Finishing Jewelry

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  As any girl will tell you:  finishing tools and materials can be addicting.  I have several “hoards” of abrasives.  I’m always trying new products – just ’cause!  This image is of one pile – pre-organization – that I discovered after my studio move, a year or so ago.  Updated: 2/15/17

Finishing Jewelry

  • Please be aware of safety issues with all steps of the finishing process (and in all metalsmithing/jewelry production and creation processes).  Eye protection AND Lung protection are essential.  These processes are dangerous to your health if you are not adequately protected.  Please research the individual product MSDS(es), read directions and watch my video on: Jewelry Studio Safety.  You are responsible for your own health and safety.  All processes, tools and materials, etc., are suggestions only.  I am not responsible if you don’t like a product, if it ruins your clothes or you are allergic to it.  Nag, nag, nagbut, I mean it!
  • Tie up long hair, no scarves, no loose sleeves, dangling necklaces.
  • Don’t polish chain in a buffing machine.  Ask my friend Sugar what happened to her hand after doing so.

For Further information: FDJ Tools has put out a wonderful article on finishing.  Please go to their website to view it.  They also have a great comparison chart of the various compounds for finishing. Charles Lewton-Brain has an article on Ganoksin titled: Tips for Expanding Your Arsenal of Polishing Tools.  

There are more great links at the end of this page.

Links to Grit/Mesh/Micron Charts

Thoughts on Finishing

  • Finishing is a personal design decision that can have a big impact on how successful your design is.  You don’t have to settle for one finish and can mix up a variety of surface treatments.  Matte and mirror finishes can be mixed.  Brushed and hammered, patina and mirror – It all depends on your design.  Often, in design, opposites (mirror and matte, let’s say) create tension and interest.  Rough and smooth, dark and light – for example just think how beautiful 22K gold looks on black. Like this piece by Judith Kinghorn.

klinghorn

  • The Mirror Finish is probably the toughest to achieve because the prep work needs to be perfect.  Once the buffing stage, where your final finish is produced, all flaws – scratches to fire scale – will  become blatantly apparent.
  • There are many different types of finishes:  Satin (matte), Brushed, (although some consider these to be one and the same), Mirror or High Polish, Textured, Patina, Patina and High polish (or other finish),  Plated, Etched, Sandblasted, on and on and on…  I’m going to discuss only a few of the more common finishes here.  Jewelry doesn’t have to be shiny, in fact, many prefer not to have a high shine (myself included).
  • If you are doing any finishing around a stone, protect the stone with tape, a finger or whatever.  The abrasive compounds used can affect the shape and shine of your stone.
  • If you do mess up the shine, on your stone, you can use diamond paste to restore the luster.  Diamond paste comes in many different grits. I use a felt buff, a teeny bit of water and my flex shaft to restore the sparkle to a stone.

The Three Basic Polishing Steps

See more specific information on Buffs and Compounds, further on, on this page.

  • Lapping/split lapping/rough cut – Process to remove sharp edges, burs, scratches. Very abrasive, agressive metal removal. Felt wheels will help to keep edges crisp and  protect fine detail during this abrasive process. Use compounds like Tripoli, White Diamond and Bobbing Compound.
  • Polishing– all traces of filing or sanding marks removed, leaves a “dullish” finish. Bobbing or Tripoli products used. Moderate metal removal.  The surface is refined. Stitched Muslin, treated or not, or other type of wheel.
  • Buffing – metal is brought to a high shine.  Compounds that can be used: rouge, Lustre Bar, Luxi Superfine White, etc. Use a Chamois, Miniature Cotton Buff, Fine, Unstitched Cotton Buff, etc. Small amount of metal removal.

There are a zillion different wheels, buffs, compounds, etc.  A lot of it is personal choice. Use what works for you!

