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How to Polish Silver Jewelry- Tips and Advice.

How to Polish Silver Jewelry- Tips and Advice.

Polishing Jewelry.

Polishing header Image

When making Jewelry, the thing that often matters is the all-important polishing. The final stage which gives the Jewellery its high shine and brings out the qualities of the precious metal. By polishing, we mean using abrasive compounds to “buff” a mirror shine on the surface of the metal. This is usually the highest shine possible, different from tumbling, magnetic polishing, or burnishing. However, achieving a high mirror shine by hand would be very time-consuming and tedious. Pepetools offers a wide range of polishing machines and supplies to help you get that perfect finish in no time, for maximum results with minimum effort. Here we take you through some of the options available, to help you decide.

Desktop polishing machines are often referred to as “lathes”. Although they use a rotating motor, these are not to be confused with metal or woodworking lathes. Polishing lathes consist of an electric motor, with tapered, screw-like spindles attached. Circular discs of fabric (called mops) are threaded onto the spindles and spun at high speed. Together with the use of polishing compounds, these mops can achieve a very high shine on copper, brass, and precious metals in a matter of minutes with very little effort from the user.

For best results, the surface should be prepared and free from deep scratches. Usually, this is done with emery paper or buff sticks, to at least 600 grit. From here you can go to the polishing machine, and usually, get a perfect mirror finish in just one or two stages.


Pepetools Bench Basics Variable Speed Polishing Bench Lathe 

Bench Basics Polishing Lathe

Don’t be fooled by the compact size. (or the compact price!) This little unit packs a lot of power, thanks to its ¼ Horsepower motor. It’s whisper quiet and smooth, and its compact size makes it ideal for small workshops and home users. It features two spindles enabling you to have two mops in use (e.g. pre polish and finish).  And a variable speed up to 8,000 RPM. It can accept 3” diameter mops, which simply screw on and off in a second, allowing quick change from one mop to another. But the best thing about this unit is the price. Pepetools wanted to offer a professional solution for the smaller user and this little unit delivers. It comes complete with two mops. Just grab some compound and you’re good to go right out of the box.

  • 3" Buffs
  • 500RPM - 8,000 RPM
  • ¼ Horsepower Motor
  • Dimensions, 4" x 5"
  • Weight 6lbs
Foredom Polishing Lathe K3340
Foredom Polisher

A trusted quality brand, famous for the pendant motors on almost every jeweler’s bench. This Foredom unit is slightly larger and much heavier, With a sturdy cast iron base. The high torque, permanent magnet motor is extremely quiet and smooth running, giving the power to turn slightly larger mops up to 4” in diameter. As well as the traditional tapered spindles for mops, it also comes with a collet holder for using various accessories which are mounted on small shafts. It also has an adapter for use with unmounted 3M discs and unmounted felt mops. Foredom also offers a wide range of accessories for this unit such as chuck, flex shaft, and dust extractors, offering a fully comprehensive polishing system to meet any needs.

Kit includes.

  • Bench Lathe (M. BL)
  • Two Tapered Spindles
  • Collet Holder and collets
  • 1/6 horsepower, high torque motor
  • Speed Range: 500-7,000 rpm
  • Weight:  7.5 lbs
  • Weight 23 lbs
  • Size 20 x 13 x 10 inches

Dust collection

When using any power tools, a mask is recommended, as is eye protection. It is important to be aware that any polishing operation will produce dust. Fibers from the mops, particles of polishing compound, and even tiny amounts of metal. You must avoid breathing in this dust. For light use, a dust mask or respirator may be sufficient. But for more continued use or heavier work, there also comes the issue of dust collecting around the polishing machine and settling around the workshop – this can become quite messy very quickly. In this case, dust extraction is highly recommended. Pepetools offers a range of dust extraction hoods. Even a very simple hood that covers the polishing machine will help (a little) to contain particles and debris.  However, for real dust extraction, the addition of fans and filters helps to trap airborne particles and keep the dust to a minimum.


Filter Hood for Foredom® Bench Lathe
Foredom Dust Collection Hood

This compact unit is a great addition to the Foredom polishing lathe, or the bench basics polishing lathe above. It features a tough screen to protect from debris, a flexible light, and replaceable dust filters. This portable self-contained unit can also be used with your flex shaft or handheld rotary tools.


Full-Size Dust Collector Cabinet
Full Size dust collection cabinet

This larger unit can be added to a motor or polishing lathe to create a fixed solution offering powerful dust extraction and filtration for larger polishers. All Pepetools Dust collectors are made of heavy-duty 18 gauge steel. The base comes predrilled for a variety of motor frame applications. With 2 high capacity fiberglass filters and, a removable top for easy filter and blower access.


Enclosed Polishing Hood

For optimal protection, this fully enclosed unit reduces dust and offers maximum comfort and safety to the user, whilst also reducing noise. Ideal for a busy workshop, you can polish as and when needed, without the need to constantly put on PPE equipment.

