Polishing Stainless Steel

Discussion in 'Finishing Techniques' started by MichaelMueller, Mar 1, 2013.

  1. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member

    does anyone now a good way how to polish stainless steel? I like to remove the texture which came with the printing process at some of my designs. I've used a dremel to grind it but this is a very time consuming procedure.
    I've bought a tumbler this week but I'm not sure if this works for stainless steel. Does anyone have experience with this kind of tumbler? What would be the best polishing material? I've bought a mix of small balls and cylinders which might work but I'm not sure about it. This polishing mix is quite expensive and I guess I would need to mount a smaller bowl to use it.
    Any advice?


  2. CactusBones
    CactusBones New Member
    wow, this is old. Heres what I do to polish my stainless steel prints:
    I grind the surface with a 425 polishing dremmel bit
    http://www.dremel.com/en-us/Tools/Pages/ToolDetail.aspx?pid= 425
    If the surface is real haggard I might have to start out with a larger grit size
    (425 grit bits sold in all shapes and sizes - I have both the wheel and cylinder version of this)

    I throw it in the my lortone tumbler with a drop of dishwashing detergent, water, and fine cutting plastic media
    http://www.riogrande.com/Product/Standard-Plastic-Pyramid-Me dia-Green-Fine-Cut/339402?Pos=1
    (1-4 hours) < I like to leave it and forget about it.
    best tumblers on the market / very quiet compared to dry vibratory tumblers

    Then I put it in my other drum on my lortone tumbler with stainless steel shot and burnishing compound (enough until the water is just a tad green)
    http://www.riogrande.com/Product/Super-Sunsheen-Burnishing-C ompounds/339394?Pos=1
    I leave it anywhere from a couple hours to over night.

    Then if more polishing is needed or I just feel like tinkering instead of doing whatever it is I am supposed to be doing, I use "Mothers" polishing compound and a felt polishing bit and obsess over it until I can almost see my reflection (I rarely ever do this)
    http://www.dremel.com/en-us/Accessories/Pages/ProductDetail. aspx?pid=422
    http://www.bikebandit.com/mothers-mag-aluminum-polish?WT.mc_ id=googlemerchantfeed&utm_source=feed&utm_medium=mer chantfeed&utm_campaign=pla&gclid=CNj4ze-_5LUCFQ7NnAo dfEIApg

    If you don't have extensive diagonal print marks (which I always have on my smaller pieces) then you can skip the dremel steps.

    Others with successful techniques, please share. I am always looking for new bits and compounds that will make my life easier.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2013
  3. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member
    Howdy Jamie,

    thanks for your help. Your description is really useful!
    I hope the vibration tumbler I already have works equal to the rotation tumbler you described. I'll try the "cutting plastic material" if I find a supplier here in germany. I've tested a polishing material made of steel but it hadn't much effect after twelve hours of "tumpling".

  4. asadakram
    asadakram New Member
    I've used stainless steel shot with dishwashing soap in a tumbler and that has worked well for me (left it for about 4 hours).

    I have also used 5/32" stainless steel ball bearings as the tumbling medium which you should be able to easily find in Germany.
  5. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member
    Hi asadakram,
    do you use it to polish stainless steel or silver? It didn't worked well when I tried it for steel. :( Maybe the bowl of the tumbler was to big for the 2 kg polishing material I have.
  6. asadakram
    asadakram New Member
    I'm using it to "polish" stainless steel parts infiltrated with bronze fabricated from a 3D printer. Basically, the stainless steel ball bearings are helping me remove the bronze grit and do preliminary finishing of the surface.

    For finer finishing, I've been told to try corn cob as it is slightly more abrasive and should help bring out the shine. I am also experimenting with various types of polish including home-made remedies such as olive oil buffing, and industrial polishing compounds.

