Buffers are used to polish metal and other materials in many products, including jewelry, cutlery and firearms. Buffing uses a specific grit compound on a cloth wheel to give a desired finish. The finer the grit, the finer the finish. To get a fine polished or mirror finish, it is necessary to buff in multiple stages, starting with a coarse grit rating, such as 220, and moving down to 440, 600 and then 1200, or jeweler's rouge.
Safety is a primary issue when using a buffer. Sharp angles or protrusions on the item being buffed can snag the wheel and throw the item in a random direction at very high speed. This can damage the item or injure the operator. According to website of the electroplating company Caswell Inc., "There are two distinct areas on a buffing wheel: the unsafe area which is rotating towards the workpiece, [and] the safe area which is rotating away from the workpiece."
When buffing a piece of jewelry, such as a ring, it is turned so that any edges are pointed down and away from the direction it is spinning. This setting is less likely to get caught on the wheel when in the position in this diagram.
Compound contamination is one of the biggest buffing mistakes resulting from improper positioning. Grits from other compounds and abrasives, as well as dust, dirt and metal shavings, can affect the quality of finish. A different wheel is used for each compound. Mixing compounds is not an option. Once contaminated, the wheel must be cleaned or discarded. When compounds are contaminated, the end of the bar should be cut off or the container discarded.
Contamination can be avoided by placing wheels and compounds into sealed plastic bags when not in use and by keeping the buffing area clean. Many shops and factories have separate polishing rooms. Dust from buffers is hazardous to lungs, and many compounds contain metals that are unhealthy if inhaled or there is excessive skin, mouth or eye contact.
It is essential to have adequate ventilation and use appropriate protective equipment when buffing. This includes dust collectors, exhaust hoods and fans, as well as respirators and wrap-around eye protection. According to 20-year industrial blacksmith Gypsy Wilburn, "Most of the lung damage and scars blacksmiths and other metalworkers experience are from improper buffer use, poor ventilation and failure to wear safety equipment."
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