Mid Size Dust Collector with Motor
Pepetools Mid Size Dust Collector with Motor

  • 3/4 Size Space Saver Dust Collector
  • 1/3 HP 110V Motor
  • 30"W x 12"L x 15"H
  • Double Spindle Easy change filter drawers
For larger polishing jobs and heavier and prolonged use, Pepetools also offers a comprehensive range of high-end polishing lathes. These larger units come with dust collection cabinets and lighting. They provide a safer and cleaner working environment. As always, they are built to Pepetools exacting standards and feature powerful motors up to 1/3 Horsepower. Simply screw on your chosen mops and away you go.
Full Size Dust Collector with Motor
Pepetools Professional Full Size Dust Collector with Motor
  • 32.5"W x 22"L x 11"H
  • Motor and Shelf Included (15.5"W x 6"L x 9"H)


For the ultimate in professional polishing Pepetools in collaboration with Arbe. Offer a fully enclosed cabinet, with dust extraction and lighting. For heavy prolonged use this cabinet. Featuring a powerful ½ HP motor, it can handle the toughest polishing jobs, and utilize larger diameter mops and abrasive wheels.

Tabletop, Double Spindle, Polishing Machines - ARBE
Arbe Enclosed Table-Top Polishing Unit with Polishing Motor

  • Single 10" fan blower
  • Disposable fiberglass filter
  • Made of 18-gauge steel
  • Powder-coated for long life and durability
  • Dual light sockets
  • 1/2hp polishing motor
  • 3,450rpm
  • Two 1/2" straight for wheels up to 6" diameter.

Mops and compounds.

 Pepetools polishing kit

Above Bench Lathe Polishing Kit, 57 piece set. Containing, mops, Polishing compounds, radial discs and adapters.

“Mops” are discs of fabric or felt. They screw onto the spindles and rotate. As they do so, they apply the polishing compound to the surface of the metal and buff it. Different fabrics such as fine cotton or rough calico and other materials like felt and synthetic suede can be used to create stiffer or softer mops.

Tripoli & Rouge Bars

Above traditional polishing compounds, Tripoli (left) and Rouge (Right)

A mop is used in conjunction with a polishing compound. This is a greasy bar, containing minute particles of abrasive. It is applied directly to the mop whilst rotating, and as the mop rotates against the Jewellery the particles of abrasive act to polish the surface. Traditionally two main polishes were used by jewelers, Tripoli, and Rouge. Tripoli is a brown slightly abrasive compound and has a slight” cutting” action, hence it can help to remove small surface scratches and start to give a high shine. Rouge is a red compound again used in a greasy bar, this has a softer cutting action and is used as a final stage polish, especially on precious metals.

Ultra Bright Blue Polishing Compound
Ultra Bright Blue Polishing Compound


Modern abrasives have advanced greatly, and you can now get a wide variety of polishing compounds, all designed to provide optimal cutting and polishing performance for different materials. Pepetools offers a Japanese made, Ultra Bright Blue Polishing Compound for Silver, Platinum, and more. This is drier and less greasy than traditional compounds, creating a superior finish on most precious metals. For most projects, this will offer a single stage solution.  Eliminating the need for separate pre-polish and finish polish and separate mops.

Tip: - It can even be used on steel. Use it with a stiff stitched mop on your hammers and tools. Ideal for your doming punches!

 Stitched Mop

Hard (Stitched) Mops

A stitched mops have all the layers of fabric stitched together creating a more rigid wheel shape with a flat square edge. An alternative to a stitched mop would be a solid felt disc. In both cases, this rigidity allows you to push and apply more pressure for heavier cutting. The flat square profile is also great for polishing larger flat surfaces. Traditional jewelers working with gold and silver would use Tripoli a slightly abrasive polishing compound with a calico (hard cotton) mop for first stage polishing to remove fine scratches and begging to gain a shine.


Unstitched Mop

Loose (unstitched) Mops

Loose mops are attached only at the center. meaning they can flare out when pressed against the Jewellery creating a softer and gentler polishing action. When made from soft cotton (often called Swansdown mops), they give a gentle buffing action. These are used with a final stage polishing compound which is finer and less abrasive. Traditionary jewelers use Rouge, which gives a high shine, especially on silver and gold.


Important tip: - if you are using different polishing compounds, it is important that you keep separate mops and do not cross contaminate them. After using a harsh compound for pre-polishing, it is important to wash the piece before using it on your final finishing mop. Never mix different compounds on the same mop.


Mop Sizes

Mops range from small 2” and 3” diameters ideal for small Jewellery, such as rings, pendants, and bangles. Larger mops such as 4” and 6” diameter can really speed up the polishing of large items such as bangles. Mops also come in different widths. For most purposes, a standard 1” mop will be fine. 

Large diameter mops, act like levers and hence require more power to turn them.  This is why the larger polishing lathes, which can accommodate larger mops, also have, more powerful motors. Using a large mop on a small motor means it may struggle to turn when heavy polishing and may even stall the motor. Always stick within the suggested sizes as recommended by the manufacturer. This will ensure the motor can rotate the mop at the correct speed, with sufficient power to overcome the friction of the jewelry against the mop. The height of the spindle from the surface of the workbench also defines the maximum diameter of mops that can be accommodated.


