Sandpapers or polishing papers are vital in a jewelry studio. 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 numbering system. Studios typically have both 3M brand micron graded papers and standard grit rated papers from the hardware store. The chart below will help clarify how the systems overlap. The larger the grit number, the finer the sandpaper. However, the micron rated papers are the opposite: the smaller the micron number, the finer the sandpaper.
- Understand the difference. Micron rated papers 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 paper for the job. The more coarse the sandpaper, the more material you will be removing from the surface of your metal when you sand or polish. 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 -4,000 grit, 3-9 micron paper and be just fine. Use your first paper with a back and forth motion in one direction. Then go to the next finest paper and polish in the opposite direction until you erase the lines from the rougher paper. Repeat as you progress to finer and finer papers.
- It’s finished when you say so. Once scratches are removed, keep working down in fineness and changing directions 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 paper with tools. Hand sanding can be tedious. Most studios have sandpaper on hand in several forms.
- Loose paper – Use this against a hard or soft surface for hand finishing
- Cut strips – Wrap strips on a split mandrel for your flex shaft or other rotary tool to expedite finishing. Just be careful you don’t use too rough a grit or over sand. Remember, abrasives remove material. If you aren’t careful on a flex shaft you can sand out design elements or weaken construction.
- Sanding sticks – You can purchase ready-made sanding sticks or make your own by gluing sandpapers to popsicle sticks, paint stirrers, dowel rods or other wood forms. Sanding sticks are very handy and once you use them you will wonder how you lived without them.
- Sanding discs – These are small attachments that snap onto your flex shaft or rotary tool. Discs are great for getting into awkward spaces on a piece.
- Abrasive 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. Always wear eye protection and be mindful of your hands!
One final note; remember to avoid sanding gold filled. Since gold filled is a layered material you would be removing the gold from the surface and exposing the brass core underneath.
Halstead, is one of North America’s leading distributors of jewelry supplies. Halstead specializes in wholesale findings, chain, tools and metals for jewelry artists.