Making and Using Inexpensive Buff Compounds for Wood, Plasics and Resin

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As the title indicates, this is an instructable about making inexpensive buff compounds for use on plastic, wood and resins.
Once you have the few ingredients needed to make them, they are both cheap and easy to make. You can make a batch in around five minutes, or less.

I made and tested my own compound by, roughly, duplicating the buff compound formula I learned about when I attended a local wood turning club meeting, where a member shared about a very good product he used to put a fine polish on turned bowls and things. Of course, the product was not cheap.

Upon looking at the ingredient label, I noted it mentioned diatomaceous earth and pumice, which I had on hand. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize many things we buy and use, and that are impressively labeled and well promoted, can be made, inexpensively, at home.

From working with my own formulas, I can say these simple mixes perform well as buff compounds for plastics, resins and even wood.

Step 1: Ingredients and Items You'll Need to Make Your Own Buff Compounds

To make your own buff compound, you’ll need the following three items:


1.0 BEES WAX.

1.1 You can use the beeswax from toilet rings readily available from hardware stores that supply plumbing supplies.

1.2 I’ve bought three different rings and have noted there can be significant variations in how dark the wax is from ring to ring. If you desire or need lighter colored bee's wax, you may want to go on line to order some in bulk. However, I have had good luck with light powders and relatively light wax, even using when buffing very light woods like sycamore.

1.3 You can also buy beeswax in bulk on line and there are a lot of options.

2.0 FINE PUMICE STONE

and/or

DIATOMACEOUS EARTH -

and/or

ROTTENSTONE -

and/or

CERIUM OXIDE -

2.1 You do not need all of these powders, unless you want to experiment. I note the commercial versions use both pumice and diatomaceous earth, in the same mix but I haven’t tried the commercial ones, so do not know how they compare in performance. I get excellent results just using the diatomaceous earth. In fact, it has become my go to compound.

2.2 If you use rottenstone, be aware it is dark, so can be problematic for polishing light woods. It depends on the effect you're trying to achieve. However, it can still be useful for polishing plastics, including poly’s, and lacquer.

2.3 The pumice I have does not bring as fine a shine to plastics as the diatomaceous earth I used to make my compound.

2.4 I haven’t tried baking soda, but it and other things, like corn starch and flour, might produce interesting results. Of course, they are cheap and easy to find.

2.5 The cerium oxide version seems to be the finest of the compounds, but is the most expensive to make using the powders mentioned.

3.0 Turpentine. 3.1 Keep in mind, you don’t need a large quantity for even a good sized batch.

3.2 I have not tested using paint thinner, as a replacement for turpentine. It may be it would do fine. As long as it dissolves the beeswax enough so it will mix with the powder, it would be fine.

3.3 Merely heating the beeswax would be sufficient to allow it to mix with the powder. However, keep in mind beeswax can ignite, so should be heated using a TENDED double boiler, or by sitting the container of wax in boiling water, until it can be mixed with the powder.

NOTE: If the container is plastic, too much heat will, of course, melt the container. If the container is glass and if it has not been warmed, such as by setting it in hot tap water to warm, placing the container in boiling water is likely to break it.

4.0 CONTAINER(S)

4.1 When I went looking for containers to store the mixed compound in, I found prices to be higher than I’d was willing to pay. However, glass containers of shapes that I could both store the compound in and dip a cloth or paper towel in to were readily available at Dollar Stores. I just had to dispose of the jam they held when I bought them.

4.2 I prefer plastic containers for the durability. I did find some I liked that are sold by Lowes or other paint outlets for samples of paint.

Step 2: Mixing Your Buff Compounds

1.0 To allow your chosen buff powder and beeswax to mix, you can dissolve the beeswax using either heat or a solvent, like turpentine, following either of the set of steps set out below:
[METHOD USING MELTED BEESWAX]

1.1(a) Melt about 1/4 cup of wax by placing it in a container capable of withstanding boiling water (a glass container may be preferable for this method) and let it set until it melts. Have more boiling water ready and replace the water the partial container of wax is in, if it’s cooled and the wax has not melted. When melted, go to step “3.0,” below.

