Tool Time Tuesday – Sanding and preparing your metal

Getting a nice smooth finish is one of the hardest things to do on metal. There is a lot of elbow grease that goes into getting a nice finished polish. While I don’t have a “finished” piece of jewelry to look at for the end of this project, you will see just what I go through when I am making a piece.

First off, is sanding your piece necessary? Sometimes, No. But most of the time, YES! As I construct some of my pieces I will find a new little scratch or nick here and there. It is important to remove those if I want to have a nicely finished piece. Sometimes that is just plain easier said than done. And sometimes, my piece gets a nice new texture that wasn’t in the original plans.

There are a couple of types of sand paper that I will be using for this tutorial. First is just plain sandpaper that I bought at my local hardware store. I use a range of grits from 100 – 600. You can buy sand paper in grits up to 2000 from an auto body shop as well. More often than not, you will not need to start at 100 grits. I find that unless I have a LOT of really DEEP scratches, I can usually start with a 400 and work my way up from there. Occasionally I need to back it down to 320 or even 220, but it is very rare.

The second type of sand paper that I really like is called Microfinishing film from 3M. It is a plastic paper and it lasts FOREVER. I can usually rinse it off, let it dry and use it again and it is almost as good as new. It is also great because you can use it under water and not worry about it falling apart. It is a bit more expensive, but TOTALLY worth the cost. I believe I bought an assorted pack from Rio Grande about 3 years ago and I haven’t even used a 1/3 of the sheet. I just cut off a 2 1/2″ square and use that until it isn’t any good any more. The micro finishing films are not measured in grits, but rather microns. They start at 80 microns and progress to 9 microns. When you feel the 9 micron sheet you will truly be amazed that it is a sand paper. It feels like a very soft velvet, as will your piece once you finish with them.

*Tip: One thing you can do to protect your sheet metal is to glue some paper on each side of the metal before storing it. This lends lots of great uses in addition to saving you time sanding your piece. You can draw on the paper for designs or even for measuring purposes. Paste a thin layer of rubber cement onto your metal and let it dry. At the same time, paste a thin layer onto a piece of paper and let it dry. When both pieces are dry lay the paper (cement side down) onto the metal. It will adhere and it comes off easily when you need it to.

Here is what I started with. I dug through some of my copper scrap and found a couple of long pieces of copper that had been annealed, but never cleaned up.
Pretty isn’t it? This piece was actually pretty clean of scratches. But I sanded the entire piece down with 100 grit to clean it up and get the tutorial started.

100 Grit
This shows the piece done with 100 grit. I did a sort of crosshatch pattern so it would be easier to see. Typically I will use the lower grits, like 80, 100, 120, etc. for decorative finishes on my pieces.

I have now progressed to 150 grits. Notice that I have also changed the direction in which I am sanding. This is done on purpose. You want to change the direction so you can see which scratches are being removed from the previous round of sanding. I rotate between up and down and side to side. You want to keep sanding with the newest grit of sandpaper until all scratches from the previous round have been removed. This will take some elbow grease in some cases. It is just another great way to burn a few calories.

100, 150, 200 grit
Moving on to round 3. I have now moved to 220 grits. Notice that I have changed the direction of sanding. Also, notice texture. It is getting finer and finer as we move along.

100, 150, 220 and 320 grit
Once again, I have changed directions of sanding as I now move to 320 grits.

320 and 400 grit
I love getting into working with the 400 grit. Once I am done with this round of sanding, the metal is so soft and smooth. There is a notable difference between the feel from the previous grits and 400.

320, 400, 600 grit
Change directions once again and continue in the previous fashion. The lines left by the 600 grit are very fine and close together.

320, 400, 600 grit

Depending on the finish I am after, I may take it from 600 to my buffing machine. here I have used a polishing compound called Fabulustre. It is still going to leave scratches, but they are going to be minor and so smooth.

400,600, fabulustre
I wanted to add another shot of the final polish. Notice, you can see me peeking in as I take the picture. The final polish does leave it more smooth and reflective.

For this next section, I am not going to walk through each of the steps, but I have gone through the exact same process with the 3M Micro finishing films.

Again, I started with another piece of beautifully annealed metal.This really did have a great patina.


Shiny metal is one of the hardest things to take a picture of. So I tried to get it with a couple of different angles so you can see the difference between each of the sections. The results are similar between the products, though the micro finishing films are a bit more refined and a bit more smooth. I am able to get a higher finish with these as the particles are more along the lines of a 2000 grit sandpaper.

