our studio, not all follow these
    rules and we end up with various pieces of a compound but cannot
    identify it (color is not always a sure thing). Keep it all separate
    some how.

When it comes to what wheel to use, everyone seems to have their own
favorite. Generally, for first cut use a yellow (oiled) stitched
cotten muslin buff. For second cut, a white (unoiled) stitched buff.
For third cut, use a white unstitched buff. These latter tend to
come apart so they are usually held together with a leather, plastic
or even lead center. Felt can be used for ring shanks (inside and
out) but be careful doing large flat areas because they tend to leave
’chicken’ tracks due to uneven wear. Some people prefer wool, some
cotton, etc. Check it out.

Everyone has their own idea of which compound to use when. But if you
follow the above (substituting various compounds for each cut) you
will sort it out in time. One hint though, ZAM is wonderful for
polishing not only silver but also certain stones. Primarily the
carbonates/phosphates…malachite, rhodocrosite, turquoise, etc.,
and certain others: horn, black coral, plastic, acrylic etc. But ZAM
will not polish the silicates!

Sorry this is so long but its actually a synopsis of my buffing
lecture which takes about 30 to 45 minutes in class. A problem is
there are so many sanding, buffing, polishing etc materials out
there it takes years to learn what to do with what. If you follow the
above rules however, you should have a successful experience.


#2

Don,

That’s a very informative answer to the question indeed. I use yellow
Dialux for my first cut, then Fabulustre for the second, then Rouge.
However, I am literally terrified of the polishing motor my husband
has set up for me in the garage, and so do ALL my polishing using
bristle wheels in my flexshaft. Am I the only one who uses the
flexshaft for polishing, or do others do it too? I do end up looking
like a chimney sweep afterwards though!!!

Helen
UK


#3

Well written and informative, Don! I’m a big fan of ZAM and use it
exclusively on my inlay, silver, and soft stones.

Rick Copeland
rockymountainwonders.com


#4
Am I the only one who uses the flexshaft for polishing, or do
others do it too? I do end up looking like a chimney sweep
afterwards though!!! 

No, Helen, you are not the only one. I use my flexshaft for most of
my polishing (but then I’m polishing very small pieces, and very
little of my work needs a high polish. I usually opt for the
sandpaper finish which I like, or a textured finish. I have a small
polisher, but since I don’t make many big pieces, it doesn’t take me
any longer to do it with my flexshaft and it’s infinitely more
comfortable since my flexshaft is at my bench and my polisher is out
in the garage and not too conveniently situated.

K


#5

Hi Helen,

I used to look like a chimney sweep after polishing, then I saw a
demo at SNAG in Chicago by 3M using the hairy little brushes. They
have transformed my polishing and finishing. I still use the red
rouge sometimes but that is all. If you decide to use these make
sure you stack at least 3 in the mandrel. I use 5 in the mandrel and
have purchased enough mandrels to have them all set up and ready to
use. They have two sizes for the flexshaft and great big ones for
bigger polishing motors. They have several grits and I love the clean
hands =)

Susan
http://web.mac.com/SusanThornton


#6

No Helen…there really is a Santa Claus!

There are many situations where polishing with a flexshaft is the
best cure. Inside curves comes to mind or around bezels. However it
is time consuming and difficult to get a smooth integrated polish on
a large flat plate for example. Much faster and better results are
obtained by using a larger and wider wheel on the polishing lathe.
The greatest fear of using the high speed wheel is that it will be
grab the piece from your hand and dash it against the grill. Wish I
had a nickle for everytime that has happened to me!! You have to
learn where on the wheel to work and what not to point into the
rotation of the wheel.

The use of a polishing board goes a long way towards solving this
problem. I suggest you try it…maybe practice on a piece of copper
or scrap. You will gain confidence quickly and before you know it
that will be your preference!

By the way, I prefer bobbing compound for first cut, either ZAM or
Fabuluster for second and rarely use rouge at all. Only for pieces
that are sold or on exhibit. Everyone has their own idea of what
works for them.

Cheers and happy New Year. Don.


#7

Hi Don,

I’ve never yet done a large piece. The largest piece I’ve made is a
bracelet made with 1mm thick silver sheet in squares of 20x20mm. Each
link is textured with a hammer. If I ever make a piece that my little
bristle wheels won’t polish effectively, I’ll try the big scary
polishing machine, I promise!

Helen


#8
I used to look like a chimney sweep after polishing, then I saw a
demo at SNAG in Chicago by 3M using the hairy little brushes. 

That’s useful to know Susan. Can you tell me exactly what they are
called? I’m not familiar with the brushes you talk about.

Helen
UK


#9

Hello Helen,

Yup. I started using a Dremel to polish, then altered a bench
grinder to take polishing wheels. Verrrry messy! You may be noticing
that surfaces around your area are becoming “sooty” as well.

