Daily Archives: July 18, 2012

Using a Buffing Wheel

Blog by Steve Laug

Using cloth buffing wheels to buff the finish on a refurbished pipe can work wonders by smoothing the surface giving the pipe a “like new shine”. However, a disclaimer needs to be stated up front – buffing will not remove scratches or imperfections and buffing can make things a mess if not done properly.

I use The Beall System buffing wheels on two bench grinders that I have stripped down. The system employs a three-step procedure using three different 8 inch buffing wheels. The first wheel uses Tripoli as a buffing compound; the second uses White Diamond (aluminum oxide). The third is used to apply carnauba wax and bring the finish to its final luster. So that I do not have to change the wheels between buffs I use the two bench grinders that I have stripped down. I removed the grinding stone wheels, the guards and left only the arbor on each side. I used the washers from the grinder stones and an extra washer to hold the pads/wheels firmly. I put the pads I use for White Diamond and Tripoli on one buffer and the carnauba and added a fourth clean felt pad on the other. I thus can work down the row – Tripoli, White Diamond, carnauba and then a clean flannel wheel to bring up the shine. The picture below shows the Beall system. It includes three buffing pads – clearly stamped for the product they are designed to apply, one bar each of Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba. The cylinder standing in the centre is an arbor that can be attached to a single shaft motor so that the wheels can be spun on and off quickly. The long shank in the bottom of the picture is an extension that can be attached to the arbor to give some distance from the motor should you need it. If you use a bench grinder those two parts are not necessary.


The photo below shows the wheels with the mounting screw that can be either screwed into the arbor unit as pictured in the one wheel on the buffer or they can be removed and the pads turned on to the spindles of the bench grinders as I picture in my setup.


The kit can be purchased through the Beall Tool Company through their website at www.bealltool.com or Lee Valley Tools through their online catalogue at http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?p=20092&cat=1,190,43040,43042 Both sites provide the ability to order individual components of the system. The Beall website also has a description of the system along with instructions. There are links to videos where Jerry Beall gives lessons on buffing.

In the essay below I will describe my set up and how I use it along with some quick reminders for you as you work with your buffer.


I use two 6 inch bench grinders that I bought from a tool liquidator near my home for my buffers. They are both 1750 RPM motors mounted on a stand with an arbor on each end. The stand that is part of the grinder keeps the wheels above the surface of the work table and at a comfortable height. I place my buffers on my work table so that they are at waist height for ease of buffing and because I don’t want to have to stoop down to buff. I stand to buff because I have more control over the angles which I hold the pipe against the wheel. Each wheel is held in place by a cup washer on each side and a nut that threads on to the end of the arbor. The shaft is the same size as the holes in the buffing wheels so I place the first cup washer on, twist the wheel in place, put a simple washer and then the cup washer on the outside to get a good tight fit. If the wheel is loose it can move around the spindle or shaft and do damage to the wheel and allow it to shift on the spindle.


The blue buffer above is my work horse – the left side holds the White Diamond wheel and the right side the Tripoli wheel. You can see from the picture that the pads have worn down and are the way I like to use them. There are no more loose strings or fabric. The wheels are charged in the picture above with the amount of both products that I use on them. I find that if I over charge them with product it just gums up on the stem and makes a mess of things rather than polishing them.


The yellow buffer above is my secondary or polishing buffer. The wheels are not as worn as the ones on the blue grinder because I use them less frequently in the process of buffing. It is used for the final polishing. The left side is a clean flannel wheel with no product on it. It still loses strings when I buff with it. It is soft and gives the carnauba a real shine. The right side is the carnauba wheel. It too is charged with wax and ready to use. I am careful how much wax I load the wheels with as too much can really make a mess.

When I first mounted the wheels the recommendation that I was given was to “clean” the wheels initially by backing a sheet of 100-grit sandpaper with a small board and touching the sandpaper to the wheel. I chose not to do so, because the description of the mess deterred me. It said that the air around the buffer would be filled with fibers and lint. I decided to live with this while I broke them in with the polishing compounds.