  7. CactusBones
    CactusBones New Member
    I have never tried dishwashing detergent with stainless steel shot, but I can tell you that if you left a 3D stainless print in stainless steel shot with just water in a rotary tumbler, you should definitely see some difference in the sheen of the surface after four hours. However, if you want *MAGIC* to happen, you really need to purchase some form of liquid burnishing compound like the stuff I linked to before to include with steel shot. It makes a world of difference. You only use about a tea spoon at a time too, so the liquid really lasts a long time for many many tumbles.

    I am fascinated by these other methods you are using. If you find a successful one that creates a bright finish, please share pics.

    I have gotten the impression in the past that vibratory tumblers do not have as good of results for polishing as rotary with liquid, also vibratory are loud as hell and rotary makes a minimal amount of noise. Are you still using vibratory? Harbor Freight has a pretty cheap rotary tumbler that you could try out to see if it works better and you could return it if you don't like it.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2013
  8. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member

    yeah, I'm not happy with the vibration tumbler. I didn't saw any effect on stainless steel after 12 hours of tumbling. Might be cause the volume of the bowl is to big and I hadn't enough polishing material.
    I've ordered the rotation tumbler (Lorton Model 3A) Jamie recommended last week. Hope this will bring better results. Should be arrive in the next two days. :)

  9. CactusBones
    CactusBones New Member
    YES! I am sure you will be happy with it! If the ratio of volume of medium to container is not right, that would definitely cause issues but the vibration ones also just do not work as well. It made a huge difference in my production abilities when I got my lortone 4 years ago. I have literally run mine for days and it works like a champ. I started with the smaller one and eventually ordered the biggest one they make too because I needed to get a bigger one last year for my long cuffs.

    In any case, tumbling will bring the sheen up significantly, but I would put some dremel time in too. The dremel bit I linked to takes the pitting out pretty fast and polishes without leaving steaks/cut patterns.

    I bought a vibration tumbler before (after using rotary for years, just to try), and I think they probably work fine for soft metals (silver and gold) and for cleaning auto parts, but never worked for me with polishing brass / copper / steel so I returned it.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2013
  10. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member
    the tumbler was delivered today! I'm running my first test now, using ceramic polishing material (2-4 mm), soap-water and a stainless steel pendant. Hope this works nice. :)
    Jamie, your etsy shop is great. I really like the cooper designs with patina. How did you do this? Do you work as professional goldsmith?
    I started a dawanda shop this weekend (http://dawanda.com/shop/Pookas). Dawanda is similar to etsy. Don't now if my stuff is too expensive there but I've added only one design so far. Would you recommend etsy?
    I'll write tomorrow how the first tumbler usage worked! ;)

  11. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member
    The tumbler is still on work. ;)
    Using soap water with the polishing material seems to reduce the effect. I used it 12 hours and didn't saw much difference. I've added abrasive cleanser which works better but it seems to contain bleach... after a few hours the stainless steel turns darker cause of the oxidation. Also the manual says that bleach is bad for the tumbler box, so I won't use it again and buy some special stuff instead.
    Now I try to use it without any liquid. Seems to work not bad.

    I found another nice tool I'm thinking to purchase. It's a small sandblaster which works without a compressor by using a common vacuum cleaner. The price of 212 Euro sounds nice but maybe I should save the money for 3d printing. ;)

  12. CactusBones
    CactusBones New Member
    That sand blaster is awesome!!!!! Holy hell! I can't let myself buy any more equipment until I start using my electric kiln, but I definitely will be revisiting that link someday. I don't know how your shop is doing on Dawanda, but you should definitely try out Etsy. There is quite a bit of learning curve to getting your shop up and running (regardless of how they advertise how easy it is to get started). It takes work, but your products would do really well there. Whatever you do, don't ever pay for advertising on their site, it is a rip off. I have a .pdf I can share with you about starting up an etsy shop. Its a bit outdated but it was helpful for me and has different info than etsy's official sellers handbook.

