Society of American Silversmiths


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The World of 3M Abrasives by Jeffrey Herman

With the passage of time, comes the advancement of technology. Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (commonly known as 3M) has given the world of finishing a multitude of specialty products to fit every need. By now, every silversmith should be using silicon carbide as opposed to emery paper and cloth. Emery can embed itself in silver, which will contribute to drag lines when buffing. (Tri-M-ite), 3M's silicon carbide wet/dry abrasive paper and cloth, is an ideal cutting medium, giving a uniform finish to flat and curved surfaces. There are also some new ceramic and exotic materials that give excellent results. These abrasives tend to be relatively expensive. Ask for the catalog: Metalworking—A Reference Manual from Massasoit Tool (below).

Scotch-Brite products are outstanding for surface conditioning prior to buffing and polishing. Its grades range from extra coarse to ultrafine, and come in a variety of styles including pads, discs, belts, flap brushes, and wheels. All Scotch-Brite products are flexible and will easily conform to concave surfaces, quickly removing the deepest file marks while not gouging. When finishing the bottom of a tray, surface conditioning discs can be used on the flat side, either by hand or in an electric drill for faster cutting. Water or vegetable oil will increase the life of the disc and minimize dust. Scotch-Brite products are ideal for removing rust from hammer faces, stakes, heads, and other ferrous objects. Another plus is that Scotch-Brite, unlike steel wool, will not rust. You have used it to scrub your grimiest pots and pans in the kitchen; now it's time to bring Scotch-Brite into your studio. Ask for the catalog: 3M Products for Bench Area Operations.

Whenever using metal finishing products, be sure to wear a respirator and safety glasses or goggles and to vent the contaminants if possible. Glasses should also be worn when sawing, for if the blade breaks, serious injury will be prevented. Contact our discounter for the complete line of 3M abrasives and an outstanding selection of files and rifflers: Massasoit Tool Company, 110 Minnesota Ave., Warwick, RI 02888, Tel: 401/739-6676.

How to Keep Tools From Rusting by Jeffrey Herman

Moisture and steel. Bad combination. On my hammers, I use gun bluing then burnish the surface with 0000 steel wool to give it a shine. The bluing helps keep rust at bay, but to insure that my tools remain pristine, I use, sparingly, Butcher's Wax or Renaissance Wax for the final hard finish. In my rather wet basement, my tools rairly rust. When they do, it is on the working surfaces that I forgot to recoat. I also wax my surface plates, heads, stakes, band saw and drill press tables, lathe ways, bench pin, mandrels, scratch brush extension spindle, and other assorted steel tools. Before bluing and waxing, I make sure all moisture has been eliminated from the tool by heating it on top of a radiator or with a heat gun. My tools need extra protection, for they are all exposed for quick and easy access. Oil and penetrating fluids tend to attract too much dust and abrasive elements that may be planished into a pristine piece of silver. Though most penetrating fluids do a good job driving moisture away, they can be toxic.

Finishing Issues & Safety by Jeffrey Herman

A disturbing phenomenon has been seen in silversmithing within the last ten years. A large percentage of silversmiths have been giving their work heavily abraded and aluminum-like finishes. What's going on?

Are smiths making conscious decisions about these finishes or are they lacking the technical skills needed to take their finishes to a higher level? Polishing is probably the least favorite of all silversmithing techniques; it's messy, difficult and time consuming. Many heavily abraded finishes cover up a litany of surface imperfections which is no excuse for using such a finish. Just as you wouldn't go from an 80 grit abrasive to a 500 grit, don't go from a woolen buff with bobbing compound to a muslin buff with red rouge. This finish will reveal heavier cutting lines under the bright surface. Also, wash away any previous compound before using the next finest to avoid consecutive buff contamination and recondition frequently used buffs periodically. Taking short cuts may not be obvious to the consumer, but to other metalsmiths it will show incompetence.

I have seen pieces transcending the look of anything but sterling. If a piece is made to look like aluminum, why not make it out of aluminum? One piece at a traveling show was so heavily patinated with verdigris and rust, it was impossible to understand why it wasn't made of copper instead of the more expensive and precious sterling. Exploring different finishes should be encouraged, but don't be surprised if your work doesn't sell for the lack of acceptance from the vast majority of potential buyers who expect to see the inherent beauty of silver's luster. Silversmiths must consider the overall effect of the piece being created before deciding on a finish. Remember, these relatively new finishes are coming to the market after centuries of the more acceptable reflective finishes.

While on the subject of finishing, are you protecting yourself when you buff? At the very least you should be using a heavy-duty ventilating system. In addition, wear a 3M Easy-Air high efficiency respirator (3M #7300S) that weighs only 4 ozs. with the filters, even when buffing for a few seconds. This respirator is most effective if you are clean shaven. The pancake design filters (3M #2040), made for use with welding fumes, dusts, mists and asbestos, are only @$5 per pair.  3M just introduced a new pancake design filter (3M #2047), which like the #2040 is made for use with welding fumes, dusts, mists and asbestos. The #2047 has an added charcoal filter. Regardless of how powerful the ventilating system is, when buffing the inside of a form dust will become trapped and circulate out and away from the mouth of the vent, hence the need for the respirator. Don't bother with nuisance or dust masks, they simply aren't as efficient as a respirator.

If you need help with finishing, call SAS for experienced advice. For respirator selection, call 3M Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division Technical Service at: 800/243 4630.

Do you have a suggestion for a topic? Do you have a technique you would like to share with others? Let us know and we may include it in ShopTalk!

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Updated 5/27/98