I'm looking for some ideas from any of you with experience in metal
polishing. I often make up aluminum parts which need to buffed out to a
level of perfection that will look good under show chrome plating. A
typical part, like a couple I made up this afternoon, is made from
0.090 6061 plate, about 3" x 4" with a milled opening and a dozen
various sized holes.
The problem is, what's an efficient way to get the scratches out of the
flat surface and bring it up to a mirror shine? The last part is easy.
Once the surface is up to about 1500 grit level, it's no problem to
buff it out with a sewn cotton wheel and tripoli compound. How do you
get from scratches to 1500 grit while keeping the surface flat and
even, without excessively distorting the holes and openings?
Right now, I'm hand rubbing the surface with a hard rubber block and
various grits of emory paper. I start with 320 and go through 500, 800,
and 1500, using drops of WD-40 as a lubricant. This works pretty well,
but it's very tiring and takes way too much time. I need a power method
of doing this.
I've tried many types power wheels, such as hard felt buffing wheels,
Norton "finishing" wheels, Scotchbrite flap wheels, etc., and haven't
found anything that works for this. It seems that any wheel that's firm
enough to cut will tend to leave waves and ripples. Softer wheels with
coarser compound would distort all the edges of the openings and holes.
I've tried using emory paper on an electric "detail" sander (with the
recipricating triangular pad), but that just loaded up the paper
instantly and added more scratches.
Any ideas? I'm thinking of a miniature version of a random -orbit
sander, with a 1" dia rubber pad, turning about 60 rpm, using various
grits of lapping paste. Maybe I could rig up a small random orbit head
on a drill press?
Johnson's Extremely Strange Musical Instrument Co.
some sort of lapidary equipment polisher? there's 2 types that i have that
would do this. a flat lap with small sized grit followed up with a felt pad
with cerium, or a vibrolap using the same materials. they polish slabs of
rock/etc with these type of machines.
Now you know why professional quality polishing is so expensive.
You need a fairly hard backed abrasive to avoid dishing holes and making
ripples. Try a pneumatic orbital sander, hard rubber pad, waterproof
abrasive paper, soapy water as a cutting fluid and lubricant. This should
allow you to use up the paper without loading it up and making scratches.
I don't do this regularly, but it does come up on occasion. I use wet
sandpaper on a hard surface, like a surface plate. If you wet the back
paper, it may stick all by itself, without gluing it. (But maybe that's the
purpose of the hard rubber block.) I use water as the fluid, and lots
and wash the sandpaper frequently under the faucet to remove aluminum
buildup. I could probably rub the part for only a couple of minutes per
grade of paper.
I suppose a belt sander could be used with the appropriate abrasive. Don't
look in the local hardware store, look at Norton or other commercial
Yes, I'm familiar with that technique; I use the paper on a glass plate
to lap the surfaces of woodworking plane irons and chisels, etc.
In the case of these aluminum parts, I'm trying to find some way to
power the process and speed it up significantly. These are custom
hardware parts for guitars and basses, so it's not a high tolerance
flatness issue, they just need to look good under plating. Right now,
almost 2/3 of the labor of making the part is in polishing the flat
surfaces. There's got to be a better way tucked away in pro polishing
I'm wondering whether it's better to do the sanding in a linear form,
as in a belt sander, or in a random-orbit disk form? Maybe either would
work as long as the paper is kept cool and lubricated enough to keep
from loading up. I've thought of, for example, building a small
tabletop version of a woodworking stroke sander, using some standard 2"
wide belts and a coolant flood system. Maybe the finer grits would be a
leather belt and buffing compound?
Another alternative might be building some kind of rotating or
recipricating head into a small drill press, using the quill to apply a
gentle downward pressure.
I'm just surprised that I haven't seen any machine or components
available for doing this operation. It's got to be a fairly common
Thanks for your ideas!
Johnson's Extremely Strange Musical Instrument Co.
You might check into a jeweler's flat lap -- it's a machine designed
specifically to polish and buff flat surfaces. The only issue might be
finding a lap big enough to take your pieces -- the typical bench-top
lap has a 6 or 8 inch diameter disk, so the size that you can work on
A lap's polishing wheel is a hard felt tapered edge disk, cut with
several slots. You hold the work underneath so you can see what you
are doing -- the rotation causes the slots to make the disk
"transparent", so you can see through it.
Generally, they are used for polishing and buffing after the work is
already sanded to about 600 grit. You could maybe use one for sanding
by using a coarser grit compound on the disk, but I've never tried it
that way. You can certainly polish and buff flats without compromising
the surface, though.
Here's a picture of one:
Thanks for the info! That may be the "magic" technique I've been
looking for. I wasn't familiar with the flat lap-style of buffing
wheel. The Gesswein company also has a lot of other interesting buffing
and polishing tools. I should have looked into the whole jewelry-making
The 8" flat lap wheels may be fine for the size of my parts, which are
generally under 3" on a side. I can see setting up 3 or 4 of these
wheels with different grits and moving the parts up through the
Thanks again, this opens up a whole new approach!
