Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How To: Prepare New Buffing Wheels

Whenever you get new buffing wheels for your polishing motor it is important that you prepare the wheels before you charge them with polishing compound. This is my new two spindled polishing motor. It really should be up about 6 inches, but I have limited space for now.

 Inside it has a fan and a place for an air filter. This is pretty important because polishing compound is pretty nasty stuff you don't want in the air or your lungs. PLUS, you can send your air filter to a refiner and they can recover the precious metal from it. This is especially important working with platinum or gold.
 First thing you do is put the wheel on. You don't need to screw it on or anything: just turn on the motor put the hole up to the spindle with a break-away grip and it will take that wheel itself.
 Whabam! Now your wheel is spinning at a terrifying speed.

 Whenever using a buffing motor it is important to *always* have a breakaway grip. NEVER lock your fingers into your piece. If your piece catches on your wheel and you are entwined with the item the wheel will take the piece and your fingers with it. A scratch or bent prong is not worth loosing your fingers over. Also, don't polish chains on a wheel. There are special dowels you can buy to safely wrap your chain around while you use the motor, otherwise you risk creating a metal whip spinning at 6,000 rmp and loosing fingers (or worse) along with ruining the piece. Am I scaring you yet? Good. This is an important tool that can quickly become dangerous if used wrong.

Finally, there is about a 40 degree area that is safe to polish on. If you polish outside that area its more likely your piece will catch on the wheel and go flying. When you polish ideally your arms will be at 90 degree angle at about your belly button, braced by your hips with your feet planted firmly shoulder width apart.

Preparing a wheel is simple. Just take a hard piece of metal like a flat head screw driver or, like I'm using, the tang on an old file and press it into the wheel. Bits and pieces of material should go flying everywhere.  Move it side to side until the fly aways pretty much stop and then you are good to go. This is a good way of also getting excess or old/used compound off your wheels.

 Finally add your compound. See how I am applying it in that 40 degree area? That is what you want. As you can see, my motor is a bit low which is why I have had alot of pieces get caught by the wheel and go flying.

On Wheels and Compounds:

Different compounds can take different kinds of wheels. Tripoli can be apply to either a pressed felt wheel (which you can choose either a plain wheel or knife edge), chamois, or muslin. Because tripoli is an early polish and still has alot of cutting power a different wheel will give different results. A pressed felt wheel is the hardest and can be used to clean up edges. I've used the side of a knife edge pressed felt to polish the edges of my back plates and it does wonders crisping up the edges and making the whole piece look thicker! A knife edge will also get into narrow areas, but because it still has cutting power it can leave marks if you don't go fast enough. Felt will cut what it touches and will not  necessarily give an even polish to something with raised detail, so that's where your muslin wheels come in. The layers of muslin opens up a bit so they envelope the piece and can reach most detail spots. As you go up in polish grades the wheels need to become softer material so they don't scratch the piece. Sure, tripoli and Zam you can use most any wheel on, but your final polish should be imparted with something soft like muslin.

I have worked with people who are super anal about not contaminating wheels with the wrong compound, and others who literally throw the wheels and compounds all in the same box. Most folks say avoid getting any lower grit compound on your higher grit wheels and clean thoroughly between polishes.

Right now I am only doing two polishes on the wheel. I use red tripoli then go to red rouge. Ideally I would be using Zam between the two for an even brighter polish. Fabuluster is also a great product for silver which i use on my flex shaft and some of my stones. Compound isn't too pricey so you can play around and decide what you like the most.

I'd like to hear what polishes my reader like to use. Anyone use the different tripolis, yellow, white or red? What do you like to finish with? Do you use something different for different metals?


  1. I use some kind of a buffing compound that is a yellow brick can't remember the name of it now but its zam for the polishing, I always mark my wheels to prevent accidental contamination, and remember newbies I love this slogan b before z, means buff before zam. cross contamination is always a possibility. and can ruin your lovely creations.

  2. “Whenever using a buffing motor it is important to *always* have a breakaway grip” - This is an important reminder particularly for those who are new to using this tool. Anything bad can happen to your hands if you do not take safety precautions. So, be very careful when handling this tool.

    >Jeanette West