Some people have built enclosures around the wheels to attach a dust collector to catch whatever comes off the wheels. I have added a picture below to show the shield that can be used. It is a pretty elaborate shield. I have used cardboard boxes in the past to catch the lint and dust and the pipes that occasionally fly away! I generally do not use a shield because I find that it was in the way when I work on the pipes. I want a fully open wheel to work with. Besides there was far less debris produced after the wheels were put in service and loaded with compound. I do however put a thick towel or a piece of carpet under the buffer wheel as it picks up the dust, etc. and can easily be vacuumed for cleanup.


The first thing to do when you set up your buffing system is to charge the wheels with buffing compound. They key to remember is that it doesn’t take much for a wheel to be fully charged. Many people overdo on the charging and gum up the wheels and make a mess of the pipes they polish. Less is more is the rule of thumb. With the wheel rotating at speed, touch the bar of compound to the wheel only for a second or two and without forcing the bar into the fabric. The Tripoli is a dark reddish-brown color so you get a visual indication of the amount that’s been applied. With the white diamond and wax, it’s harder to judge. In the picture below you can see the White Diamond on the left, the Tripoli in the middle and the carnauba wax on the right side. Those bars should last a long time. I have found over the 10 + years that I have had my buffer that I had to replace the Tripoli at about year 5, followed a year later by the White Diamond. I still am using the same bar of carnauba.


My suggestion is to do a bit of experimenting with a pipe that you are not afraid to damage or have thrown across the room. Try differing amounts of charge on the Tripoli wheel and note the effect. Begin with “obviously too little” and work your way to “probably too much.”  Do a similar test with the White Diamond and the carnauba wax. If you suspect you have too much charge on the wheel, some of it can be removed by lightly touching the sharp edge of a board to the wheel.

I hold the pipe in my left hand with a thumb or finger in the bowl so that I have a good firm hold on it. Practice buffing the pipe with each of the materials to get a feel for them. Each one is on a slightly different pad so they handle differently and the materials are different in their feel on the wheel. If you happen to put too much of any of the materials on the wheel and the pipe gums up you can wipe it down with Isopropyl alcohol and restart the process. Practice until you are comfortable with the feel of the pipe in your hand.

When you are buffing use a light touch. Pressing the pipe bowl against the wheel with considerable force only increases the heat generated where the wheel contacts the bowl. Pressing it hard against the stem can cause the vulcanite to burn or melt and make more work for you rather than less. A light touch is critical to getting a good finish and polish. Keep the pipe bowl moving as you are buffing, turning it so every surface get a good buff, with the stems the same thing is true so that the heat production is not concentrated in one area. I never buff a pipe bowl and stem separately. The buffer can round edges on the stem or the shank and the junction between the two is permanently damaged and the value and look of the pipe is affected.


  1. Pay attention carefully and focus on the work. The equipment can hurt you so be careful! In regard to personal safety, just use common sense. A buffing wheel can grab loose sleeves, long hair, or dangling jewelry very quickly, so pay attention and be careful.
  2. While your safety is a potential hazard the greater one is the wheel can grab the pipe and take it out of your hands in a heartbeat. That is why I hold it the way I do – both hands, one with the thumb or finger in the bowl. This is a real issue; do not take it lightly.
  3. Always keep a firm grip on the pipe. It takes some thought and practice to grip the pipe firmly while applying it to the wheel with a light touch. The tendency is to hold it lightly, in keeping with the light touch.
  4. Be careful when buffing a pipe around the rim and bowl opening because the wheel can grab the edge of an opening.  Also, be alert when buffing near the rim because the reddish powder from the Tripoli and a white powder from the White Diamond gets into the inside of the bowl. It will need to be wiped out carefully with a cotton swab.
  5. The wheels can grab a small-diameter stem because the strings of the fabric tend to wrap around it if you press it too far into the wheel. The safest way to present the stem is with its length pointing in the direction the surface of the wheel is moving.
  6. Don’t try buffing metal bands, stingers or metal caps or rims.  It will work but will permanently discolor the buffing wheels.