Thursday, February 2, 2012

Aspiring Metalsmith's January Blogroll ~ Tutorials

So the theme this month was for us to share our knowledge about something that we feel we are pretty good at, or at least something that we know how to do fairly well, and after much thought, I decided to write my post about how to polish metal. I am by no means an expert at this, but have done it enough that I feel comfortable discussing my methods, and how I achieve a good final finish on a piece of jewelry. There are times when doing a proper polishing job might actually take longer than the amount of time you spent making the piece. You might think it could be tedious, but I find that I actually enjoy it, because I know the end result will be a beautiful piece of wearable art that will be worn for many years to come. Here is my process...
To tackle this project I decided it would be nice to be able to see the progression of the metal so I decided to use a piece of sterling silver sheet, and divide it into sections so that you can see the differences. This is what the sheet looks like straight from my metal supplier...you can see all of the tiny scratches that need to be sanded out....
First I score the metal with a scribe to divide it into sections....
I start the sanding process using a cloth sanding paper....I love the medium grit made by Vitex...it's flexible and soft and very easy to work with. When sanding, be sure to lay your sheet flat on a table and sand going back and forth in one direction only. If you change directions, you will give your metal scratches that you will see, and that are hard to get back out.
Normally I would sand the piece face down onto the paper, but I wanted to what it looks like when you start the sanding....on the left is the section with no sanding, and next to it, I have sanded for a few seconds.
Here is what it looks like after a few minutes of careful sanding....
Next I will start with my 3M brand polishing papers. I also love these, and use them constantly in my studio. They last a long time, and come in an assortment or individually, and do a great job of getting your metal prepped for polishing or soldering. Here is an assortment of different grits, and I've also shown the sanding sticks I use which are great for sanding the edges of your metal. You'll want to start with the lower number paper, in this assortment I start with the green which is a 600 grit, and will finish with the pink, which is a 4000 grit.
Here is how it looks after a few minutes sanding with the green paper....
And after the grey sheet...it's getting there....
Then the blue and the pink....and I needed to re-scribe my lines so you can see the three sections clearer......
Now my piece is ready....you could either solder or polish at this point, but to show you two different finishes, I decided to use my chasing hammer and bench block, and add some texture to one of the sections.
We are ready to get polishing now! Here are the needed supplies....polishing compounds, alligator tape to protect your fingers, safety glasses, and muslin buffs....
Safety first!! Always be sure to wear your safety glasses and a dust mask that filters fine particles when polishing! I can't tell you how many times I was polishing something and it caught and flew straight at me, and hit my glasses....had I not been wearing them, I surely would have lost an eye!
I like to lay a clean soft cotton towel over the top of my bench pin to use under my pieces when polishing. I find it helps them to stay put, and avoids scratches that may be caused by the wood. These towels I buy in big packages from Ikea....love that store...and I write the color of the polishing compound onto the bottom of each with a sharpie. You will need to use a separate cloth and separate muslin buff for each type of compound....you want to avoid cross-contamination between the different grades....
Now I wrap my "holding" fingers....the ones that will be holding down your piece while the other hand holds the flex shaft or dremel. I always wrap my thumb, and the first two fingers....that's all that I find is needed.
Here I am in all my garb....I look like an alien or maybe it's my has-mat suit.....hair pulled back, glasses on, dust mask in place, and fingers protected....the hat to keep my hair clean, because as you'll find, the dust and polishing fibers go everywhere!
There are many different polishing compounds available. I started out using the traditional Tripoli and various colors of rouge and Zam. The helpful folks at Rio Grande jewelry supply, turned me onto Dialux brand compounds, which are much safer and do not contain Silica, which is a cancer causing agent. I decided to give them a try last year, and fell in love with the results. I especially like that I am not risking my health, but get the same high shine finish, and with one less step! I used to use a three step polishing process...now it's down to two. Step one is the yellow Dialux....
You'll use a muslin buff on your flex shaft or dremel just for this color compound, and start the wheel spinning and slowly press it into the bar for just a couple of seconds. That's all it takes to load it on....a little goes a long way. Then you'll hold your piece firmly, and start polishing, pressing down to help remove any tiny scratches or imperfections that may be left after the sanding, and to give the metal a nice even finish.
Here's how it looks after a few minutes of polishing. I have polished both the center section and the hammered one....not the one on the far left.
Then you will need to clean your piece thoroughly before starting with the next compound....Dialux blue. Be sure to get off any black residue, use a different muslin buff, a different cloth under your piece, and change out your finger tape if needed.
This is how the piece looks after the first round of polishing and cleaning in the ultrasonic cleaner. Now I am ready to start with the blue Dialux....
When polishing, you'll sometimes see black grime appear on your piece as shown below....this is normal, and will come off as you continue polishing or after when you clan your piece. It can be rubbed off with a soft cotton towel.
Here is how it looks after polishing with the blue compound, and cleaning it in my ultrasonic cleaner. A nice high shine mirror finish! I could stop right here, but I want to show what the hammered section looks like oxidized, so that's up next.....
I like to use this great liver of sulphur in a gel form. It last a long time, and it very easy to use! Just mix up a tiny bit in a cup with HOT water, and dip in your piece. It will darken it quickly. The stuff is stinky, so I work quickly and get rid of it after....otherwise my hubby complains. :)
Here I am dipping just the last section into the liver of sulphur.....
It's looking good....but needs a couple seconds more in the dip.....
After i get it as dark as I like, I rinse and dry the metal and I am ready to remove the top layer to show the high points and leave the recessed areas dark. I do that with a small piece of extra fine steel wool. Just like with sanding, you'll want to rub the metal in a straight line back and forth, otherwise tiny scratches will show, should you change directions. That may be a look you like though, giving the piece a more rustic feel, so have fun and play with it a little!
I take enough oxidation so that I can see the added hammer texture and then I rinse it off, and buff it with a rouge cloth to give it a nice sheen. Below you can see the stages....from left to right....unfinished metal sheet, polished to a high shine and then textured and oxidized.
I hope you've enjoyed my little tutorial on polishing, and I am happy to answer any additional questions that you may have....just leave me a comment! All the supplies shown here should be readily available from the many online jewelry supply sites, and from your local lapidary shops. Please continue on the Aspiring Metalsmiths Blogroll and visit these great blogs to learn something new!
Metals Addict - www.metalsaddict.com
Shannon of Gifted Designs - gifteddesigns.blogspot.com/
Pennee- All Wired Up Jewelry Designs - allwiredupjewelrydesigns.blogspot.com/
Jessica @ Abella Blue - www.abellablue.com/blog