NOTE: The wax may not have to be totally melted. For example, if 3/4 of the wax has melted, just stirring the hotter wax with the cooler wax may melt the rest.

or

1.1(b) Use a microwave, BUT LIMIT THE RUN TIME TO 20 SECONDS at a time, and stir the wax between each run. If melted, after stirring, go to the next step. Otherwise, run the wax in the microwave another 20 seconds and stir again, until melted.

2.0 If you do not want to or cannot melt the beeswax using one of two methods above, place about 1/4 cup of beeswax in your glass or plastic container.

2.1 Add about a teaspoon of turpentine to the container and mix until the beeswax is the consistency of a thick syrup. Add more turpentine, if needed and mix again.

2.2 Add about 1/8 cup of cup of your chosen buff powder to the container. And stir until all the powder and beeswax are mixed together and are the consistency of a paste about as thick as or a bit thicker than toothpaste.

NOTE: Add drops of turpentine or more powder per your preference. The wax is just a carrier and slight lubricant for the buff powder so specific amounts are not critical.

You are, now, done and ready to use the buff compound.

Step 3: Using Your Homemade Buff Compounds

1.0 Essentially, buffing compound is nothing more than the equivalent of soft and really flexible sandpaper. As such, and before you use the buff compound, you need to prepare the piece by sanding through a few, more coarse grits, working progressively finer grits, until near the grit equivalent of the buff compound.
1.1 Though we can, generally, stop sanding at 150 grit for most woodworking projects, working with plastics requires even finer grits, or the sand marks will show, once the polishing is done.

1.2 I have had good luck getting high quality, clear optical finishes sanding to 320 grit, then moving to the buff compounds.

1.3 The grits I use working up to 320 depend on how rough the final turning or other item is. If I have significant chips on the plastic, because, for example, I let my lathe knives get dull, I may have to start out with 100 grit. From there, I jump over 120 to 150, then to 180 or even 220 and, finally, to the 320.

1.4 Interestingly, though the sanding goes quickly doing it as described in the previous paragraph, it can go even quicker by going through the following sequence of grits: 100, 120, 150, 180, 220, then 320.

1.5 When sanding, USE A LIGHT TOUCH, and keep moving around on both the piece you are sanding and on the sandpaper.

1.6 For each finer grit, wipe the piece off (grit left from the previous paper can contaminate the finer grit), then sand until the sand marks from the previous grit are gone.

1.7 When using my buffer, I use a soft, spiral sewn wheel, to which I apply a bit of the compound, spread around the wheel.

1.8 Keep moving the piece around as you buff it or you will melt the plastic and will end up with polished dimples and grooves.

1.9 When polishing on the lathe, use an old cotton T-shirt, a blue paper (shop) towel, or a micro fiber cloth to hold a generous daub of your buff compound.

NOTE: An advantage of the paper towels is, there are no threads that can be grabbed by the lathe or the piece. Regardless what you use, don’t wrap it around your finger so, if it gets caught, you will not be injured. That said, a micro-fiber cloth seems to do an even nicer job of polishing than the paper towel or T-shirt. Just avoid the ends of the item, where it is most likely to get caught.

1.10.1 Press the compound laden part of the cloth or towel against the project piece and keep it moving.

1.10.2 You’ll notice the piece change sheen very quickly. Of course, the wax will alter the color of the wood you are polishing too.

1.11 The plastic may not appear clear. To check the level of clarity, switch to a clean part of the towel or cloth to wipe off the compound. The shine will jump out at this point.

Step 4: Just Some Notes

1.0 Note items will come out of the buff process looking nice. However, because the finish is nothing more than beeswax, the item will look dull in as little as a half hour just sitting around.
1.1 If you like wax finishes, but don’t like the way it dulls quickly, consider experimenting with adding carnauba wax to the mix. Generally, you’d just wipe the piece down, let it sit for several minutes, then buff with soft cloth.

