I like to use Silicon Carbide Wet and Dry Paper…
This is a go to abrasive when making jewelry. The various grits refine the surface in preparation for polishing. The stiff nature of the paper allows you to tackle stubborn lumps and bumps or it can be used, abrasive side up, on a flat surface to sand a flat plane.
3M Silicon Carbide Wet and Dry Paper – 400 and 600 grit to get started
then add 180, 220, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000, and 2500 grit as needed.
We use various grits of emery paper for making jewelry. The lower the number grit, the rougher it is, hence the higher the number, the smoother it is. The idea is to start with the roughest grit you need to smooth the deepest scratch or imperfection on the surface you are sanding, and then work your way through the grits until you have the surface refined to your desired finish. So, try a conservative grit first. If it smooths the surface there’s no need to use anything rougher, but if it doesn’t, you need to go with a rougher grit until the deepest blemishes are taken care of and then you work towards the smoother grits one by one until you achieve your goal.
I commonly use emery paper to start the sanding process, but often, I finish with sanding sponges and/or slurry coated cloths. The emery paper is best for flat high-shine surfaces though, so it depends on the piece you are sanding.
Here’s a list of the common grits and what they are used to accomplish:
- 180 grit – rough – used for smoothing heavily scratched or textured sheet or if you are looking to remove a fair amount of material (I like to have this on hand – but I don’t use it very often)
- 220 grit – also aggressive – used for smoothing heavily scratched or textured sheet
- 320 grit – still fairly aggressive (I honestly often skip this grit)
- 400 grit – this is often what I start with – if there’s any scratches it doesn’t smooth, I use a 220 grit and then re-visit this 400 grit.
- 600 grit – a perfect choice when you’re metal is in good shape. This may be your best bet – no need to use something more aggressive if you don’t need to. If there’s a blemish it doesn’t smooth, then use the 400 grit and circle back to using the 600 grit after the 400 grit. Many jeweler’s stop at this point especially if they’re using polishing compounds with buffing equipment – but that’s not likely for many hobbyists creating at home. However this is commonly when I switch over to using the 3M sanding sponges unless my surface is really flat and I am seeking a high-polish finish in the end.
- 800 grit – refines the surface even more than the 600 grit
- 1000 grit – getting quite smooth now
- 1500 grit – really smooth now
- 2000 grit – surface is getting pretty shiny
- 2500 grit – almost looks like you’re polishing the surface rather than sanding it
I typically have all of these grits on hand, but mostly use the 400 grit and 600 grit unless I am striving for a mirror finish. After using the 600 grit I tend to switch over to the 3M Sanding Sponges and then the Slurry coated polishing cloths.
Emery paper creates a visible texture…
It’s important to note (especially for newbies) the grit of the paper causes scratches. This is supposed to happen. 😉 The goal with sanding is to evenly ‘scratch’ the surface. You want to work in a single linear pattern, not oscillating (in circles), or varied directions. Think of it as a satin finish (in fact some artists intentionally use this as their finish). If you’re striving for a mirror finish, many metalsmiths recommend sanding in one direction and then the opposite direction (across the first grain) with each grit of paper. Honestly, I find that sticking with one direction for all grits works quite well for most projects, but try it out for yourself and see if you think it’s worth the effort. As the creator, it’s up to you to decide how refined you’d like the surface.
Emery paper is sold in sheets – usually 9” x 11”. I typically cut the sheet down into smaller pieces as I need it. This keeps the rest of the sheet in top condition and it makes the piece you’re using easier to manage. Just be careful not to cut them too small or it will be hard to hold onto. I often fold a piece so there’s both a grit edge and an edge that doesn’t have any grit. This is handy when you want to get up close to things you don’t want to mar.
Warning: Don’t forget to mark the grit on your cut pieces to identify it in the future.
Where to purchase…
You can find the 3M wet or dry silicon carbide paper at hardware stores like Home Depot in packs of multiple sheets. But one of my local jewelry supply stores SJ Jewelry Supply sells individual sheets. You can order through them or check out your local jewelry supply store. It’s always a good idea to support your local stores so they can continue to provide your materials when you need them.