8 comments:

SilverBlueberry said...

Sylvia, this is great! Getting a good finish is not an easy thing to do. Love the picture of you in your polishing outfit!

MorganRae said...

Thank you so much for showing us that! I am just learning the in's and out's of the older flexshaft I bought from Andrea, and I have been wondering where to start when it comes to polishing. Are those compounds, just for silver?

Sylvia Anderson said...

Hi Morgan, no, you can use these for copper and gold too. They sometimes recommend different types of compounds for different metals. What type of metal were you thinking about?

MorganRae said...

okay, I read the blog info, but i'm still kinda confused. I was just buying a used hammer on ebay, and they happen to carry it in their ebay shop, so I thought I would buy some to try. But I don't understand what color I need for silver and copper.

Sylvia Anderson said...

Hey Morgan, I sent you a private message reply...let me know if you ahve any other questions...I am happy to help! :)

Silver Pearl Jewelry and Metalworks said...

Excellent tutorial! I really enjoyed seeing your method. Polishing is my least favorite job, so I can take some tips from you and learn to take enjoyment in the process.

Stacy said...

This is so helpful Sylvia - thank you. I'm going straight to Rio to buy the Dialux compounds. I'm still using the silica ones and I'd definitely rather switch - thanks for that great tip! I loved seeing the whole process - you sure have it down! Really nice job!

Laura Cameron said...

Thank you for this; really helpful. I found your post researching polishing compounds and this has really guided me!