Buffing/Polishing Machines

A note on Buffing:  If you are trying to achieve a mirror finish on sterling, brass, bronze or gold (besides 24K), you might discover fire stain/firescale developing as you buff. This is true for flex shaft-based buffing as well.  It is the heat from the buffing that is likely a contributing factor.  The heat from the process is causing copper atoms to rise into the areas where depletion of the alloy has occurred in a process that is essentially the same as when “bringing up the silver“, a term whose technical version is:  depletion silvering (aka: depletion gilding).  So, when soldering, protect against fire scale/fire stain (oxidation) by coating all metal parts in flux.  My-T-Flux at Rio Grande has one of the higher effective temperature ranges: 1,100°-1,700°F (593°-927°C).  I am sure that there are other brands that will work.  Please see my web page:  Soldering 101 – Oxidation, Flux and Firescale Prevention  and my Q&A Page:  Firescale/firestain Questions for more information on this subject.  Update added:  1/27/17.

I have an old Dayton 1/15th horsepower motor which I bought a long time ago, used.  I don’t think they make them anymore.  It’s a small motor and has a small footprint, which I like, since I hardly ever use it.

my-buffing-motor

My little motor.

Buffing/polishing motors can be used with a variety of different wheel types and compounds (see below for more info on compounds and what they are).

There is an excess of polishing/buffing motors types and makers so, it is difficult to decide which and whose to purchase.  But, you may already have a polishing motor.  The flex shaft and the Dremel are also polishing motors, although, on a smaller scale.

What you purchase depends on your needs:  are you buffing large pieces or doing production work?  Purchase a more robust, larger motor.  Only occasionally deburr, polish or buff?  Use a flex shaft. Somewhere in between?  Try a smaller motor.  Another option is to use a tumbler or a split lap. Read on – there’s exciting material ahead!

You can make your own buffing/polishing motor from parts – if you do that sort of thing. Here’s one way from Canadian Home Workshop.  Have fun!

Some Polishing/Buffing motors come with their own filtration systems.  Another item to consider when purchasing your tool.

Untitled-4

Foredom Polishing System at Otto Frei

Ventilation and dust collection is required when using any of these machines and their compounds.  Many of the compounds contain caustic, poisonous and irritating materials.  The dust produced, is indeed, harmful to your lungs.  WEAR SAFETY GLASSES!

Some Suppliers of Buffing/Polishing Motors: 

Buffs

You might need these little tools.  They hold the compounds and then transfer them to your metal.  There are a zillion of these, to choose from, too! Use a rougher wheel with a cutting compound and the softest wheel for buffing.

buff  There are muslin (cotton) buffs, felt buffs, flannel buffs, balloon cloth buffs (new to me!), chamois buffs. There are also points and tips like this: felt-buffs-rio-grande Miniature Felt Buffs and Points Kit from Rio Grande.  Within these categories are tight weaves, loose weaves, stitched, un-stitched and chemically treated. There are also bristle buffs and wheels. I’m sure that there are more!

The type of buff you use will depend on the machine you use, the type of finish you want to create and your preferences.

Baldor-polishing-motor Baldor Polishing Motor at Rio Grande.

Be sure to purchase wheels that fit your machine.  If you only have 4″ clearance, a 6″ wheel isn’t going to work.  Another thing to consider is how the wheel attaches to the motor.  Some machines come with plain, cylindrical shafts that require additional parts for wheel attachment – usually a spindle. spindle Spindles hold the wheel on by centrifugal force. It’s an easy on – easy off system.  Read the instructions and product description before purchasing add-ons.

chamois-miniature-buff Chamois Miniature Buff at Rio Grande.   miniature-cotton-buff Miniature Cotton Buff at Rio.