2" & 3" Diameter Radial Discs.

Radial Discs

Above 2" radial discs. 3 Ply, mounted.

Modern abrasive technology now offers us a superb alternative to traditional mops and polishing compounds. These “radial” discs are made of flexible rubber which is impregnated with abrasive compounds. Available in a range of sizes and grits, they offer a quick and easy solution to polishing and surface finishing. Think of them the same way you might use buff sticks and emery paper to refine and match the surface. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, usually, these discs operate at lower speeds than a mop. The big advantage of these discs is that they do not require polishing compounds. Simply use them dry, directly onto the metal. This means they produce almost no dust, and no need to wash off greasy compounds.

 6 ply discs

Above 6 ply 2" discs, Note the wider edge.

2" and 3” discs are ideal for use with the bench lathes above, especially the smaller Foredom and Pepetools models. The coarser grits such as the yellow 80 grit, are great for cleaning and sanding the surface down to the bare metal and removing heavy scratches. With these coarser abrasives, it is important to keep the Jewellery moving to avoid depressions. Note that heavy sanding with these coarse grits will produce a little dust. The discs come in 3 ply (three discs mounted don a hub), or 6 ply, which gives a wider edge profile. They are also available unmounted for use with adapters, allowing you to mount as many as you wish, even single discs for detailed polishing work.


Moving on, the mid-range grits can be used to further smooth and refine the surface. These medium grits can give a beautiful satin finish. Polish in the same direction, uniformly across the whole surface. As there is no greasy compound, a quick wipe with a cloth and you’re done.

Finally, the higher grits can be used to get a high shine, again keeping the piece moving side to side across the piece. Tip: - as before, it is still important to clean the piece in between different mops to avoid any cross-contamination. 

Flex Shaft

As jewelers, we work on small, tiny things. The flex shaft, or pendant drill, is probably the most versatile tool for any jeweler. A hanging motor connected to a flexible shaft, at the end of which is a small handpiece, with a rotating chuck. The handpiece can accept a vast array of tiny mops, burs, silicone wheels, and sanding drums in an almost limitless assortment of sizes, shapes, and grits, enabling you to get into every tight detail of even the smallest Jewellery item. The flex shaft is controlled by a foot pedal offering maximum control over the speed.


Foredom Classic Jewelers Kit with H.30 Handpiece

Foredom Classic Jewelers Kit with H.30 Handpiece

Above. A superb value kit from Pepetools, including the powerful foredom SR flex shaft, H30 hand piece with chuck (allows you to use most brands accessories). A selection of burs and discs. Comes boxed.


For polishing, the same methods apply. Smaller versions of the cotton and felt mops are available. Ideal for working inside rings. Pepetools offer a large assortment of accessories, including small radial discs, available on mandrels for use with a rotary tool or flex shaft. Ideal for polishing the insides of rings and small intricate items, which larger mops might not be able to get into. As there is no compound, they are ideal for small touch-ups after repairs and resizing, returning the finish quickly and cleanlily without extensive cleanup afterward. Available in packs or a comprehensive set including discs of different grits sizes and also mounted points in matching grits.

Small radial discsAbove the kits offer superb value and provide a full range of grits.


Ultrasonic Cleaners.

When working with polishing compounds it is necessary to clean the piece afterward with hot water and soap to remove the greasy residue left. While this can be done with a soft brush and hot soapy water, this can be time consuming in a busy workshop, and you can't always get the brush into all the tiny little details of a small Jewellery item.

Ultrasonic cleaners have the huge advantage that they can remove grease and polish from tight inaccessible areas (wherever the water can get). Due to the polish compound being greasy, it is important to choose an ultrasonic that has a heating ability. The hot water along with a little detergent helps to cut through the grease, the ultrasonic action of the water will then remove the particles leaving your jewelry spotless.

Ultrasonic cleaner

Above Ultrasonic cleaner   featuring, heat and timer.
Available in a range of sizes at Pepetools. 


Finishing touch.

For the final finishing touch, a polishing cloth will help to remove fingerprints and marks, whilst offering protection from future tarnish.

PureShine by Bench Basics (2 pack). These super Japanese made cloths, are impregnated with special polishing compounds giving you the power to remove tarnish, and quickly revive your Jewellery. Leaving it shiny and free from marks and fingerprints. The special ingredients also help to protect your items from future tarnish. Especially useful for silver items. The perfect finish for your Jewellery.

 Polishing Cloths
Above.Gold Polishing Cloth, PureShine by Bench Basics (2 pack)


other items....A great partner to the above cloths is the Pepetools 

Natural Jewelry Cleaner. This handy product can help to remove tarnish from older items of silver, and is safe to us eon most jewelry. it comes in small can of foam. simple and easy to use, it includes a small brush and cloth.

Polishing foam

Above Natural Jewelry Cleaner (Non-Toxic Foam) by Pepetools.

Further tips and advice….

Written and illustrated
by Dave Wilson