How Do I Finish and Get Shine Without a Tumbler?

by Jen.
(Washington DC )

question-mark-originalI am just starting metal stamping and mainly work with aluminum and copper. Is there a way to get a high shine on my pieces without a tumbler?

And what is the best way to get minor scratches out of the metal prior to polishing?

Any luck with synthetic steel wool? I have a baby in the house so I need chemical free, safe options.



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  1. Try “0000” grade steel wool, you can get it at the hardware store. You should be able to polish up a great shine with that. Just make sure you cover your work area, the steel wool gives off tiny pieces of the wool, if you work over a piece of fabric then fold or roll the fabric up when you are done and shake it out outside. I’ve tried a variety of “synthetic” steel wool products and haven’t found one that gives the shine like the “0000” wool, haven’t been able to find an alternative that has that fine a gauge.

    Another option would be to use a rotary tool like a Dremel with a polishing bit.

  2. I like the idea of steel wool as well. I don’t think it will be a perfect mirror finish, though. Dremel or hand polish, for that, I think. I love stamping – such fun, so many possibilities!!!

  3. I hadn’t thought of the fabric for clean up, great idea! I think my concern w steel wool is those fine fibers being airborne, is that an issue? Laura, how would you hand polish?

  4. I just tried a pro polish pad from Rio Grande and l,m impressed at the shine it gave.

  5. Colleen says:

    Steel wool does make a mess while polishing. I’ve even had some get stuck in my finger :(. I’ve put paper towel down while using it, but I think the fabric is a better idea because it won’t slide around as easily as the paper towel. I haven’t tried the Dremel yet. I bet that will be much easier for the tight spots.

  6. I also use pro polish pads and they are wonderful for shining up aluminum and much less messy than steel wool

  7. When I need to give a small piece of metal a nice shine, I use the 4 way fingernail buffing tools. These are the ones with a foam core and four different surfaces. They are usully pink, blue, grey and white. With Pink being the coarsest level that you use first to work off scratches, then blue for smoothing, then white for getting rid of micro scratches and then the grey for final polish. They are inexpensive and they follow the traditional methods for shining jewelry by starting with coarse grit and gradually moving down to finer and finer grit. The grey portion of the stick is actually a finer grain than even the pro-polish pads, which I also use from time to time.

    Though if you want to have your pieces be less labor intensive, a tumbler is really your best bet. And it is very safe, using only water dish soap, and stainless steel shot. I will never ever do without a tumbler again. It was probably the single best investment I ever made in a jewelry making tool. 1/2 hour in the tumbler does what an hour worth of elbow grease will get you.

  8. Jackie Davidson says:

    LadyMockingbird… will your method you described above and/or a tumbler be good for getting out small scratches/rub marks on sterling silver charms after they’ve been stamped? It’s especially tough to get out those marks if I have to stamp on both sides of a charm. I polish until my fingers hurt, and it never really comes fully out.

  9. Wow! Since I am new to metalwork, all of these suggestions will be very helpful.

  10. I always use a Dremel or flex shaft with a polishing buff or rubber bit impregnated with polishing compound. This is the only way I’ve found to get you a mirror finish. You can use steel wool or scotch brite for a satin finish, just beware, steel wool is very flammable so keep your torch away from it. Our scout troop uses it to start our matchless campfires. Just rub a 9V battery on it and you have instant fire.

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