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Perfecting your hand polishing

Whilst there are plenty of mechanical options that speed up your polishing process and help you get a even and refined finish it is perfectly possible to polish by hand.

Most jewellers use tumblers, buffers or pendant motors to finish their work but these are big pieces of equipment and can be expensive and need a lot of space to be used effectively. If you aren't ready to invest in a big piece of equipment or don't have a space to put it how can you achieve a good finish on your work?


The first step to a good finish is to make sure the metal is the shape you need it to be. Use files to refine and reshape and take off sharp corners, excess solder and other lumps and bumps. If you are finishing by hand then invest in a set of fine cut 4 files. These leave a finer surface than a standard cut two file leaving you less roughness to deal with. Start with your cut two files and then refine further with cut four. Remember, files work as you push them forward so use long, gentle strokes and think about the angles at which the file comes against the metal.

We like these ones or individual cut four files can be purchased in our onsite tool shop.


When you are happy with the shape of the metal you can focus on the surface. Work with emery papers from coarse to fine to smooth the surface and remove scratches and unwanted texture. You can work with the paper in any direction but if you are sanding large flat surfaces it's good practice to change direction when you change to a finer paper. To get a firmer hold on your emery paper mount it onto wooden sticks, dowels or even a pencil. By having a solid surface behind the paper you will be able to use it more effectively. You can wrap the paper tightly around a needle file to work into small gaps. You can buy emery sticks ready made. As you wear through the paper remove the old emery paper and add some fresh sheet. If you find any scratched or scuffs you can go back a grade or two and then work your way back up again. We recommend papers in 600, 800, 1200 and 3000 grits as a good starting selection.

We like this set or emery paper sets can be purchased in our onsite tool shop.


Once you have abraded the surface of your piece you can start to make it shinier. Without a tumbler or buffer, one of the most effective methods is a fine bristle brass brush. Use the brush with warm soapy water (hand soap or washing up liquid is fine) and brush vigorously. The fine bristles are great for getting into fine detail and will bring up a beautiful shine.

We like this one or brass brushes can be purchased in our onsite tool shop.


Buff files are very fine abrasive mounted on a foam board. Commonly used in the acrylic nail industry they work beautifully on soft metals non-precious metals. They are clean and easy to use and will leave a lovely shined surface. Just rub the board against you metal with a good firm pressure.

Buffers can be purchased from jewellery suppliers but these are our favourites or they can be purchased in our onsite tool shop.


This is a powder version of the rouge polish we use with polishing mops on our buffing machines and pendant motors. It's a finely ground iron oxide. To work with the rouge powder, mix a small amount with water or oil and apply with a soft cloth or a felt or leather buff stick. Buy these online or make your own by sticking felt, suede or leather to a wooden stick or dowel. The rouge powder is a very fine abrasive and will abrade and polish your surface. If you have very small areas to polish you can soak a length or string in a rouge paste and use to thread through small gaps and polish. This is known as thrumming. Wear eye protection and a dust mask when working with the dry powder and wash your work (and hands) thoroughly afterwards.

You can buy rouge powder here or in our onsite tool shop.


The final stage is to go over your piece with a soft polishing cloth. Cloths like Towntalk or Selvyt come preloaded with a polishing compound. They will shine but not abrade so won't remove scuffs or scratches but they bring a lovely final polish that is easy to apply and can be used to maintain the shine.

We like these ones or they can be purchased in our onsite tool shop.


A burnisher is a smooth and highly polished steel tool. When rubbed firmly against your precious metal it will compress and shine up the surface. Burnishers are great for getting a shiny finish in small and specific areas of a piece. They are shaped to get into small spaces and can be used to smooth and shine. Keep your burnisher well polished to keep it working well.

We like this one or purchase you burnisher in our onsite tool shop.

Remember to work from rough media to fine to make sure you end up with a smooth and refined surface.

Something like files - emery - buffer file / rouge power - brass brush - polishing cloth - burnisher. But every piece is different so you may not need to use everything or you may change the order slightly to suit your piece.

You can buy all the items in the article as part of our 'Shiny Shiny' polishing kit in our online tool shop or at the workshop.

We'd love to know your favourite ways to hand polish your work. What have we missed out?

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