Polishing Fired Silver Clay

Polishing Fired Silver Clay

Author : Michelle Williams

One of the most common questions I get from students on my Silver Clay Jewellery Courses, is how to polish fired silver clay and PMC after firing.  

Everyone wants to know exactly how can they get their Fingerprint Jewellery, Artwork Jewellery and other Silver Clay Jewellery Designs up to a high mirror shine.

Personally, I don't think you can beat the good old fashioned method, of polishing your Silver Clay Jewellery, including your Fingerprint Jewellery and Artwork Jewellery by hand.  Yes, you do need to put in a fair amount of elbow grease, but once you are confident with the Metal Clay Jewellery techniques, you should get the Silver Clay Polishing processs down to a fine art in next to no time! 

But first things first! Before you even get to the stage of firing your Silver Clay or attempting to polish it, it's important that you spend the necessary time sanding down your Silver Clay Charms, at the greenware stage, before firing.  This is THE most important stage of the Silver Clay Jewellery making process, because if you haven't spent sufficient time, preparing your silver clay charms and sanding them down, to remove scratches and imperfections at the sanding stage, you will have a much harder job polishing out those scratches at the post-fired, polishing stage.

So, be sure to pay plenty of attention to the greenware stage of making, sanding and personalising Silver Clay Jewellery, as demonstrated in my Silver Clay Jewellery Courses, Fingerprint Jewellery Courses and Artwork Jewelllery Courses.

Once your Silver Clay Jewellery designs have been fired, you can then move onto the best way to polish fired silver clay or how to polish pmc after firing.

Like, I said, I personally prefer, the traditional method of polishing by hand, but if you have a busy Silver Clay Business, you may prefer the ease and speed of using a tumbler?  Both methods are fine, it is all down to personal choice.

I will quickly hightight both methods, manual polishing silver clay and tumble polishing silver here:

First of all, if you are new to making Silver Clay Jewellery, you will probably be quite suprised, when you see your first piece of fired silver clay.  You may expect it to come out of the Kiln all beautiful and sparkly, but don't be alarmed, because it does not!

In fact, when you first remove your fired Silver Clay Jewellery from the Kiln, you will notice that it appears white. Contrary to popular belief, this isn't fire scale or any type of oxidation, it is actally the true silver, which has a very fine crystaline structure, which needs to be flattened and smoothed (burnished) to bring out the silver shine. 

This stage in the process is called finishing or burnishing and involves the following steps:

  1. Brushing - depending upon which type of finish you wish to achieve (matte, satin, antiqued or mirror shine, there are different tools and techniques that you can use.  But in all cases, the first step, is to use a stainless steel or brass brush to burnish the silver. You can either use a dry brush or a add a little soapy water.  Simply brush over the entire surface of the charm and you will very quickly begin to see the white disapper and silver begin to shine through. If you wish to achieve a matte or satin finish, you can simply leave the silver like this.  However, if you wish to achieve a higher shine, you will need to continue with some other polishing techniques. Personally, I would recommend using a soft, Jewellery Quality,  Brass Brush This will help you to achieve a beautiful satin finish. Some people use a steel brush, which leaves a more scratched surface, but if you are aiming to achieve a high mirror shine, I would always recommend that you use a soft Brass Brush
  2. Burnising - involves rubbing your fired silver clay jewellery, wiith the side of a very smooth metal burnisher, which will harden the surface and help to bring out a really beautiful shine. Be sure, to only burnish surfaces which are smooth.  Burnishing won't remove scratches, it will simply flatten them out slightly, therefore, it is important that you use abrasive polishing papers or sanding sponges to remove any scratches. Personally, I would only use a burnisher on the edges of a piece, to make them shiny or over the top of a textured surface, to help highlight contrast between the raised and lower parts of the texture. This would make the raised parts of the design shiny and the lower parts silk or matte, creating a nice antiqed effect. I would NOT recommend burnishing larger areas of a Silver Clay Jewellery Design, if there is no texture, as burnishing will leave marks and scratches over larger surface areas. You will not be able to create a mirror-shine finish with a burnisher, this can only be achieved by hand polishing or tumbling.
  3. Hand Polishing - I personally LOVE hand polishing and the results that you can get.  Of course, it does take time, but if you put in a little bit of eblow grease, it is possibe to achieve a wonderful high mirror shine.  Some people use polishing papers and some people use sanding sponges.  This is personal preference.  I have used both during my many years making Silver Clay Jewellery and my preference is to use sanding sponges. To achieve the results that I know you want, you will need a set of fine grit sanding sponges or polishing papers (from 600 - 2000 grit). You can use wet and dry papers or sanding sponges, which you can use both wet or dry. Have a practice with both, wet and dry and see which you get the best results with.  At the end of the day, it is trial and error and everyone finds their own preferred tips and tricks. Many of my Fingeprint Jewellery and Artwork Jewellery Course Students, report great results with the 3M polishg papers, which work best dry. Which ever type of abrasive sponges or paper you use, always start with the coarsest (most abrasive) grit first (i.e around a 600 grit) and rub the entire surface of the charm evenly, in one direction (not in two different directions as this can create more scratches). When the surface is evenly polished with that first paper or sponge and you can't see any sharp marks or scratches (apart from the scratches from your sanding sponge) you can then move onto the next grit (800).  This time, sand across the direction you used for the previous grit.  (The reason to go in different directions, is because it helps you to see more easily, when you have removed all of the marks or scratches from the previous grit. Continue polishing until all of the marks from the previous grit have been removed. Now you can move onto the final sanding sponge.  With the 1200 grit sponge, you can now sand the piece up and down or in circles. Keep sanding the surface, as vigourosuly as you can until it looks smooth and shiny.  Finally, apply a small amount of silver polish to a polishing cloth and buff up the piece to bring it to a high shine. Rub as vigorously as you can, then finish with a clean, dry polishing cloth and you will be amazed at the results.  You should by now have a stunning, shiny mirror finish that you should feel very proud of.
  4. Tumble Polishing Silver - Tumble finishing (also known as tumble polishing, tumbling or barreling) is a non manual technique for smoothing and polishing fired silver clay. If you are not keen on the manual process of hand polishing as described above, tumblng is the quickest and easiest way to polish fired silver clay. Fired Silver Clay is usully tumbled in stainless steel shot and and a small amount of barrelling compound.  Tumble Polishing fired silver clay is a quick and easy way to polish your yor silver clay or pmc after firing, because you can tumble polish large batches at a time, rather than having to individually hand polish one item at a time.  To Tumble Polish, first brush your pieces quickly after firing, with a soft Brash Brush, then put them into your jewellery tumbler, with the shot and compund as per the manufacturers instructions.  They will need to be tumbled for anywhere between 30 minutes to 5 hours, depending upon your tumbler and the size and type of your jewellery designs  Check your Fired Silver Clay pieces around about every 30 minutes to see if they have reached the desired shine that you are hoping  to achieve. Please take care when tumbliing designs with important fine detail, like Fingerprint Jewellery. If you tumble polish for too long, you can risk the tumbler, polishing out the detail, which is why I personlly prefer to hand polish Fingerprint Jewellery and tumble Artwork and Handprint Jewellery. 



Why not check out these related products:

3lb Jeweller's Barrelling Machine Starter Kit for Tumbling and Polishing

Tumbling Barrelling Powder Compound (500 grams)

Mixed Stainless Steel Shot Tumbling tumbler polishing metal 1kg