  • The buff does not do the work, the compound does.
  • Have a separate buff for each type of compound.  Tip:  keep the buffs and the compound that you use with it, in the same, labeled bag.
  • If your buffs are really “thready” or dirty, you can use a regular ‘ole fork to un-shred/clean them.  Run the machine slowly, hold the fork in bottom part of the buff.  There are also tools, called rakes, that you can buy for this process.  It’s a good idea to clean your buffing wheels occasionally. The process of raking the wheel removes minute (or not so minute) pieces of metal and debris that can scratch your jewelry. It will also make them look pretty :  )

Other Styles of Buffs

Compounds

buffs-and-compounds-2  Some of the compounds and wheels that I use.

Apply a little of the compound, often, rather than a lot – all at once.  The wheel will get black with use.  Use a rake/comb/fork to clean it when it gets really gunky. Hot water, degreasing soap and a toothbrush will take away any black gunk on your piece.

Fat based Compounds are composed of an abrasive, fats such as stearic acid and other chemicals – depending on the compound. Stearic acid (a saturated fatty acid) is solid at room temperature but, the heat generated by the friction of the spinning buff, softens and liquefies the chemical.

Rio-Grande's-RougeRouge, for example, is composed of very finely ground iron oxide (ferric oxide) (which gives it its red color).  Tripoli’s abrasive is silica/quartz sand (silicon dioxide).  Emery is aluminum oxide and magnetite.

Water Soluble Compounds contain abrasives and a water soluble ingredient that allows easy washing with water. They work the same way as oil based compounds.

Luxi-super-fine-white  LUXI Super Fine White Polishing Compound is one example of a water soluble compound.

How to Use Compounds

Compounds are added to buffs, wheels and other contraptions to either cut, smooth or burnish the metal.  Some, are very abrasive and leave a matt finish while others, remove very little metal and create a high shine.  What you use depends on your needs and preferences.  Purchase compounds in small amounts, to use with small buffs or wheels, (for the flex shaft or Dremel) and try them out before investing in a large amount. Perhaps a set, like this one at Amazonwill work for you: polishing-compound-set

Use platinum specific compounds, when working with platinum, like the Two Step Platinum Compound at Contenti.

PJTool.com has nice, detailed instructions on how to use compound.

Please see Additional Information and Links for more detailed information on Compounds.

Here are two charts from Rio Grande that might be useful.  Click on the chart to enlarge it.  You can find Rio’s charts, online, at RioGrande.com.  Go to any buffing compound and on the item description, click the tab that says:  “More Info”.  Voíla!  You can also check out the MSDS or SDS there, under the second chart, on the left.

rio-grande's-buff-and-compound-chart Rio-Grande's-Compound-chart

Science Stuff or Why did I research this?

I don’t know why I researched the following things.  But, thought I’d share my confusion.

Fats:

  • tri-ester (3 esters) of fatty acids
  • fats are predominantly saturated fatty acids – as opposed to unsaturated fatty acids (which are generally oils).
  • if it is a triglyceride (3 fatty acids and glycerol) and it is solid or semisolid at room temperature, then it is labeled a fat.  If it is liquid, it is considered an oil.
  • fat-based compounds, such as rouge, are (often) made with Stearic acid  – which is a saturated fatty acid. As we just learned:  if it is solid at room temperature, then it is a fat.  So, rouge is a fat-based compound because, it’s solid at room temperature.  Got it? Of course, that doesn’t help us with water soluble compounds but, hopefully, you are so confused now that you won’t care!

Other Tools for Finishing

brushes-for-compounds  You can also use soft bristle brushes or even stainless brushes, load them with compound and spin away.  These are also great for getting into recessed areas.  Even a Q-Tip impregnated with compound will work.

Tumblers

good-grips

Stainless Steel Shot Medium – for Tumblers.  There are a ton of other media options for deburring, buffing and polishing in the tumbler. Use with a burnishing compound for tumblers like Super Sunsheen or drop of dishwashing soap in water.

It is best to remove all deep scratches and gouges before tumbling.  The tumbling process will enlarge these areas.