Another thing people ask about all the time is how to get a good matte finish. I have worked so hard to come up with a good way to do that. At first I was so frustrated because all I could ever get was a scratched surface. But that wasn’t what I wanted at all. The first thing I ever started with was a green scotchbrite pad. I was able to get a scratchy surface, but nothing that was really what I would consider “matte.” One instructor mentioned that I could work the pad in small circles giving it more of a Florentine finish. That was okay, but not what I wanted.

As I worked with more patina’s I noticed that I got a pretty nice matte finish with the #0000 steel wool that I was using to remove the patinas from the high spots on my pieces. I worked with this for a long time and was fairly happy until a colleague mentioned that he thought it just looked scratched.

Then I recall cleaning some metal with a pumice powder. It had left a beautifully matte finish on my piece. Because the pumice powder is so fine you can really get a nice smooth finish on the piece. It can be worked dry or sometimes I will add just a small amount of water to create a paste. I will work the powder around with an old soft toothbrush, or just my fingers.

I bought my pumice powder from Rio Grande. I bought a 3lb box and it lasts forever. I take a small amount out and
keep it in a little baby food container at my sink in the studio. I use it on almost every piece I work on at some point and time, whether just to clean a spot of dirt, remove oxidation or to apply a texture. You do want to be careful about using this as it is a very fine powder and can be inhaled and cause issues if not used properly. A friend told me that she likes to use a product called “Bar Keeps Friend.” Or something like that. It is similar to ajax, but without a cleaning agent I believe.

This shows the three finishes I talked about above.

I know the picture isn’t the best, but at least it gives you an idea of what to look for and how to use this.

Please let me know if you have any further questions and I will be sureto address them here on the blog. Also If you have a specific tool youwould like to know about, let me know. I am making a list and can’twait to share some of my other insights with you.

Like what you read here?Why not subscribe to the blog and you won’t miss a post. Just enteryour email address in the box that says subscribe in the upper leftcorner. You will be notified at that email address every time a newblog entry is made.

11 thoughts on “Tool Time Tuesday – Sanding and preparing your metal

  1. Anita

    This is an AWESOME write-up – I especially loved the pictures showing the difference with each step. I think you need to write a book – you’d do great! Thanks for all the helpful information! Anita

  2. Melissa Muir

    Thanks everyone. I am really glad you are all enjoying the posts. I hope to come up with some other really good things here in the future. It is kind of fun to go through all of these and it keeps me motivated to post weekly. 🙂

    Thanks again,


  3. Shay

    Another great post Melissa! You have so much great stuff to share:) I agree with Anita about you doing a book. You have a wonderful and accessible style of writing and photographing. Nice!

    As far as suggestions of topics – one thing I’ve always wondered about is polishing with a dremel or flexshaft. I can’t do things by hand because of the carpal tunnel, and have purchased a kit of polishing wheels, but have yet to jump in and figure out how to use them properly. I’d love to be able to both smooth out some plier marks and create an awesome shine. So there you have it – another idea if you feel inclined!

  4. Cindy

    This was such helpful information! I agree…posting the pictures showing the different grits was a great idea. Thank you for taking the time to write up this tutorial.

  5. Melissa

    Thanks for stopping by. Let me know what you think of using the pumice powder. I would love to hear what other people think about it too.


  6. Melissa

    I am glad it was helpful Cindy. If you have any thing you would like me to review, be sure to let me know. I have a great list started and am always looking for more ways to help my students, readers and of course my own work.


  7. Melissa

    Thank you Shay.

    I have thought about doing a book and others have certainly requested it of me. I am often concerned that my style of writing is not proper and am afraid that people will think I am a total dunce because  of it. But I must say, that most people “get it” when I explain things. I guess that comes from being a professional trainer for 12 years. I love teaching and explaining things.

    A good friend of mine is coming over next week to help me write up some tips on polishing using both a polishing machine and the flexshaft. I can’t guarantee that it will be next weeks topic, in fact, it most likely won’t be. But I will have something put together very soon.

    Thanks for the suggestion and please, if you have any others, send them on.


  8. Melissa

    Thank you Anita.

    The book bug has certainly been planted. Now all I have to do is figure out what to write about. Send me your suggestions. I am all ears.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *