12/1/2000 | 4 MINUTE READ

Efficiency: The Future of Polishing

Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

Toolmakers have changed their ways over time, boosting efficiency and speed, so why is polishing being done the same way today as it was back in 1968? This article will offer polishers methods to reduce polishing time by at least 30 percent.

In 1968 a typical day for a toolmaker would have been to come in, start the band saw and go over to his Bridgeport to set up his A and B plates to cut the pockets while the saw cut the insert blocks. By noon the cavity pockets would be done and he'd have lunch. Then he would start fly cutting the saw-cut blocks into squares. If he was good, by quitting time the blocks would be all squared up and ground to size. A good days' work back in 1968.

Toolmakers today don't touch any of those jobs - efficiency has taken over today's shops and now it's up to the methods used by toolmakers to increase speed in toolmaking. So, why is polishing being done the same way today as it was back in 1968? To all of those shop owners and polishers who think that polishing will always be done the same way, read this article for some proven methods that will reduce polishing time by at least 30 percent over currently used 1968 techniques. You will find that not only are you saving time on each job, you also are working easier instead of harder.

Let us consider the simple art of lapping with wood. A full 90 percent of all lapping with wood done in shops today is done with pine dowel rods because it's easy to get - and that's how polishers were taught. No shop today would allow a toolmaker to work as he did in 1968 and no shop should allow the polishers to do so either because it simply costs too much. Following are some tips and techniques to achieve polishing efficiency.

Plastic Laminate Wood

Plastic laminate wood is used when you need a thin lap because it holds up better than pine. So, next time use a plastic called phenolic (phenol-formaldehyde), which is a hard, strong resin that not only holds up well as thin laps, but also can apply diamond compound for an incredibly fast, scratch-free, diamond high-gloss finish. Phenolic is often impregnated with either paper or cloth so that it doesn't scratch the steel.

Polishers should test several types to find which ones they like the best for their style of work - switching just this one technique may save up to 60 percent of the time it would take using the old plastic laminate wood, which has always been as brittle as thin blades and tends to leave zig-zag scratches when diamond polishing.

Orange Wood

The wood of the orange tree is 99 percent scratch-free and the toughest of the five woods.

Occasionally, it may leave zig-zag marks in the steel, but this is often overcome by lightening up on the downward pressure and shortening the stroke of the profiler. This is an effective method of decreasing scratches regardless of the wood or stone being used. Plus, this type of wood leaves a tremendous gloss finish.


Boxwood was so named because it was primarily used to make wooden boxes. Slightly softer than orange wood, boxwood is ideal for polishing. Shape the boxwood into a chisel for lapping corners and under heavy pressure it will take out the deepest stone marks; under lighter pressure it leaves a deep glossy finish. Use this in a triangular shape to flat lap - or any other type of application. You will experience up to a 60 percent savings in time over using pine in the same circumstances.


Pine is used by more than 90 percent of all polishers as their main wood for polishing. It is softer than boxwood, but unfortunately adds considerably more time to polishing because of its grain, which is hard and runs through each piece of wood, and can easily be seen when looked at through an eye loop. These dark brown lines are actually hard enough to cut lines into the steel when lapping, resulting in bad finishes. Heat also is a problem with pine as it often leaves pit holes in the steel from heat friction. Attempting to fix these imperfections adds unnecessary time to the job.


Basswood is much softer than boxwood or pine, and is probably the only wood in existence that allows the polisher to optically polish corners by hand. You can use it in a profiler to quickly polish a deep luster on all steels. It also is a perfect finishing wood for all applications and steels - especially the soft, porous steels.

Balsa Wood

Balsa wood is from the balsa tree and is exceptionally light and soft. This wood is used by polishers, but breaks very easily in most applications. Substituting basswood for balsa saves time on many jobs, but balsa is very useful in ultrasonic profilers when it is dipped in a three-micron diamond and gives a beautiful deep gloss in practically no time at all - certainly the fastest way to high gloss tiny parts.

What makes one wood productive and another counter-productive in polishing? The answer is the grain. Phenolic, orange wood, boxwood, basswood and balsa wood either have no grain at all or such a fine grain that it does not hurt the steel. Orange wood, boxwood and balsa wood are all available through polishing catalogues, phenolic is available through plastic sheet suppliers and basswood is available from any craft or hobby shop.

Experimenting with several types of wood will yield great timesavings and easier, glossier finishes. A 30 percent timesavings on polishing means that you pay for two jobs and get the third for free.


Related Topics