Burnishers

Flex shaft or Hand Held Burnishers:  

Burnishers push the metal molecules closer together creating a shiny finish.  You can use a burnisher with a lubricant.  Try it and see if it works for you.  When trying to burnish out scratches, burnish in the direction of the scratch.  If you burnish across the scratch, you will end up making the scratch wider.  Usually, it is best to use an abrasive to remove scratches and dents and then burnish, when the metal is smooth.

burnisher

Preventing and Removing Fire Scale

Here’s some reading for you:

First off, read my page:  Soldering 101:  Flux, Oxidation and Firescale Prevention and Questions And Answers:  Firescale/Firestain Questions.

Preventative Products

The best way that I’ve found to remove firescale is to sand it off.  Sorry, no magic solutions yet, except for Argentium Silver, of course!

Finishes

High Shine

gold-2

  • A  mirror finish reflects flashes of light, catching our eye.  That sparkle is why a lot of jewelry is made with a mirror finish – we are all Golems at heart – lusting after our “Precious“. (If you don’t know who the Golem is, watch or readThe Lord of the Rings! – You should also, get out more often). Jewelry stores are well aware of this fact which is why a lot of mass produced jewelry is shiny (in my opinion). (Who would ever have thought that Judith Kinghorn and the Golem would ever share a web page!)

golem

 

  • A mirror finish will soon show all the nicks, dents and scratches caused by wear.
  • One method for obtaining a mirror finish:  Sandpaper, muscle and rouge. In this method, sandpapers in various grits are employed.  Each successive sandpaper is of a finer grit.  When the surface is as finely polished as possible, a buff or wheel is used to obtain the final polish.  Buffs are loaded with a polishing compound and placed in either a flex shaft, polishing motor, or Dremel.  Alternately, a polishing wheel or a tumbler is used.

Satin Finish

matt2  A matte finish diffuses light, sending light rays in a myriad of directions.  So, essentially, all finishes but mirrored are matte. Therefore, I think that Satin Finish is the correct term for this type of finish. IMHO, a satin finish is smoother than brushed, with much less obvious marks.  Obversely, the Brushed finish, to me, is one with very obvious scratches.  See the image under Brushed.

Tools for A Satin Finish

Brushed or Textured Finishing

brushed

I think that a brushed finish has more noticeable “brush” marks and therefore is different from a Satin finish.  Some may argue with me on this point.  I have found no hard evidence to support either argument and, anyway, does anyone care that much?  If so, let me know! Nicely!  Very Nicely!

Tools for a Brushed finish

Metal Polishes

  • Simichrome Polish – Haven’t tried this yet. Wenol and Simichrome share some ingredients.  See the information on Wenol, below.  I bet it stinks too!  Here’s Simichrome MSDS.
  • Wenol Metal Polish – This is the smelliest stuff.  It makes me want to run away from it!  It contains Ammonia (stinky), Kerosene (stinky) and White Spirits (stinky). White Spirits are a mixture of: paraffins, cycloparaffins and aromatic hydrocarbons.  Most Hydrocarbons have a strong, pungent odor because they usually contain Benzene.  See the MSDS on Benzene at Science Lab. Here’s Wenol’s MSDS.  No wonder the stuff stinks!
  • Flitz – Flitz doesn’t contain Ammonia and appears to be less hazerdous than Wenol or Simichrome.  Here’s the MSDS.  Haven’t used this either.
  • Master Formula Metal Gloss.  The motorcycle guys use it – I haven’t (of course I don’t have a motorcycle). I couldn’t find the MSDS.
  • Brasso – I guess Brasso has changed their formula.  The purchasers on Amazon didn’t like it at all with 22, one star votes and  5, five star votes.  Hmmm…  Product states that it is for:  copper, stainless steel, chrome, aluminum, pewter, and bronze
  • Here’s a bunch of different metal polishes from NancySilver.com.