Johnson's Extremely Strange Musical Instrument Co.
You can, of course, use just a single machine by changing the laps,
using a different lap for each grit. Unless you are doing continuous
production, that is the way the machine is generally used. The machine
has a tapered spindle and the lap just threads itself onto the arbor.
If I were you, I'd call a few of the makers, tell them what you want to
do, and see what they have to say. Elaine Corwin (? sp.) at Gesswein
is a frequent contributor to the online jewelry forums, and was able to
answer a number of questions for me when I was looking to buy a
magnetic finisher last year.
First, using a lot of coolant (water) with a water-tolerant abrasive
will help a lot. Second, you might want to see how lapping machines
work. A lot like a miniature potter's wheel. I set up one from a
piece of gear I had laying around. I stuck self-adhesive diamond
lapping film to the wheel, because I was doing precision optical
lapping, but the basic idea should work for your use. You'd attach
a sheet of the appropriate sandpaper to the top of the wheel and turn
it on. A water dripper could keep the paper wet. You would hold the
part onto the sheet with the desired force, and turn it so it doesn't
get all the lines in one direction. If you had one wheel for each grit
size, you could just move each part from wheel to wheel as it
progresses. Or, you could do all the pieces on one size before changing
paper to the next grade.
I think you just aren't looking in the right place. These machines
are generically called lapping machines.
check out eastwood company in pottstown ,PA
they have alot of polishing equipment and materials the best thing to do
is get as clean mechanically as you can then do the final polishing by
hand ,for something that small it will only take a few minutes to do it
and it will look like a mirror ,and also check out to see what your
local fire department uses on their firetrucks to polish the different
aluminum and brass components and also try a polish I use called MAAS
it works wonders it makes everything from chrome aluminum brass and
copper look better than new ,you can usually find it in walmart back by
the household cleaners ,and as soon as you use it you will see the
For those who would like to have a machine turned on certain pieces I
found out about this technique years ago ,what you use is an old leather
work boot ,valve lapping material and something with the diameter you
need (I like using old engine valves they come in different diameters
from small engines all the way up to big power units ,but you can use
anything as long as it will fit in a drill press chuck) what you do is
make sure the piece your applying the turning on is clean then take the
old valve(or whatever your using) and attache a piece of leather from
the boot using a high grade adhesive applied to the smooth side of the
leather (the spray glue for sanding discs works real good) and trim the
leather so it matches circular surface as close as you can get and take
your time ,then put it in your drill press chuck now take the work piece
and hold in place on the table and apply a dab of the lapping material
on the work piece or directly on the leather and then proceed to place a
full circle on the upper left most corner then proceed to apply another
circle directly beside the first circle but don't overlap and keep doing
this to the end using full circles then go back to the left and right
below the first circle place your next row same technique and keep
repeating until you get a bunch of circles in neat little rows
ranks then go back to the start again and where you have four circles in
sort of a square shape and place a circle right in the middle of the
at this point you will see the machine turned design start to form and
when these full circles are done proceed to finish the out side edge
and when you are done you will have a nice piece of machine turned metal
Now a few tips keep applying the lapping material as you go along a lil
bit goes a long way and it is relatively cheap for a tube (avaible at
any auto parts store),do not muscle the drill press all you need is just
enough pressure to hear the lapping material start to cut into the metal
and you will hear when it is done cutting ,
once you get the hang of it start to experiment where you apply the
circles and what I described above is basically just a simple technique
to learn with then you can try doing spirals and other patterns ,and as
long as you have a sturdy shaft for the drill and a flat surface for the
leather it will work (like old one piece grinding stones ,old engine
valves that are flat and you can even make one from a couple pieces of
wood and a bolt or just get a solid piece of metal machined to the
diameter you need)
I had read this in a hot rod magazine a years ago ,tried it and it works
pretty well and you can apply it to any piece you can get in the drill
press and is relatively flat ,as you go along you will see what you can
and can't do
good luck and above all have fun
Good tips!! Thank You. I've only tried a bit of this previously, and
it didn't run out "patterned" very well, so I'll keep a "hard-copy" of
this for future.
if you're into making machines, i made one of these
in a 24" size, but
it can be scaled up or down pretty easily. i got a piece of magnetic sign
material, glued a piece of 1/4" thick felt (both from mcmaster-carr) to it,
then use it as a polisher for glass objects using cerium as the polish.
You might want to redesign the parts. A little arc in the suface makes
them much easier to polish. They also look better to many eyes and
feel better to the touch. A dead flat surface is hell to make, usually
not really necessary design-wise and appreciated by only those who
won't buy your product because they would try to build their own!
On Fri, 18 Nov 2005 07:54:12 -0500, with neither quill nor qualm,
Brian Lawson quickly quoth:
I'll bet the pattern works out better when done on an XY table
where you can count turns of the lead screws to apply it.
Save the Endangered ROAD NARROWS! -|-