and Low Speed Buffing Tools
Low speed buffing, either by hand or using a rock
tumbler (e.g. for beads) will, at best, produce a low or semi-gloss shine.
Not that that's a bad thing. In fact, it's a great look, as is a matte
finish. Which of the three finishes you choose is strictly a matter of
Manual buffing is pretty self-explanatory and not a bad way to pass
the time if you're just sitting.
Tumble buffing involves throwing small squares
of a soft material and sanded beads into a rock tumbler; then
tumbling for several hours. To learn more details on how to tumble
buff, click How
I tumble buff polymer clay.
You should note polymer clay is a soft material,
so in the long run, high shine buffed beads worn against clothing will
get rubbed by fabrics of various softness and may gradually lose a buffed
high shine. However, it's easy to rebuff to regain that high shine.
Conversely, nicely sanded non-buffed beads feel very scrumptious and
can eventually develop a semi-gloss shine if in a necklace where they
might be rubbing against shirt fabric.
| High Speed
To achieve a high glossy
shine on a polymer clay surface, it must first be sanded well. The minimum recommended
'finishing' grit is 600 (CAMI) or P1200. Though many like to take things up a notch or two,
going up to 1000 - 2000 (CAMI) grits.
After sanding, powered buffing machines can be used create a glass-like finish. I especially
prefer buffed effects when dealing with translucent and pearlescent pieces. It really brings
out the depth and sparkle.
Basic buffing steps (also see buffing safety recommendations)
- Position your piece in the
safety zone; the place where if the the wheel grabs your piece it will
safely fly away from you.
- When buffing, remember this
phrase, "butterfly kisses". Make your motions delicate
- Move your piece towards the
spinning wheel gently, slowly, smoothly, as in slow motion. Slowly,
gently reposition your piece, turning, rotating.... Slowly, gently,
smoothly pull your piece away when you are done.
- Keep the piece slowly
moving underneath the wheel. Don't allow the wheel to buff on one spot
for too long. A high speed buffer can quickly heat up a small spot
on a polymer clay piece causing a dull smear instead of a high shine.
- Don't, under any circumstances,
make quick, jerky motions. The wheel will scratch, grab and fling your
piece when you do.
Mini-rotary tool: Since most of the things I make are small,
I usually use one of those versatile mini rotary tools (with a buffing attachment). It's
the most portable; doesn't require a dedicated space. I can sit at the table, pick up my
Dremel and buff. It's great for small, quick jobs, like a few beads.
One important disadvantage is these mini tools may have high speed but not a great deal
of power/torque. If they have to deal with too much resistance, you will here the motor
complain and you may burnout the motor.
Dremel sells a stingy little muslin buffing wheel, but I much prefer the ones I make,
using a wood screw as the mandrel (spindle) and polyester felt. Click these links to read
Jeweler's bench lathe/buffer: These machines have more
powerful motors than the mini rotary tools. Designed for jeweler's,
so they are a bit smaller than standard workshop machines.
I use the discontinued Foredom bench lathe B&G. It's a fine
little machine, but now that I have a standard bench grinder, I
don't know if I'll use this as much as I used to.
Because of their power, bench grinders/buffers might "walk" when running.
If that happens, you need to either rest the base on one of those grippy liners or bolt
it to a board that can be clamped to a work table.
Standard workshop bench grinder / buffer: Aahhh, the big
guy. I call him Fred. Well, not really, but he does deserve a name.
He's very photogenic. :)
Ok. Foredom and the like make wonderful appliances. But as you
may have discovered in your polymer clay shopping adventures, there
are certain craft or jewelers' appliances that have ordinary workshop
equivalents that are much cheaper.
Foredom's famous bench lathe can cost a couple hundred dollars.
A standard bench grinder plus buffing accessories can cost half
as much. If you already have a bench grinder, it's definitely cheaper
to purchase the buffing accessories than to go buy a whole new
machine and all the needed parts.
For buffing plastics like polymer clay, there are special compounds
you could use to improve the finish and the speed of achieving
that finish. Caswell sells them here.
Mounting buffing wheels: standard workshop grinders usually come with couple few
grinding wheels, but they may not include buffing wheels. Which isn't a bad thing, because
the type of buffing wheels that would likely be included would be stiff thus wouldn't be
well suited for polymer clay.
Buffing polymer clay takes a little special consideration because the friction from the
spinning buffing wheels can easily overheat and soften the clay. You need to take steps
to keep things cool. One of the steps is to use loose cotton wheels (instead of the stiffer
fully stitched wheels).
The challenge is while many cotton buffing wheels, like the one
shown here have the properly sized holes to match the machine's
arbor (e.g. 1/2"), you might not be able to directly
mount the wheels onto the bench grinder, unless it has a special
holder. That's because the wheel's center is just fabric - there's
nothing for the grinder to hold. The cotton wheel could just sit
there idle, while the machine arbor spins madly.
To make this work, you may need a special part called an arbor adaptor.
arbor is the spindle that sticks out from the motor; it's the part that spins. In the
bench grinder, you may see reference to 1/2" or 5/8" arbor. That means the machine's
spindle (or arbor) is 1/2" or 5/8" in diameter. Any grinding or buffing wheel
you mount on the machine should have, say, a 1/2" or 5/8" diameter hole in the
middle so the wheel will match the machine's 1/2" or 5/8" arbor. It's critical
that the arbor and holes match for the whole thing to work.
The left hand side of the arbor adaptor slides onto
the bench grinder's arbor. The silver discs in the middle are two cupped washers. The buffing
wheels have to be sandwiched between those two washers. The big nut holds the cupped washers
so the washers can keep a tight hold on the cotton wheels.
If your bench grinder doesn't already come with one, you can buy
the adaptor. The challenge is not everyone that sells bench grinders
has additional arbor adapters or even when they do, they may not
know what they're for!
I bought my bench grinder ($40) at Home Depot, but they didn't
sell the adaptors. Orchard Supply Hardware sold the adaptors but
I couldn't find anyone who knew what they were. I had to hunt for
it myself. I got my loose cotton buffing wheels at Caswellplating.com. However,
you could try removing the outer stitched rings on standard buffing