Nancy LT Hamilton
Last updated: 10/12/21, 7/31/20, 7/28/20, 7/5/19/20, 5/13/20, 11/17/18
Finishing 925 silver (sterling silver), tarnish, polishing
If there are no scratches on the metal and nothing to clean up, like solder blobs, and you want a shiny finish, tumbling with stainless steel shot is the easy way to go. Other methods for achieving a mirror finish involve sanding and then polishing. It’s a huge subject with tons of techniques and a myriad of tools involved. Not answerable here.
If you want to keep your silver from darkening over time, use either an anti-tarnish bag, tab, or strip. You can put the tabs or strips into plastic bags for storage, to keep the tarnish from happening in the first place.
Studio Cleanup – How to vacuum and clean up the dust created while finishing jewelry
How do you clean up your studio after filing or sanding with the Dremel or Flex Shaft? Do you use a regular vacuum cleaner? If so, can this vacuum be used for the home? Will the particulates pass through the vacuum’s filters and contaminate our air?
You might also think about getting a small shop vac for when you are sanding or finishing. Set up some kind of collection hood. That way you don’t have a big cleanup. Warning: they are loud!
Sometimes, if I’ve been dropping many things on the floor, I put a nylon stocking, with an elastic band around it, over the end of my hose. This lets me catch anything I may have “lost” on my floor.
I assume that you are wearing an N95 particulate mask while sweeping and vacuuming?
I do have a studio-dedicated, small vacuum. It has a ton of attachments to get into all the nooks and crannies AND (this is a big one!) it’s got great suction! I don’t recommend using the same vacuum in your studio as you do in your home.
Now, I have an under-bench vacuum that hooks to the base of my bench pin. The vacuum collects all the metal dust and I just send in the filters for refining, when they are ready for replacement. Rio Grande, Otto Frei, Stuller, and other companies carry a variety of dust collection systems for a wide variety of prices.
I also have a Knew Concepts Face Shield to help keep the dust out of my face.
Removing Firescale and Oxidation
You state you: leave too many “fire marks” – what do you mean by that? Are you using pickle to clean the metal after soldering? Or are you seeing that gray bruising after polishing (firescale)? If you are seeing firescale, try doing something like what is in this Rio Grande article. If you have oxidation from soldering, try a nickel pickle: Here’s one article from Hoover and Strong.
For getting into all the nooks and crannies, try the 3m Radial Bristle Discs. They work great! To learn more about finishing please view my webpage: Finishing Jewelry and my video: How To Finish Jewelry.
Protecting Sterling Silver from Oxidation
“Should I be finishing the metal (sterling silver) to prevent further discoloration? What’s the best way to do that? Do you have any videos that address that question?”
The oxidation is not going to stop unless the metal is sealed – which I don’t recommend. Although it is fine for necklaces and brooches, sealers wear off very quickly on bracelets and rings – due to the amount of wear and tear. Protectaclear by Everbrite is one that I am familiar with. (Although, I am checking out powder coating as a solution – see the last paragraph.)
How to Finish and shine bronze
” I would like to ask how do I finish bronze? To make it shinier? I have recently started with metalwork and I have trouble finishing.”
Have you seen my video on finishing? I also have a webpage on this subject. Bronze is finished in a similar method to silver. The important work is in the pre-polishing. The surface needs to be free of scratches, nicks, dings, and any other marks that you don’t want. This is achieved using sandpaper from 320 grit (depending on how bad the marks are) through 1000 – 3000. Mirror finishes are very time-consuming and involve a lot of elbow grease.
See some of the other posts on this page, especially the prior one.
How to finish copper, as well as brass jewelry
“I would love to make some copper as well as brass jewelry, but I don’t know what I would use to finish the pieces. Can you recommend any type of clear finish that I can coat my pieces in that is safe for the skin? I work out of my apartment, I do not have a studio.”
I never seal my jewelry but, many do. I’m not thrilled with varnishes because, eventually, they crack off. But, varnish also keeps fingers and wrists from turning green – it’s a tough call. There are many products out there. I like ProtectaClear from EverBrite. Rio Grande carries another type called Midas Finish Seal Lacquer. But, I haven’t tried this product so, can’t comment on it.