1.2 You can use turpentine to remove the wax based buff compound, before applying a finish. Paint thinner may also work, since you just need something that will dissolve the wax without raising wood grain.

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    10 Discussions

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    obillo

    Question 10 days ago

    What about linseed oil and petroleum products--paraffi and the like? I've used--with success--Vaseline to preserve wooden knife handles.

    5 answers
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    KellyCraigobillo

    Reply 10 days ago

    You've got the name of this game, Obillo - expirimentaiton. The commercial stuff uses mineral oil, and it works. I treated my old kitchen knives with a beeswax, mineral oil finish and they look better than they did out of the box forty years ago.

    Obviously, though thick, vasoline would melt like the wax does under friction, so it's all fair game.

    I do plan on test driving baking soda, corn starch and common flour as buff powders soon. Somewhere in all this, there's room for Bon Ami (sp?) and other "no scratch" cleaners too.

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    obilloKellyCraig

    Reply 10 days ago

    Thanks, KC. I've used mineral oil a lot on cutting boards as well as knife handles--always warning it first, possibly out of groundless/irrational superstition. Particularly good on cutting boards because it doesn't stink or turn rancid and it edible. You've booted me back into experimental mode, so where do you get rottenstone, diatomaceous earth, etc.? Possibly a professional painters' supply (as distinct from the local ACE Hardware)? I will try to find Bon Ami, though my mother always preferred Old Dutch Cleanser. Used to use toothpaste to polish my pipe stems, but now the whole industry seems to have gone over to gels, which don't work well.Maybe if I mixed them with some baking powder or or starch. I love this kind of make-do craft craftiness. Couple of centuries ago I refinished a walnut rifle stock with a stainmy by soaking chewing tobacco in denatured alcohol, then rubbing it endlessly with linseed . . .

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    KellyCraigobillo

    Reply 10 days ago

    O, regarding rottenstone, some lumber yards carry it, as would, as you suspepect, some
    paint supply stores.

    Diatomaceious earth may be available wherever you buy things to get rid of
    bug type pests. You want the raw stuff. Many bags of floor cleaner are nothing more than diatomaceous earth, but I don't know how fine they are. You, of course, want fine stuff. Avoid the filter material from pool supplies and such because it's been crystalized by putting it under high heat (which is also the type that is leathal to us and animals, whereas the raw is not).

    Cameo or Bar Keeper's Friend might work too. Some say the BonAmi scratches less, so it would stand that it must be more fine. Regardless, they are stainless steel cleaning powders and available at the local grocery.

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    obilloKellyCraig

    Reply 10 days ago

    Manty thatks, KC. In this wise we keep knowledge alive! Bil

    0
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    KellyCraigobillo

    Reply 10 days ago

    OBillo, I'm a fanatic about mineral oil and bread or cutting boards.

    I bought a butcher block cart some years back and it had been sorely neglected, to the point the joints were separating and cracks and splits were showing from the wood shrinking over the years. I slathered mineral oil on and kept adding it wherever it soaked in. Once it quit readily taking in oil, I slathered a VERY general layer on and just walked away.

    I came back to the butcherblock a few weeks later and, of course, the oil had all soaked in. Too, it had wicked in to the point it expanded the wood back to near what it was when the moisture content was higher. As a result, ALL the cracks, splits and separations were no longer visible.

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    obillo

    10 days ago

    You are dead right in saying that many expensive commercial products are just dressed-up versions of ordinary stuff. I recall seeing a bottle of fancy stuff for getting winter road salt off boots and shoes priced at $6 for 8 oz.. It was just vinegar and water.

    1 reply
    0
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    KellyCraigobillo

    Reply 10 days ago

    Which might go to remind us, sometimes, old, simple technology can be as good as the new technology, or even the best. Too, it's kind of like the "new," high tech heaters pushed on commercials, that, suspiciously, seem to operate an awful lot like the old infrared technology.