Over the past several weeks, we have discussed a lot of information about the basic tools used to make Metal Jewelry in the Home Studio environment.

To get a better understanding about the tools, we have been looking at them from a task based perspective. 

And we talked about the Gauge and Temper of metal and how it relates to the tools and techniques of Metalsmithing and Silversmithing. 

If you missed the articles, you can Catch-up by exploring each task. 

Metalsmithing Tasks

To Work with Metal you will need a way to :

Gauge – refers to the thickness of the metal sheet or wire. As a rule of thumb, when referring to the Gauge of a metal, the lower the number, the thicker the metal. Therefore, an 8 gauge wire is much thicker than a 20 gauge wire. 

Temper refers to the elasticity and hardness of a metal. The most common tempers of jewelry metals are:

  • Dead Soft
  • Soft
  • Half Hard 
  • Hard

In this last portion of the series, we will explore the basic tools and techniques used to finish and polish our work. 

Today I am going to talk briefly about the tools and techniques we can use manually to accomplish these tasks. 

So imagine for a moment that we’ve designed, cut and shaped a Metal Jewelry project. 

We have joined things together with hot or cold connections, we have removed any excess metal and set our stones. 

What are the remaining tasks we need to perform to finish our piece and have it ready to wear or sell?

Task 1 Finishing

Task 2 Polishing

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Finishing by Hand

Filing

We talked about files as they pertain to removing metal when shaping our work but they can also be used for finishing.

Files are such versatile tools in jewelry making. Depending on the type, shape and cut of the files, they can perform many of the tasks used to make metal jewelry.

The cut of the file refers to how fine its teeth are.

They are defined as (from roughest to smoothest): rough, middle, bastard, second cut, smooth, and dead smooth.
 
In Swiss-pattern files the teeth are cut at a shallower angle, and are graded by number, with a number  beginning with #00 the coarsest to #6 being the finest. 
 
Files have forward-facing cutting teeth, and cut most effectively when pushed straight ahead over the workpiece.
 
Draw Filing involves laying the file sideways on the work and carefully pulling or pushing it across the work. 
 
There are several types and shapes of Jeweler’s Files designed to handle many different tasks and the shape and forms of your jewelry projects. 

To better understand Files and their Functions, “How to Choose the Right File” is a great place to start.

Sanding

When working with precious metal pieces you’ll inevitably need to sand them, especially after soldering.

Excess metal may have been left behind, and you will have to sand away fire scale, pickle residue and potentially scratches caused when constructing the piece. 

It is also important to prepare your pieces for polishing by sanding them – the more work you put into this pre-polishing stage the easier it will be to create a professional shine.

Working by hand in this pre-polishing stage will give you greater control over the pressure you put onto the metal and it will allow you to file any marks or scuffs away for a fine surface ready for polishing.

Sanding Sheets, Sticks, Sponges and Emery Papers come in a variety of Grits or grades. 

Start with the coarsest sanding paper (400 grit) through to the finest (1200 grit) for the best results.

As you move up to the finer grades, you are actually moving into the polishing phase of the metal working process. 

Polishing by Hand

Finishing processes that utilize an abrasive surface are referred to as polishing, and processes that use cloth wheels with compound applied is buffing

Polishing generates a brushed or lined finish, where buffing removes the lines and creates a bright luster finish.

I tend to refer to the buffing process as polishing too and I don’t think I am the only one. But the remainder of the series, I will try to stick to the professional term of buffing. 

The names buffing compound and polishing compound are used interchangeably and refer to fine abrasive fillers combined with greases which are formed into solid bars or liquid.

Jewelers rouge polishing compound or red rouge is the finest compound originally developed by the jewelry trade for buffing precious metals.

Buffing Compounds come in a variety of types and colors, each uniquely suited to a different aspect of the buffing, cutting, and polishing process.

Some are rougher and allow you to quickly remove scratches from various metal surfaces, and others are gentler and designed to provide a beautiful and shining finish to your work.

In general there are two types of buffing compounds, rouge compounds and tripoli compounds:

  • Rouges are typically used for polishing and finishing work.  
  • Tripoli compounds are used for cutting and buffing to remove scratches from the metal.

Read “GUIDE TO BUFFING COMPOUNDS AND THEIR USES” for a more in depth discussion on some of the more popular Buffing Compounds. 

As you  can imagine, it takes an extreme amount of time to buff metal jewelry by hand. 

There may be some instances, where you want a less polished, more organic look as part of your overall design. You can use a soft chamois cloth and the compound of your choice to achieve the desired look. 

You can also purchase polishing papers and sponge pads to use for polishing/buffing by hand. 

Pro polish pads might be small but they pack a punch when it comes to removing tarnish from jewelry.

They are pretreated are made of tightly bonded foam with permanently bonded micro – abrasives.

These pre-treated 2 inch squares are great for polishing or removing oxidation.

Unless you are a zen jeweler and find solace in hour upon hour of hand finishing, most of the time you will be using motorized tools for much of your finishing and polishing work. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am one of those people who finds it very soothing and calming to do finishing work by hand, but I am also very grateful to have my Dremel and now my Foredom Flex Shaft to get the job done without the wear and tear to my skin and joints. 

That brings us to the end of Part 1 of this discussion on the final Metalsmithing Tasks. 

In Part 2 – Metalsmithing At Home ~ Finishing Tools we will take a look at Machines and Accessories that can be used to perform the same tasks.

Keep in mind that all the articles are being written from my perspective and in terms of a home based studio set-up. We are just brushing the basics tools and techniques that fit this type of budget and a limited work space. 

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