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What is a Buffing Wheel?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A buffing wheel is a piece of equipment used in the finishing of some metal products. If a finished product needs to have a smooth, even, shiny surface, it will be buffed. While buffing can be done manually, a buffing wheel is much faster and can yield more consistent results. Many hardware suppliers sell buffing wheels and the pads used with them. They can also be ordered through catalogs that stock supplies for metalworking.

The wheel mounts to a motor that spins it, and can be of different widths. To use a buffing wheel, a pad is attached to the wheel and a small amount of a buffing compound is applied to the pad. The wheel is turned on and the piece being worked on is held against the buffing wheel. Periodically, more compound may be added. As the piece is buffed, it smooths out and becomes shiny. Highly glossy finished metal pieces are often said to be "polished," but in fact they are more commonly buffed.

Numerous materials are used to make pads for buffing wheels, including cotton, velvet, leather, and lamb's wool. The right product to use depends on the metal involved and the desired level of finish. There are also an array of options when it comes to buffing compounds designed for different metals. Metalworking texts often publish charts people can use to match metals with buffing materials and experienced metalworkers are usually familiar with the options that work best for them.

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In buffing, people can use two different techniques. Cutting involves moving the piece against the direction the wheel is moving in, while coloring moves the piece with the wheel. It takes time to learn to use a buffing wheel properly. If the speed and pressure are wrong or the wrong materials are used, the metal can be abraded, and instead of being smooth and polished, it will have lines and streaks. Metalworkers often practice with scrap while they become familiar with the process.

In addition to being used to finish new metal pieces, a buffing wheel can also be utilized to rehabilitate older metal pieces. Metal that has been allowed to tarnish or stain can be buffed to gently remove the discolorations and restore the finish. Buffing compounds can seal the finish so that the piece will be less likely to stain again. Proper maintenance of finished metal pieces is important to avoid damaging them; if a piece becomes too badly stained, it may not be restorable with buffing.

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