I am going to experiment with powder coating to seal jewelry. They (you know, “those” people) make a clear – both shiny and matt – powder for powder coating. I’ll post the results when I try it out.
You could also try Renaissance Wax BUT, it doesn’t last long at all – especially with rings and bracelets. On earrings and necklaces, it will last longer because there is less wear and tear with these items of jewelry. Renaissance Wax is best used on protected areas – to preserve a patina or inhibit oxidation. I’ve also read that hair spray will slow down oxidation but, it’s not permanent.
- Everbrite’s ProtectaClear – This is the only lacquer/varnish type that I can recommend at this time as it is the only one that I tested and found to work. I tumbled pieces for hours and scratched them up with sandpaper. Although, eventually, the finish got milky (I’d get milky too if I had to suffer the same abuse), the stuff stayed on! The spray-on varnish that I used, peeled up within a half-hour. I also tested it with Liver of Sulfur colors and they stayed true. Heat-treated colors stayed true too. Just remember that the colors will look different, as they are now shiny. and reflecting light differently.
- Renaissance Wax – Liver of Sulfur colors changed as did heat coloration. Leaves a rather matte, not too shiny finish on the metal.
- Car Wax – about the same results as with the Renaissance Wax.
- Spray on acrylic sealers can work if applied properly.
- Engine enamel coatings work too. Ditto on the application.
How Do I Take Off Scratches From Copper Earrings Using Different Sanding Grits?
I am using 18 gauge copper sheet, pierced and sawed in a pair of earrings. To finish them I followed the same process I use with silver: Sanding with three grades of snap-on sanding discs from Rio, then onto the 3m radial bristle discs in descending order. But none of the 3m discs will take off the scratches from the last grade of sandpaper. Clearly, I am missing one or more abrasives to use between the sanding discs and the polishing discs. I have tried all my different grades of wet/dry sandpaper, wire brush, rubber wheel, and various Dremel surfaces to no avail. I assume my usual methods aren’t working because copper is softer than silver. I have refinished the pieces so many times that my 18 gauge copper is now measuring at 25 gauge! Which is actually kind of cool and delicate, but I fear it won’t take much more working before it falls apart. Do you have any advice for me?
Copper will finish similarly to silver and it shouldn’t be an issue.
It sounds like you are using too aggressive of a sanding disk.
I usually use about 5-6 different grits for finishing. Usually, I use 350, 400, 600, 800, 1000, and sometimes 1500. A lot depends on how badly marred the surface is. If you’ve been careful, you should be able to start sanding with 600 grit paper.
I make fine sanding discs with 3m’s PSA discs, which you can find at Rio Grande. They come in grits from 180 – 1200. I have a lot of information on how I do this on my website. It takes a while for your eyes/brain to understand when you have sufficiently sanded over the prior disc’s marks. It can be difficult to tell with the discs. Sandpaper may work better for you as it is easier to see and you’ll reduce the chances that you’ll over-sand (which it sounds like you are).
My thoughts are that you need to go through more grits. Sometimes, I use just regular sandpaper, sanded in one direction to get an idea of whether or not I need to go back a grit or two. Run something like 600 g over the metal and see how deep the scratches are – that will tell you what grit to go back to.
As you no doubt know, unless the prior grits marks are removed, all subsequent grits will not remove them. You have to go back and redo it. I am actually surprised that you didn’t have the same problem with your silver. Have you ever photographed a piece and zoomed in on it to see how well it is finished? It’s frightening – using zoom! I’ll think I’ve done a great job, zoom in and find out that I hadn’t! This technique is great for stone setting too. But, be careful about getting too crazy about perfection. There’s a point where it just becomes obsessive. Scanning your finishing under a scope could make you crazy and you’ll never finish anything! Haha! But, it does make one strive for a machine-like perfection. I have a love/hate for magnification.
How do you finish gold?
I have a question: this is the first time that I tried to buff my jewelry using a brown and a red rouge, with the flex shaft, using a felt wheel. After I buffed it, my jewelry changed color from deep yellow to light yellow. Can you help me with this?
You didn’t mention what type of metal you were using so, I’ll make some guesses. I think that your metal (gold, brass, or bronze) didn’t really change color. I think what happened was that you took off the patina that formed there, over time, and exposed the true color of the metal. Unless, it was plated, like gold plate* (see below). That’s a different story.
You have a few options if you want that bright yellow back – but there are no guarantees that it will look exactly the same – patinas have a will of their own. So, below are a few options:
- Wait – time (and the chemicals in the air) will patina it again
- Use a patinating product like these at Sculpt Nouveau.
- Heat, either from a hot plate or from a gas torch, will also color the metal a bit darker – it can also add many other colors. See this page at Brynmorgen.com for heat patinas.
- See recipe numbers 15 and 16 at The Science Company’s website. The recipes are to make straw and yellow patinas. The Science Company also sells chemicals to complement their recipes.
Test all patinas on scrap metal first. Prepare your metal to make it the same color as your final piece. Be sure to clean off all grease, oils, and dirt with hot water, degreasing soap (like Dawn Dish Detergent), and a soft OLD toothbrush. Obviously, you are never using that toothbrush again for your teeth! You can also rub the piece with rubbing alcohol too but, it shouldn’t be necessary. Water should sheet off of the metal and not ball up.
*If your metal was gold plate, you probably buffed off a layer of gold. By reducing the depth of the gold, the metal underneath (which is usually silver or gold in color) dilutes the depth of the original color making it appear “whiter”. Please see my Patinas, Cleaning Metal, and Sculptnouveau webpages for more information. Back to Table of Contents
Protecting the finish on metals
Hi I have a silver figaro necklace and I have watched your video on youtube (how to finish jewelry) and I saw that you sanded a silver necklace and buffed it with the rouge compound and then you suggest finishing it with the LUXI Super Fine White Polishing Compound. I was wondering if it will be the same as what you would get from the jewelry store if not is there a special liquid to give it the stunning shine and prevent it from tarnishing as fast? I noticed you mentioned something about the ProtectaClear at the end of your video but you only said copper or brass. Would I use that for sterling silver? Or is there something better for protecting it and giving it the shiny finish? And also what kind of brush would be the least noticeable if it needs to be brushed on?
The ProtectaClear can be used on silver too. Many jewelers use a tumbler to shine up their chains. Personally, I believe the best way to keep a chain shiny is to wear it or clean it once in a while. There is a new type of silver out called Argentium (also see my webpage “Wire and Sheet Metal”, scroll down to Argentium Silver) which takes years to tarnish. You can purchase Argentium chains from places like Rio Grande. The finish that is done in manufactured jewelry involves large processing plants and vats of stuff which I have no understanding of. For the small jeweler, you can use Renaissance wax, a product like ProtectaClear, or even a spray-on varnish. The problem with the coating is that eventually, that coating will chip off and then you’ll have to strip it and recoat it – the main reason that I don’t usually use a protective coating. As for brushes, ProtectaClear comes with an applicator that looks like a powder puff. I’ve used sponge brushes too. Apply according to directions.
To clean Argentium silver, if it is tarnished, spray with Windex (or wet a rag with Windex) and wipe. Then wash with soap and water.
Can the rouge I use for buffing gold be bad?
“What I am buffing is 90% gold and I don’t think it has patina in it. Do you have another solution to my problem? I did some research about the rouge I use and some people said that the rouge I used was bad. Is it possible that rouge can do this? I used Silverline rouges. This is the first time my store has used buffing wheels for jewelry making. My uncle used to polish gold jewelry with a burnisher and soapy water.”
So, your gold is 22K. The rouge shouldn’t be a problem – if it is 22K gold, it should look like shiny 22K gold, after polishing – not change color.
There is a process called depletion gilding where the higher karat gold is pulled to the surface by heat or chemicals. Usually, the layer of higher karat gold is very thin. Depletion Gilding would make the gold appear yellower. Buffing with rouge would take off that higher karat layer and leave behind, a lower carat metal.
That said, gold under 24 karat can oxidize – it depends on what is in the air/environment around you.
- Here is a quote from Chris Corti at Ganoksin (link is to the whole article): “Blackening of High Carat Gold Jewellery in India and the Middle East”.
“Reports of blackening of 21 and 22 karat golds have been received from customers in countries such as India. This is very unusual in that such blackening is usually found only in low-medium carat golds and is attributable to tarnishing (see below). It is normally considered that high carat golds (such as 22-karat) do not tarnish in the conventional sense. It is a problem that is peculiar to India and other countries in the Middle East, apparently.
