Jewelry finishing sandpapers are vital in a jewelry workshop. However, for new metalsmiths, it can be confusing to understand the grit rating system and choose the right sandpaper for the job. Here are several quick tips to clarify the world of finishing papers.
UNDERSTAND THE JEWELRY SANDPAPER NUMBERING SYSTEM
Workshops typically have both 3M brand micron graded papers and disks, in addition to standard grit rated papers. The larger the grit number, the finer the sandpaper, however, the micron rated grits are the opposite: the smaller the micron number, the finer the sandpaper.
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JEWELRY SANDPAPER GRITS
Micron rated papers and radial disks use abrasive silicon carbide particles of perfectly uniform size. Grit rated papers from the hardware store may be made with aluminum oxide or silicon carbide, but the main difference is that the particles are not as uniform. That variance means results will be less consistent and a larger particle on the sheet can scratch your work. So, it is best to buy the less expensive hardware store papers only for the roughest grits used for removing material rapidly. Then, you can go in with the finer papers for precision finishing.
START WITH THE RIGHT JEWELRY FINISHING PAPER FOR THE JOB
The coarser the jewelry finishing sandpaper is, the more material you will remove from the surface of your metal, regardless of whether you’re working with brass, copper or swiss silver. So, don’t start with the roughest jewelry sandpaper unless you have some serious, large scratches you need to remove. For fine scratches, you can probably start with a 1,200 -2,000 grit, 3-9 micron paper and be just fine. When sanding, use your first paper with a back and forth motion in one direction. Choose the next size grit, and sand in the opposite direction until you erase the lines caused by the rougher paper. Repeat as you progress to finer and finer papers.
IT’S FINISHED WHEN YOU SAY SO
Once scratches are removed, continue working your way down the grits, changing directions each time until you are satisfied with the finish. You can leave a piece matte satin or you can work your way down to a mirror finish with the finest 1-micron paper if you choose. There is no “perfect” finish; it is entirely up to you as the maker.
COMBINE SANDING WITH JEWELRY TOOLS FOR FINISHING
Hand sanding can be tedious so most workshops have jewelry finishing sandpaper in several forms, including abrasives for bench polishers & flex shafts to make it even easier.
Use these against a hard or soft surface for hand finishing and the papers can be cut to size to reach into the tightest areas.
Wrap sandpaper strips on a split mandrel for your flex shaft or another rotary tool to expedite finishing. Just be careful you don’t use too rough a grit or over sand it. Remember, abrasives remove material so if you aren’t careful with a flex shaft you can sand out design elements or weaken the construction fairly quickly.
You can purchase ready-made half-round sanding sticks or make your own by gluing sandpapers to popsicle sticks, paint stirrers, dowel rods or other wood forms. The sticks can be either flat or half-round and they are so handy that once you use them you will wonder how you lived without them.
These are small attachments that snap onto your flex shaft or rotary tool. Discs are great for getting into awkward spaces on a piece.
Made from foam rubber that has aluminum oxide bonded to it, it can be used wet or dry and can be cut down for the size you need.
BUFFS OR SANDING BELTS
These accessories can be used with bench top polishing machines. However, use with caution, they will rapidly remove material and can nip your fingers. Safety is first, so always wear eye protection and be mindful of your hands while using a bench polisher!
3M RADIAL BRISTLE DISKS
Place 3-5 radial disks onto a mandrel, next place the mandrel in a flex shaft or rotary tool to use. You’ll love these disks! Embedded with abrasives, they require no compounds, and their small size makes it easy to reach tight areas.
It’s crucial that you don’t sand gold-plated or gold filled items! Since gold filled is a layered material, if you sand it you’d remove the gold layer and expose the brass core underneath.