Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Low-tech' surface finishing. Polishing pieces without machines.


In my workshop I have a buffing machine with various mops and polish compounds. I also have a barrell polisher (tumbler) which uses steel shot and detergent, however, I very rarely use either of these items of equipment because I actually prefer the finish I get with much lower-tech' methods. My own jewellery has a definite 'hand-crafted' look to it, so a pure high-shine finish just doesn't look right on them somehow, just as a crisp and smooth design of jewellery with flawless surfaces might not look quite right with a more 'tactile' surface finish.  The following methods are cheap and simple to achieve and give the metal a silky gleam as opposed to a high-class shine, it's not suitable for everyone...make up your own mind whether these are good for you.


The emery boards above are bought very cheaply in packs at the supermarket in the section on 'nail beauty'. They're really handy, last for ages, can be used on all sorts of material including metal and allow you to file down materials that you dont want to clog up your metal files with. The coarsest boards are great for imparting scratchy scrubbly surfaces as shown on the back of the brooch above. The finest ones are almost to a shine. Top left photo also shows a buffing board, again for nails, which shines up the metal to a lovely soft silky sheen once you've emery boarded the surfaces through a couple of successively finer grades.



Traditional fine emery paper is also known as "Wet & Dry". It is most effective when used with a little water and imparts a dusky sheen to the metal at fine grades. In the pictures above I am using 600grit. Rub in circular motions, gently. Let your papers dry out and they will last a long time. They work great on other materials such as plastics, bone and polymer clays.

A fantastic tip that I was shown by the great man of mixed materials himself, Robert Dancik, is for the final emery polish stage to be achieved by turning over your paper and still using it wet, polish in a circular motion again, using the BACK surface, yes that's right, the WRONG side. This buffs the metal / plastic / polymerclay up to the most lovely soft sheen. It looks like this after a final polish with the wrong side;


Using a polishing cloth by vigourously rubbing against the finished metal (and some plastics) brings up a more glossy appearance. The cloths are impregnated with a polish. You don't have to rub by pressing hard, just give a good brisk rub, getting the surface warm. If you want to polish the inside of a ring, then put one end of a strip of polishing cloth in the vice, hold the other end taught, then slide your ring onto the strip and polish it up and down. The cloths last ages if you keep them sealed in airtight bags and work just as well when they're old as when they're new, it takes a long time for them to die;





Brass bristle brushes are another one of my favourite means of bringing up a finish on metal (but not suitable for other materials). They come in various grades of coarsesness from very stiff to very soft. I love using these for bringing up a high shine to metal that still has a slight 'tactile' quality to the metal, in other words it's not a mirror smooth surface, it's a high shine with a bit of super-subtle texture. Below you can see that my softest brush is as soft as a natural-bristle hair brush;

You can see the finish below. You still need to remove scratches and scuffs with emery though, the brushes POLISH, they do not remove surface imperfections as emery paper / boards do.


Finally, I have recently tried for the 1st time some 'polishing papers'. Like emery paper (wet & dry paper) you use these dry and can use them wet. I found them to be more effective dry than wet as they degraded quicker than emery when wet, even though the blurb on the packaging states they last longer than traditional emery. They feel completely non-abrasive to touch but are very effective in reality, I think they will be good for when I don't want to get a piece wet, perhaps when touching-up a finshed item of jewellery where I've 'missed a bit'. The grades are represented by different colours, it doesn't tell you on the papers at all what the grade numbers are. Of course, I forgot which was which (due to the soft feel of all the papers) and found it helpful to write the number of the grade on the backs so as not to have to keep referring to the label on the packet, then cut small, useable sections of each paper and kept them together with a clip;


I hope you’ve found something here that’s useful to your own working practice.

7 comments:

Thirty-Six Ten said...

Great information! I need to try these new techniques! I rely on my buffing machine and tumbler too much!

Patricia Wood said...

Thanks a lot for this great article! Very helpful:)

genie marie said...

Thank you!! Great info!

Beth Cyr said...

great tips! I loooove the polishing papers. they are super fantastic.

Dale said...

great great article here! excellent information, can't wait to try out the emery! Hope they have it round here...

AdobeSol said...

Great information! Thanks for sharring. I like the good old-fashioned elbow grease polishing as well. Definately adds that rustic feel that goes with most of my pieces.

MinaBeads said...

Thank you! Am just getting started with metal and this was helpful.

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