Recently, the World Gold Council has had an opportunity to examine examples of blackened 22 karat gold returned to retailers in India. The analysis of the blackened layer has shown that it comprises silver (and copper) sulfide. This is a true tarnish layer. That such high carat golds should tarnish is unexpected and points to the jewellery being exposed to a particularly ‘corrosive’ environment at some stage. Perhaps, it is due to being worn during food preparation (some foods & spices are very high in sulfur compounds). Maybe, the jewelry is stored in aggressive sulfur-containing environments. Maybe, the jewelry surface is more susceptible to tarnishing for some reason. At present we cannot be certain as to the cause; we can only speculate. Certainly, the evidence suggests that lifestyle or the local conditions in countries such as India are different from other parts of the world as the problem is not reported elsewhere.
We can say that the jewelry examined was not under-karated or defective in any significant way. Therefore, the manufacturer does not appear to be responsible for the appearance of this blackening effect (tarnish).
If blackened jewelry is returned to the retailer, he should be able to clean off this black layer and re-polish it. Some advice on minimizing its occurrence is given above.”
This blackening they are talking about might start with a general darkening of the metal and your Uncle’s treatment for polishing, would not remove the tarnish but, work it into the metal by “burnishing” it into the metal.
- Is there mercury in the buffing compound or nearby (I hope not, it is very dangerous)? Mercury can change yellow gold and make it look like silver. The quote below is from Finishing.com. It is an answer to a person whose wedding ring went from gold to silver looking after exposure to mercury:
“A. My suspicion is that mercury is the culprit. Mercury forms a silvery-colored amalgam with gold, ruining it. A quiet area in the back of a drawer that once had a bit of mercury in it from a broken thermometer can have an accumulation of mercury gas. This would quickly turn the gold silvery, but if there was only a tiny exposure, I think the balance of the gold can diffuse to restore the gold color.”
- Also, see this link to how to fix the color if it was exposed to mercury.
So, I would first check that the gold is actually what it should be. Check with other jewelers to see if they have a tarnishing problem. It would be interesting to see if the gold turned yellow again if left to sit. Then you would know that it is something in the environment that is changing the color. Maybe try using the torch to burn off anything that might be on it – like mercury. Please read this article from SLAC: Mercury and Mercury Compounds Safe Handling Guidelines.Back to Table of Contents
What compound should I buy for 22k gold polishing
“Do have any suggestion for what compound I should buy for 22k gold polishing? I read about the depletion gilding article, you gave me, and I think my uncle used this method for polishing. He used to “clean” his work by boiling water with some potassium with salt. Next, he used some sort of burnisher to polish it, on his work surface, to get a mirror finish. My question is, can I combine his method and the buffing method with rouge? I tried, but I failed because it looks like the rouge changed the color again.”
One company suggests white rouge. Here is their chart. But, others don’t mention it for gold. Zam is another product you can try. I have used it with good results. There are sooooo many different types and brands. Thisarticle might help too. Otto Frei has many compounds. Otto Frei says that the Blue Rouge is very popular for polishing gold in Europe. Here’s another page with information.
I use red rouge for polishing gold and have never had that big of a color change. Maybe you should find a different rouge supplier or find out what is in it. If there is mercury in it, it is very, very dangerous for you! I don’t know who the suppliers are in your country so, I can’t tell you anything about your product. In the states, we have a thing called an MSDS, which lists the chemicals in the product. Do you have something similar? Back to Table of Contents
How To Clean And Polish In Tight Spots
“I’m trying to learn how to make conchos for my horses. Three of them are silver and the other one is Nickle. I’m having trouble finding something to clean and brighten between the stones. I either scratch the stones or can’t get it clean and bright enough.”
I would rub a bit of tape over the stone and cut along the interior bezel wall with a scalpel. This will help to protect the stone while finishing. You can also put your thumb, from your non-dominant hand, over the stone while finishing.
How To Protect A Finish And Keep The Coating From Clogging Holes
Well, I don’t usually spray anything. I feel that the tarnish is what makes the metal beautiful plus, all those coatings wear off over time and then the piece needs to have the finish removed and re-applied. Not so much for earrings and necklaces though but, rings and bracelets take so much abuse that the finish wears fast. I have applied a protective finish to elements in a bracelet or ring but, I usually set the coated piece in a bezel or some other protective mechanism, that keeps it away from wear and tear.
