Basic Polishing Technique

Many jewelers see polishing as a mundane task. However, it is one of the most important operations in the process of repairing or making jewelry. The final appearance of the jewelry to a large extent, will determine the acceptability of the work by the customer. Although a good polish cannot cover up poor workmanship, a poor polish will make even the most expert workmanship look sloppy.

Buffing and polishing are the two procedures used to produce the final high luster on jewelry. Although often used interchangeably these are two separate operations.

Buffing is an abrasive process where a small amount of the surface is removed. Tripoli is the most commonly used compound for buffing. It will remove minor scratches left from sanding and smooth out all surfaces, however it will not bright polish.

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The final high luster is achieved by polishing. Polishing uses harder compounds such as rouge. Varieties ofrouges are available for different uses and are distinguished by their color. Yellow rouge is fast becoming the preferred rouge for gold, as it is less messy than the traditional red rouge. With rouge, there is almost no cutting action; it burnishes the metal, moving the surface layer around to smooth the fine scratches left from buffing.

NEVER mix the rouge and tripoli buffs as you can easily contaminate the rouge buff. Once contaminated with even a slight amount of tripoli, the rouge buff will not produce its normal mirror finish. Always wipe or wash off the jewelry and your hands after using the tripoli buff to avoid ” tripoli carry over” to the rouge buff.

Any discussion ofthe polishing motor should begin with a warning to respect its capability for inflicting serious personal injury as well as damage to the article ofjewelry. Because the buff wheels are so soft, it is hard to imagine that they can do any damage. This misconception can lead to problems unless you follow certain procedures.

More serious injuries have probably occurred while polishing than all other jewelry related procedures combined. The spinning buff wheels have a tendency to snatch anything touching them and the down draft created by the blower may pull loose clothing or hair into the wheel. The following procedures will help you produce a professional looking finish and minimize the risk of personal injury.

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Always work just below the center of the buff wheel. Never raise the jewelry above a horizontal line even with the motor spindle, or lower it too far below. Both of these situations will cause the wheel to grab the item from your hand. Work should be pressed firmly against the wheel so that you feel the cutting action. Never press so hard that the motor slows down. Excessive pressure will not give a better polish or polish faster. Light pressure is also ineffective. A firm even pressure throughout the operation is preferred.

Do not overload your buff wheels with too much tripoli or rouge compounds. It is not necessary to apply more compounds each time the buff is used. Apply the compounds when the results indicate it is needed. At 3,450 rpm (the normal speed of polishing motors) a buff rotates 57 t/, times a second. That means every second you hold the rouge or tripoli bar against the spinning wheel you are applying 57 layers of compound to the wheel.

Move the jewelry constantly. Holding it for too long in one position may cut undesirable grooves in the metal. The excessive cutting may also remove details and change the shape. Press the jewelry against the wheel, then move it downward, sideways, roll, rotate, andposition it so that the wheel reaches all possible areas of the metal. Then all areas will receive a uniform polish, and the cross buffing will result in a higher shine.

Buff across solder joints rather than with the joint. Solder is softer than the surrounding metal. If you buff with the joint, the solder will polish away quicker, leaving a groove in the metal.

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Always hold the jewelry in a breakaway grip. Never interlock your fingers into the piece. Never put a ring on your finger to polish.

Tie long hair back so that it cannot become tangle in the wheel.

Always roll up or button your sleeves, and wear an apron or smock to keep loose clothing away from the wheels.

Use a face shield on the dust collector or wear goggles. The buffing room is no place for vanity, your eyesight is far more important.

Protect your lungs by always wearing a respirator.

Place a cardboard or carpet pad under the wheels to protect the jewelry from possible damage if pulled out of your hands.

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Never take the wheel for granted. Always keep your mind on what you are doing while polishing. If interrupted, stop polishing and turn the machine off. Then come back when you can concentrate on polishing.

Never walk away leaving the machine running, even for a few seconds.

Always use a dust collector to keep the dust from blowing around the shop. The money received from the refiner for your polishing scrap will pay for it in a short time.

A more intricate, controlled polish may be performed using the flexible shaft. An analogy can be made to mowing lawns. The polishing machine is to polishing what a lawnmower is to cutting grass and the flex-shaft is comparable to a trimmer. You can mow your lawn with a lawnmower without using a trimmer, but the edges of the lawn are left ragged. You could also mow the entire lawn with just the trimmer. However, the results would be uneven and choppy, not to mention it would take a very long time. For a professionally looking lawn, you need to use both the lawnmower and trimmer.

For a professional looking finish, you need to start with the flex-shaft. Its small wheels and brushes will allow you to polish prongs and other delicate areas without damage, and reach areas inaccessible with the larger wheels. Then buffing and polishing on the larger polishing machine will result in a smooth even high luster, the work of a true jewelry professional.

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© Bench Magazine 2002 Winter
BENCH Magazine is devoted to the Bench Jeweler in retail jewelry stores and small trade shops.
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