Variable speed for polisher / buffer

Dear Orchidians,

I am about to order a polishing unit from Rio. I need one as small as
possible, because the space available in my tiny studio is … tiny.
Having reviewed the recent posts on this, I want to get one with a
built-in filter which, although larger in size, will (hopefully) save
my lungs and my studio area from particulate filth. For this reason,
I am looking at the single-station polishing cabinet which, while
only one-sided, gives me room to put my tumbler next to, instead of
on top of, the polisher. I have considered buying a standard variable
speed grinder and converting it, but they don’t have the filters to
save my lungs. I would like to find a way to have the polisher work,
on occasion, at a reduced rate of speed, as I have found that buffing
wax finishes on patina work seems to require a slower speed or I burn
right through the finish. I also have neck injuries and grip issues,
so sometimes I have trouble holding on to my work. I am looking for
any suggestions for a simple way to turn this unit into a variable
speed device. “Simple” for someone who is not an electrician, that
is. Any suggestions will be appreciated.


Donna Blow

Hi, Donna,

I got a flier from Gesswein just yesterday with a really
interesting-looking tool that you might want to take a look at. It’s
called “The Warrior”-- it’s a tiny machine with a vertical tapered
arbor and a lot of different “ninja” wheels for cutting, grinding,
lapping and polishing. It can hold anything up to 3" diameter and
runs, it says, from 500-5,000 rpm (I hope that means it’s variable
speed, not it bogs down and goes slow under load!) It has a vent to
attach a vacuum.

I know nothing about this unit except what’s in the ad, but it looks
really nifty! Not cheap, at $269.99, but it could be a real

There is also the Foredom polishing lathe (page 192 & 269 of the Rio
tool catalog) which I have used (we reviewed it at Art Jewelry).
It’s a tiny, two-sided variable-speed polisher, with little hoods
you can get to go with it-- $250 with the hoods (you still need
something to draw the dust-- a shop-vac or better). Seems like a
nice little unit, very compact.

I asked a while back about converting a standard polisher to
variable speed (answers in the archive) and everyone told me you
can’t do it-- that kind of motor will only run one speed.



I’ve got one of the “Ninja Warrior” laps out at school. I got it for
doing quick flat-lapping of small student pieces, we’ve had it about
a year or so. Still working great, even with the students using it
every so often.

For polishing or grinding of small flat surfaces or facets, it’s
great. The variable speed allows us to grind on cold-enamels without
burning them, and slowing it down gives really good control. The
weird ‘ninja star’ design of the wheels is so that you can see
through them better than a standard split lap. (much better than a
standard 4 slot split lap.)

The drawbacks are that the wheels are small, so you’re limited to
about a 1.5" width before you can’t reach in from the edge, and that
it only really does flat things well in its normal setup. You can
put buffs and those weird 3M spider wheels on it, and those work
great, but the buffs end up at a pretty odd angle to try to buff

It doesn’t have a whole lot of power, so it’s reasonably easy to bog
down, but since I bought it for student use, I don’t really see that
as a drawback. It works better if you press lightly and let the
speed do the work anyway. The only other thing you might want to
watch out for is that it uses custom made abrasive refills that are
reasonably expensive. They’re 3M trizact graded abrasive, so they’re
very good, but you chew them up pretty quick too. I’m happy enough
with the one out at school that I periodically ponder getting one
myself, if that gives you any indication. (Of course, I haven’t yet,
so that may tell you something else.) If your work has a lot of
flat surfaces that need to be flat (Or flat facets) look
seriously at it. If not, think first.