Look into powder coating with clear – shiny and matte – powders.
I achieved a smooth, glass-like finish on my test pieces. You can use enameling stilts as drying racks. Coat one side let set, then coat the other side, the next day. Ensure that the product doesn’t drip over to the backside – clean that stuff up, immediately!
The joy and frustration of being a jeweler are encountering insolvable problems and working out solutions. If a problem bothers us enough, we’ll figure out a way around, through or over the issue.
What compounds should I use?
You said in the video that you use red rouge even though you’re supposed to use white. I have only green rouge and platinum white. Would they be sufficient for polishing and finishing my gold jewelry? Also, my rings have scratched that I’m trying to get rid of so I was wondering which rouge should I use FIRST to get the scratches out? I’m guessing Brown Tripoli?? (Although I currently don’t have it) I’m trying to make my rings look brand new, scratch-free! 😀
Also, I have the Foredom flex shaft, the same as yours, and I was also wondering what rotary accessories you would recommend for POLISHING and FINISHING jewelry.
I only use red rouge. The pre-finish is, what I feel, is the most important. I sand with sandpaper or sanding discs from 320 grit up to at least 1200 grit – often higher – and then I employ the rouge.
You can employ a pre-polishing compound, like brown tripoli or bobbing compound first and then move on to a final finish compound like jeweler’s rouge.
There are so many types of compounds that do the same job, to the same metals but, have different names. It seems that every company comes up with its own special brand. I started getting too confused and decided to just stick with the rouge. It does the job for me.
Be wary of mixing compounds on the same wheel or using old buffs and wheels as abrasive compounds could be mixed together with polishing compounds. That can generate a lot of cleanup work. I use one wheel with one type of metal, with one compound. I keep the wheel and the compound, together, in their own plastic bag. It makes it easier to remember what is what.
I use muslin and feltbuffs, generally, with my flex shaft. I like the loose weave of the muslin buffs (they are fluffier) for some jobs – usually, those with texture and a lot of nooks and crannies and I sometimes use a felt wheel for smooth surfaces or for removing scratches from stones (in tandem with diamond lap paste).
How to finish edges and interior pierced areas.
The edges and interior spaces, on my pierced earrings, look raw. What do I do to round them and make them look sexy like yours…lol?
You need to use files and sandpaper! I love using escapement files for this process. Escapement files are very small files – smaller than needle files. They fit well into the small recesses created when piercing metal.
Sanding is also important – when the filing is finished.
One method for sanding in tiny areas is to use Mitchell’s abrasive cord or tapes. You can thread the tape or cord through tiny spots and really smooth down the interior surfaces.
Another option is to make yourself a sanding stick. You can make a larger sanding stick (instructions below) or wrap a toothpick with sandpaper. Sometimes I roll the sandpaper into a point to reach those elusive areas. Watch my two videos on sanding.
Making a Sanding Stick
These sanding sticks are made using double stick paper, craft foam sheets, and craft sticks. You can also use paint stirrers. I cut mine in half to get two out of each stick. You can also make the sticks without the foam. The foam helps to create rounded edges because the metal can be encompassed by the sandpaper but, foam-less sanding sticks work well too.
Sanding stick with foam
- Cut the tip off of the stick
- Measure stick width and length.
- Cut two strips of double-stick tape or double-stick paper that are a bit thinner than the width of the stick.
- Apply double stick paper onto both sides of the sanding stick.
- Cut foam at double the width of stick plus, add a handful of millimeters extra. You need to take into account the depth of the stick and add a little for the thickness of the foam.
- Wrap foam around the stick, having both edges meet in the center of the stick.
- Apply another layer of double stick paper, only to the back of the foam stick (where the seam is). Wrap sandpaper around the stick with edges meeting on the backside. Press down into double stick tape.
Sanding stick without foam
- Cut and shape as in the instructions above. Apply double stick to one side of the stick. Apply the sanding paper and wrap it around the stick. See images.
- You can also use rubber cement or other glue.
- Stay away from Elmer-type glue – too wet and too slow!