Even worse is that unless you are wearing SCBA you must be breathing
those tiny particles, which are settling in your lungs. When I
started coughing up black phlegm, I knew it was time to spend the
bucks and buy a polishing machine with a filtered exhaust. Please
don’t wait until you experience the black phlegm. Make the purchase
of a polishing cabinet with filter your priority!! Your health is
important.

Judy in Kansas - who has been enjoying a short holiday in Colorado.

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.


#10
I am literally terrified of the polishing motor my husband has set
up for me in the garage, and so do ALL my polishing using bristle
wheels in my flexshaft. Am I the only one who uses the flexshaft
for polishing, or do others do it too? 

I read that tutorial - very good and informative. Everybody who’s
less experienced needs to understand that it was only kindergarten,
though (the author knows that). Polishing is just as deep and complex
as any other facet of metals. Silver, brass, copper, steel, 14kt
white, yellow, 18 kt., 22, 24, platinum, palladium, rings, pendants,
chains, 100 carat diamond necklaces. Yes, knowing where to start is
important, but it’s also a skill that takes much experience and trial
and error to master, just like everything else. Like most things,
Orchid is not going to provide any magic bullet, just some guidance.
Finally, unless your work is such that flex shaft wheels are the
best, you will NEVER get the same polish with it as with a lathe,
much less using a whole polishing room - split laps and such. It
certainly will give some results, and for those on a budget it may be
all there is, but don’t kid yourself that it’s anywhere near the same
capability - it’s nowhere near.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#11

Hi Judy,

Yes you’re right. Breathing in all that soot is something I’m
concerned about. I do need to come up with a solution. I think the
correct type of mask would be a good start but I do find them
claustrophobic - but like you say, health is important. My husband
has converted the bench grinder to polishing motor but I hate it
with a passion - too scary!

I’d say polishing is my least favourite part of the whole process
because of the mess. So these dedicated polishing motors with
exhausts - do they eliminate all the mess or do you still end up
with some of it in your face? Certainly something to look into.

Thanks for the advice.

Helen
UK


#12

Hi John,

I understand where you are coming from regarding polishing just
using the flexshaft. I have made pieces and have been really happy
with them but then I’ve worn them and noticed that they are not as
highly polished as I thought they were! Or I’ve photographed pieces
before giving them as gifts, then put the memory card into my laptop
to look at the pictures and been very annoyed that I didn’t take the
time to do it before giving the gift, as the photograph revealed how
unfinished they were!!!

My main problem with the large polishing wheel (apart from it being
scary!) is that on the type of small pieces I’ve been making, how
can you possibly polish the nooks and crannies with a big polishing
wheel? It’s simply not possible. And it would be too easy to remove
too much from the high spots. Any advice gratefully received. My
flexshaft and bristle brushes get into all the tight spots without a
problem. Perhaps then taking it to the big wheel afterwards to get a
better polish overall might be worth a try?

I know you can get drums and use shot, etc but I can’t afford that
luxury yet and by all accounts, they don’t give the desired finish
either.

Helen
UK


#13

Helen,

The brushes are available at most jewelry suppliers, however I bought
kits from McKinnon Global. They sell kits with all the grits
available or you can order your own grits. The web site is
mckinnonglobal.com and click on Jewelry-Making Products, then Kits
for Jewelry ant you should see the Scotch-Brite Bristle Kits, or you
can search the site for that. The usual disclamers apply here. This
is where I got mine from and they came with instructions on the use
and care. They last a LONG time and they don’t produce a black mess
all over.

Susan
http://web.mac.com/SusanThornton


#14

Brilliant, thanks Susan. I actually think I’ve got a few of the
Scotch-brite brushes in the kit that came with my Foredom!!! I’ve
not even opened the accessory kit but I’ll go and have a look and
give them a try. Thanks again.

Helen
UK


#15

Helen,

Perhaps then taking it to the big wheel afterwards to get a better
polish overall might be worth a try? 

Yes absolutely. Any work with fine detail needs a combination of
polishing methods using exactly what you describe.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
www.spirerjewelers.com


#16
My main problem with the large polishing wheel (apart from it
being scary!) is that on the type of small pieces I've been making,
how can you possibly polish the nooks and crannies with a big
polishing wheel? It's simply not possible. And it would be too easy
to remove too much from the high spots 

Helen, and all…There are many factors involved in polishing, and it
seems simple to pinpoint something as being important, when they all
are. What compound, operator skill, on and on. The main difference
between flex shaft polishing and lathe polishing is power and RPM.
Most novice polishers don’t do the first steps well, and get a bad
polish because they are relying on rouge of whatever type. When I
polish with tripoli (white diamond, too), I do battle with the motor.
It’s 1/2 hp, and I’ll be pushing as hard as I can, often (don’t try
this at home, until you get skilled). That’s power and there’s no
substitute for it. On the other hand, I also will use brushes on the
flex shaft with rouge on platinum especially to get a final high
shine, or for detailing. That’s RPMs, and it’s best for the finishing
stages. We have probably 20 wheels for the polishing machine, from
large to tiny, and use them as needed for the job, and then the whole
gamut of things for the flex shaft, down to toothpicks and BBQ
skewers, and use whatever suits. The main problem with relying on the
flex shaft, though, is power or the lack of it. Bobbing compound,
grey star and the tripolis work best with power behind them, and if
you study polishing you’ll find that it actually deforms the surface