    " I've added abrasive cleanser which works better but it seems to contain bleach... after a few hours the stainless steel turns darker cause of the oxidation. Also the manual says that bleach is bad for the tumbler box, so I won't use it again and buy some special stuff instead. "

    Be careful about using certain chemicals with the steel shot in the drum. I highly recommend the polishing liquid I mentioned before that is made for this. I know that if you use strong chemicals and not the right ones that it can actually start breaking the inside of the rubber drums down. The black that covers all the steel shot (especially if its actually attached to the steel beads and not just tinting the water) is most likely from the black rubber from the drums themselves breaking down and you really have to clean the drum really well after you do that (wipe it out) or it will keep breaking down.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2013
  13. GlenG
    GlenG New Member
    With the exception of hardened tool steel,Tungsten,Titainium, and a few other "exotic" metals, the SS print media is difficult (at best) to polish. The term "polish" can can mean different things to different people. Industrially speaking, there are many degrees/levels when specifying surface condition. Let us assume that conditioning a surface to a perfect mirror shine, with no visable trace of tool or abrasive scratch lines is a high level finish and that conditioning employing coarse abrasives or rotary burs is a low level finish. There are many levels in between these two extremes. Generally, a series of progressively finer abrasives are used on the surface. Once a surface is conditioned to 600grit (15micron) abrasive scratch lines are not visable to the naked eye and sufaces will have a bright satin sheen. This is usually the point where final polishing begins. Attempting to create an even mirror surface before this stage is reached will result in uneven results. Meaning, if you jump from 220 grit to polishing media you will see faint scratch lines all over an otherwise mirror surface. This may or may not be satisfactory.
    So now some specifics I have found to be true. When propery set up and used automated tumblers can yield good results but definitely not in all cases. Even when employing the correct tumbling media, the geometry of individual parts will largely determine outcome. Tumbling media can not reach into every crevice. Extending time of run with coarse media will result in rounding over or removal of raised areas and print lines will still remain in tight crevices. As the artist you either learn to live with the limitations of this process or resort to other means (hand work).
    To remove all trace of print lines some form of rotary tool (Dremel, flex shaft, die grinder etc) needs to be used. Carbide cutting burs work most effectively for rapid removal of material. The size and shape of the burs is determined by part gemoetry. "High SpeedSteel" type cutters will dull and wear out almost instantly and are a waste of money on this SS print meadia. Rotary diamond burs are not as agressive as the carbide tools but are great for refining surfaces These burs leave a velvet like surface condition often appealing enough for a final finish. They are also very inexpensive! There are also many other abrasive based wheels that can serve or enhance the results of carbide and diamond burs. Most rubberized type abrasives like "Cratex" fail to achieve acceptable results (too expensive, too slow) There are some cotton/abrasive composite wheels that work quite well "GTX" is one brand to look for. Also, so called "unitized conditioning wheel" made by 3M company (try "EXL") wheels work very well for rapid stock removal and pre polish finishing on the SS print media. 3M also makes diamond abrasive hand papers that work VERY well on flat surfaces. Not too expensive either.
    The Gesswein Co. has one of the best collections of finishing products available anywhere on the planet. I highly recommend getting their catalogs.
    SO, sorry if I rambled on here. Ultimately it is up to the artist , or clients to determine what "polish" means. They tools and materials i have suggested here are what I have come to rely on after years of working with this irrascible material. Good luck!

    P.S. Michael, the mini blaster looks cool but is only good for cleaning parts and producing matte to satin sheens (depending on blast media) on previously conditioned surfaces. It will NOT remove print lines. We have a 25hp blast cabinet at work so trust me on this.
  14. MichaelMueller
    MichaelMueller Well-Known Member
    Hi Glen,

    thanks for your great feedback! I was looking for a timesaving way to grind and polish but I guess you're right, for stainless steel, a dremel would be the best to remove the print lines. Jamie mentioned it, too. I'll check out some carbide cutting burs.
    I didn't ordered the sandblaster yet. I'll rethink if I need to clean or roughen stuff. On the other hand, a sandblaste is kind of a cool tool! ... :)