I had an ‘aha!’ moment a few days ago. I had mentioned in this post my love for a really polished finish on my pieces but that I have to apply a lot of elbow to get that finish. Yes, you guessed right, I didn’t like it at all. Getting a polished finish on fine silver is not so much trouble, but on base metals is another story altogether. I knew there were tools made especially for polishing, etc., but they are certainly beyond me. The answer meanwhile had been right in my face all along – the rotary tool. This is a hand held power tool with a variety of rotating accessory bits and attachments that can be used for cutting, carving, sanding, polishing and many other applications. I had first come across using it for finishing metal clay in Hadar Jacobson’s books but I forgot all about it especially as she only demonstrated with emery papers.

A popular rotary tool is the dremel, but I have a Proxxon FBS 240/E that I bought years ago to cut jumprings and if I had bothered to pay more attention to it and the accompany accessories, I would have realised that it would be useful for finishing my pieces. So, last week I decided to try it with polishing papers. Let me say here that you should take precautions before using this AND any other motorised tool, and this means a pair of wrap-around safety glasses, dust masks, finger protection, etc.

Straight mandrel with ‘ahem’, dirty 400 grit polishing paper

I first use it with 400 grit emery paper on fine silver (coarser grit on the base metals, as they’re harder), then the polishing papers in order, from the coarsest to the finest. To load, I insert the paper into a slotted mandrel, wind it round and hold it down with cellotape. I set my rotary tool to the lowest speed and then the fun begins.

By the way, the picture above shows the straight slotted mandrel, but there’s also the tapered one.


Pics as promised

Last time, I promised to post pictures of the earrings I made, so, here are two of them:

Even though getting a polished finish on little pieces can be tedious, I totally love the end result (these ones are not quite ‘polished’). The key is to ensure that the piece in the greenware stage is appropriately finished, that means making sure that you get a totally smooth surface before you fire. I use an eye loupe to see if there are still scratches visible in my greenware, as it will enlarge what you can’t see with ordinary eyes.
Start with the sanding pads in order (180, 220, 280), then polishing papers up to the finest. Easy when your piece is flat with no ‘attachments’ as I have in the pictures above. That said, it can be done. For the pieces above, I use these combinations:
1. I place the polishing papers face up on a rubber block, my greenware facing that and rub the latter against the papers, alternating directions with each grit.
2. I place the piece itself on the block, polishing papers in my hands, and rub away. Also alternating directions with each grit. The key is to apply a lot of elbow.