Metal Polishing Cloths

Metal Sealers

  • Everbrite ProtectaClear – This is the only lacquer/varnish type that I can recommend at this time as it is the only one that I tested and found to work.  I tumbled pieces for hours and scratched them up with sandpaper.  Although, eventually, the finish got milky (I’d get milky too if I had to suffer the same abuse), the stuff stayed on!  The spray on varnish that I used, peeled up within a half hour.  I also tested it with Liver of Sulfur colors and they stayed true.  Heat treated colors stayed true too (sounds like a song lyric: She stayed true too, oh Honey Boo Boo♫  Like it? No? Oh well…) .  Just remember that the colors will look different, as they are now shiny.  Also, this sealant, like all the others, is not permanent. See below**
  • Renaissance WaxLiver of Sulfur colors changed.  Leaves a nice, not too shiny finish on the metal. Rubs off eventually.
  • Car Wax – about the same results as with the Renaissance Wax.

** Personally, sealing rings or bracelets and expecting that the finish will stay on is a little optimistic.  These sealants always wear off – it’s just a matter of how long you can get away with it.  They scratch, they chip, they flake and you’ll be redoing the finish forever.   I also don’t use a sealer on rings and bracelets as I dislike having my jewelry returned for repairs. Earrings, necklaces and brooches, will probably be fine as they don’t experience the same amount of wear and abuse.  Sorry, wish I had a magic fix-it-all. Learn to love your metal’s natural patina!  That’s the best I can offer.

Additional Information and Links

Fin

Well, that’s enough for now.  If you can think of anything that I missed, please let me know.  All (sane) suggestions will be considered.  Thanks for watching and reading. I do appreciate your visit!  Nancy

 

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “Finishing Jewelry

  1. Hi Shannon, I apologize for the tardy response. I go through thousands of emails and answer them personally. I am finding that I am not able to keep up with them at all! So, please forgive me, I am only one, old person working here.
    The protectaclear: surprised that they didn’t respond. They were very prompt with my inquiries. Don’t know what to say about that. As to the bumpy surface, I have not had that result. I am also not an expert on their product. I’ve only used it and liked it. The only thing I can think of is to use 1000 grit sandpaper and sand it down between coats. You could also use the 3-M TriM-ite papers (http://www.riogrande.com/Product/3M-Tri-M-Ite-Imperial-Polishing-Paper-Assortment/337308?Pos=2), like the 8000 grit on the final layer. If it leaves a slight hazy look, there are products that will buff up plastics to a high gloss. Tap plastic sells Novus 2, which is a plastic polish. I do not know if this will work with the protectaclear! I would ask them. But, it was the only idea I had for polishing. I wish I had a great answer for you. Maybe, you should get a refund.

    When I lived on a boat, I had to varnish it every year with 3-4 coats of varnish. After the first coat was applied, I had to sand it with fine sandpaper and then apply the next coat. I feel that what you have going on is something like this. It could be the inclusion of miniature air bubbles forming and then the varnish dries over the air space. That’s what the sanding would eliminate.

    One final note: One of the things that I do not like about making jewelry that requires a protective surface, is that the surface will eventually scratch, it will rub and flake off. Some products also yellow. It is not a permanent finish and the amount of time, it will last, depends on the product, the amount of wear, the exposure to chemicals and UV and the type of jewelry. Rings, will wear fast, as will bracelets. Earrings, slowest and then necklaces and brooches. Is there any other methods that you can use to protect your metal/color or whatever you’re sealing?

    I wish you luck in your quest and once again apologize for my tardy response. It didn’t help that I was traveling the entire month of June! Thanks again. Nancy

  2. Hi Nancy. I have written on this page twice before asking questions about ProtectaClear. I can’t seem to get a response from the ProtectaClear website either. I am just trying to figure out how to use this for jewelry where it works as well as you say above, and as well as they say on their site. I have the spray on, and I just ordered the dip/wipe on as well. I am hoping to be able to get an even coat with the dip that I couldn’t achieve with the spray. Is there a reason that the previous replies are not showing on the page? Am I doing something wrong? I would appreciate any help I can get. PLEASE?