  • speed alone doesn’t do that very well. If your pieces aren’t
    getting hot you’re probably not working them hard enough. Again, it’s
    an art, and everybody has their own ways beyond the basics - I’m not
    trying to pigeonhole anything. But the relationship between power and
    speed is most important to understand, and it takes much experience
    to be able to push a polisher to it’s optimum capacity without having
    problems. Just take it easy till you get there. I’d suggest maybe
    polishing a piece of silver, brass or bronze, either a real piece or
    just a scrap, and look at it with magnification. If you see anything
    but shine, you’re doing something wrong or incompletely.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#17
So these dedicated polishing motors with exhausts - do they
eliminate all the mess or do you still end up with some of it in
your face? Certainly something to look into. 

Many years ago I put a polishing wheel on a bare motor and polished
for an hour. The next day I went out and bought a real polisher -
that is after I cleaned up! You can buy polishing/dust collection
rigs that will be hospital clean. Handler brand dust collectors are
what most mid size shops use, I guess. They are a dedicated unit with
hoses going to work stations. But even a good benchtop polisher,
which is what we have, works well. You’re not going to kill youself
on a open wheel, most likely, but the mess is intense to say the
least. Likely you will do poor work because you’ll be light on the
compound and the work to keep the dust down, instead of just
polishing away. No comparison to a real dust collection unit. BTW,
don’t even bother with a motor less than 3450 rpm - just a waste of
time, ultimately. Also BTW - yes, the polishing room is the most
dangerous place in most typical shops - I could tell stories, but I
won’t. Well, there’s a gold fingertip on my website that I made for
my mother. A chain took hers off on the polisher… The split lap
is especially fun. Training, practice, experience and always paying
attention are highly recommended.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#18
My flexshaft and bristle brushes get into all the tight spots
without a problem. Perhaps then taking it to the big wheel
afterwards to get a better polish overall might be worth a try? 

Exactly. A final blend, if you will. As someone who has exclusively
been a finisher/polisher for 5 years (a blink of an eye for some of
y’alls careers) I’d like to jump in and comment. The polishing
tutorial written by a previous poster is excellent and like Mr.
Donivan mentioned, merely a starting point. But I couldn’t have
written it any better. I do disagree about using only a little
compound at a time,though I find myself charging the wheel (
applying the compound) every 5-10 seconds or so. And my favorite
compound… by faaaaar… is called Picasso Blue platinum rouge,
oddly enough Japanese in origin. It’s just fabulous. Most suppliers
carry it now. Not only does it cut very well, it leaves the highest
luster of any rouge I’ve used. It’s expensive (about 18 bucks per 1/4
pound) but very worth it. The right tool is half the job.


#19

Hi Helen,

I rarely polish anything at my bench. I hate getting my bench all
dirty with compound. To get in crevices, I use Supra MK brushes from
Gesswein, with their plastic spindle, which goes on the polishing
machine. I use the 3/4 inch size in soft for silver, medium for gold.
I keep a few of the 1 inch size for when I need to get into a really
deep crevice. But I buy the 3/4 inch size by the gross, because I use
them all of the time. I use them with tripoli, white diamond, and
rouge. You do need to reapply the compound frequently. If you are
nervous about the polisher, try using small buffs at first, maybe 3
inch diameter. They don’t spin as fast as the larger ones. I love the
PR88 hand protector cream, available from Stuller. It really keeps
polishing compound from getting ground into your hands and nails, and
washes off with water.

Hope this helps!
Lauren


#20

Helen

I'd say polishing is my least favourite part of the whole process
because of the mess. So these dedicated polishing motors with
exhausts - do they eliminate all the mess or do you still end up
with some of it in your face? Certainly something to look into. 

Unfortunatly the complete unit only removes about 75% of the dust.
Unless you go for the full monty of extraction. I use a machine with
a single spindle with extraction and a dust mask & safety glasses
these days. I have added a seperate extraction fan and pipework to
the outside wall of my workshop as well. And I still get dust.

When I first started, polishing was the introduction to the trade.
You had to know how to finish a piece before ever starting to make
something. we never had any extraction and I would happily polish a
couple of hundred rings a day.

As you are in the UK look at HS Walsh or Sutton Tools both very good
conpanies who have traded for years (I’ve been using Walsh for all
my 30 years in the trade) Usual disclaimer here…

However if you get the chance try to visit the Spring Fair. Both
companies exhibit and you can check out hundreds of manufacturing
Jewellers to see whats happening this year.

If you want a link to the machine I have email me off list,

Barrie
www.jewellerybybarrie.co.uk