- Another idea is to use an elastic band on each end or just use masking or painter’s tape.
- You can also make a sanding block from wood or a foam core.
I often put these 3m sanding bandsinto my jeweler’s saw frame to sand tight areas. You can also put Mitchell’s cords and tape into your saw frame.
Is It Ok To Rub A Green-Scrungy-Thingy On 14k Gold-Filled Sheet Metal To Get A Brushed Finish Or To Fine Steel Wool It?
“Is it ok to rub a green-scrubby-thingy on 14k gold-filled sheet metal to get a brushed finish? Or to fine steel wool it? I live in the tropics and tarnish is an issue.”
Here’s a photo of what I’m trying to achieve: one is brass, the other is the gold-fill. I don’t want to sell anything that will tarnish easily, and I don’t want to use lacquer. I’m trying to get away from using brass, and this piece is popular, so I’d like to try gold-filled.”
You can use the green scrubby thingy and steel wool (0000) on the metal – all of it. Don’t rub too hard. Hopefully, the gold-filled is of good quality. There is some crappy stuff out there. See my page on gold-filled for more information. The gold may tarnish a bit – not too much – not like silver, brass, bronze, or copper. It tarnishes because it has copper in it. So, tarnish-free may only be a dream…I don’t recommend sealers, like Protecta Clear – Everbrite, unless it is used on earrings or necklaces. On other types of jewelry i.e.: rings and bracelets, the wear is too great. Tarnish can be beautiful – learn to appreciate and stand behind it!
How do you put a scratched (“ice”) finish on metal jewelry?
There are many different types of tools that can give that scratched (or, as this company calls it: Ice) finish. Even something as simple as the edge of a square file can do it. Use the file like you would if you were shading with a pencil. There are checkering filestoo that give a nice texture.
There are wheel brushes too like this cable twist wire wheel – wear gloves! Not for the flex shaft. You could try a really rough mini-fiber wheel. Another option is a Mizzi Wheel. You need a mandrel to mount them but, you can use them in the flex shaft. You could also try really rough sandpaper, like 80 or 100 grit.
Sanding bands or barrels could be another option. They come in a variety of sizes.
George Goehl has a lot of information on Vimeo about finishing metal. You might have to rent one for 3.00 but he presents some ideas in the trailer. I know his youtube video talks about a lot of tools for texturing. He is a sculptor but, the techniques will work for jewelers too.
Can I Silver Plate Nickel?
“Is there a way to add a light coat of silver on top kind of like a plating?”
You can have it plated or learn to do it yourself. I only use a plating pen and only infrequently. There are places that you can send your work out to but, I don’t know of any offhand. Nickel can be plated. Back to Table of Contents
How Do I Texture My Metal To Match This Pattern (Looks Like Reticulation or A Sandpaper Finish)
“I’ve looked all over, and have yet to find an answer. And this may be out of your expertise but I’m looking to find out how to make the finish seen here, on this ring by La Masters of Fine Jewelry.
How to Create a White, Matte, or Satin (“Ice”) Finish on Silver
“How do I create the finish below? Is it a chemical thing?”
Without actually seeing the jewelry – personally – I can only guess. It looks like depletion gilding (some call it “Bright Dipping” where the fine silver is brought to the surface of the silver. The metal is heated, pickled, heated, pickled, etc. up to 7-10 times. The problem with this technique is that the layer of white, fine silver, is very thin and easily worn or scratched without some sort of protective coating. It also could be a sandblasted finish and then depletion gilded. Maybe it is etched and then depletion gilded. Fine and sterling silvers, PMC, or silver metal clay, will all have this white layer after firing or torching then pickling.
Sandblasting will also create this type of effect. A small, portable system may work. BUT, you need a compressor too. Match the sandblasting system’s needs to determine the correct compressor to use with it. Check to see what PSI the blaster requires before purchasing a compressor.
- Dawn Z., Hodgepodgerie, What shot can be used to get a matte, dull, shine on silver discs? New York. 2010. Web.
Related Web Pages
- Finishing Jewelry
- Firescale and Oxidation
- Texturing Metals
- See Q & A Tools – What Dremel Attachments Do I Need?
- See Q & A Finishing – How To Remove Dross/Slag From Laser Cutting?