  3. Hi Anna, Thank you for bringing up a good point! I forgot to mention that anything that will abrade metal will abrade stones! Since silicon carbide is used in lapidary work, I need to make clear, that the polish of a stone will be adversely affected by this material. I either tape off my stones or, if they are small enough, use a finger to cover them – not elegant but, it works. I’m going to add a line on my web page about stone protection – thanks to you! I really appreciate the feedback! Keep it coming. Take care and thanks again. Nancy

  4. Thank you so much Kim! I’ve got a plethora of videos for you to catch up on – hah! Love the 3M bristle discs too. Thank you for the great comment and take care. Nancy

  5. I loved the video and the article, but wanted to add that anything with SILICON CARBIDE is about a 9 hardness, so you can’t really use it around stones. Polishing papers, sand papers, and I think you said even some buffing compounds have it, so everyone please pay close attention to the ingredients in your abrasives and use appropriate care.
    Thank you so much, Nancy, for taking the time to teach. You are a great teacher and artist, and a truly beautiful, generous human being for sharing.

  6. Thank you! I just found you on YouTube and really enjoyed your videos. I use the 3M bristle discs which don’t leave weird wavy patterns. Thanks again!

  7. Hi Maz, Did you check out my Finishing Jewelry web page? http://www.nancylthamilton.com/techniques/finishing-jewelry/ There is a tool there that I think might be what you need. They are called mini fiber wheels: http://www.riogrande.com/Search/mini-fiber-wheels. They leave a beautiful brushed finish and you can purchase them in different grits. Another option is to try a brass or steel wheel. Check out my site for more ideas. Satin finishing is further down the page. Thanks for writing and let me know how things worked out! Take care. Nancy

  8. Hi Liz, Thanks for the comment. I like the term “Penny Brite” although, if not in the know, most would think that just meant shiny. As we both know, cleanliness is very important – unless you like enamel popping off at random moments or solder that never flows…Thanks again. Take care. Nancy

  9. Hi nancy, how do you go about polishing domed surfaces? Do you still use the flexi sanding discs? I use rubber burrs, but on domed surface the finish is like scribbles on the surface. I have gone back to fine wire wool, but I have been told to use scotch brite as a longer lasting alternative. Just wanting fine scratches in one direction. How would you finish?

    Thanks

  10. To prep copper for enameling, it needs to be tarnish and oil-free. In the enameling community, the use of “Penny Brite” is ubiquitous. (I love that I got to use that word.)

  11. Mr. Struble, It’s okay if you don’t read it! I’ll let you off the hook – this time! Go make something wonderful and TAKE A PICTURE OF IT SO THAT I CAN SEE IT! Ahem. I’m done. Talk to you later, my friend. Nancy

  12. Wow, Nanc, this is a huge amount of information. Gonna take awhile to read through it. Thanks!

  13. Holy Whaaa.. This is fabulous! I thank you so much for such a wealth of information.!

  14. Great resources ….if you don’t want to purchase multiples of polishing papers…3M radial bristle discs etc…found a great website and great prices….if the shipping comes out to some crazy price…give them a call…apparently they miscalculated the weights on some products…..
    http://www.jewelerstoystore.com/
    Thanks again for making these amazing videos for us…taking time to produce them takes time and you do it no cost to us…it means a lot to me and I’m sure your many fans…your a doll and make fun to learn…
    Hugs….oh love your kitty…read you have 4…. I have 2 and a pooch…just before Xmas my 17yr old son was out back in our yard…heard crying from the old shed…anyways he recused 3… Appx 3wk old little baby kitties…hours from freezing to death…one little babe wasn’t so lucky….but he was their angel…they all have wonderful indoor homes now….

    Hugs xox Lana aka ( reneesmom) 🙂

  15. Pingback: How to Finish Jewelry | Nancy L T Hamilton