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Bench Notes #17

Issue #17 - July 2013


This summer something BIG is going to happen! All the Sax ProShop techs plus Curt will be packing up their benches and head to Atlanta for the annual Saxophone Day on September 14th. Meet Josh, Chris, Matt, Ryan, and Jeff; have them perform minor repairs right there at the event, get an Uberhaul or repair quote, talk about possible modifications and upgrades, and ask any repair questions you may have. You can even drop off your saxophone for an Uberhaul instead of going through the process of shipping it. Curt will also give a clinic on saxophone repair you don't want to miss.

While you are there, enjoy masterclasses, focus sessions, saxophone ensembles, artist and participant recitals, and exhibits hosted by the award-winning saxophonists and recording artists Jan Berry Baker and Scott Stewart. The special guest for the event is our friend Steve Stusek, a world-class saxophonist and Associate Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Also in attendance will be Carere Music, Vandoren, and Yamaha. If you are in the United States, head on over to Atlanta and join us! To register, check out the official website for the Atlanta Saxophone Day at


While many players take the trip to North Carolina to drop off their saxophones for an Uberhaul at the Sax ProShop, this is not feasible for everyone. The thought of trusting a shipping company with your precious instrument may seem risky, but we can greatly reduce that risk by packing the saxophone correctly. Check out this short video on how to ship an instrument safely.


Although it's a dirty job, buffing is often a necessary part of the process when soldering, repairing, modifying, and restoring instruments to make them aesthetically pleasing. Buffing removes scratches and tarnish and gives metals a high luster finish. This article will take you through the basics of buffing and the supplies that are used in the process.

Any material that can be polished can be buffed including all types of metal. In the instrument repair field, the most common metal you will be buffing is brass, but you will also likely need to buff silver plate, nickel plate, copper and hard rubber from time to time. There are specific types of wheels and compounds that are used when working with different materials and depending on which task you are accomplishing.

It is important to remember that you are removing a small amount of material from your work surface when bringing it to a gleaming shine by buffing. When done correctly, it is a negligible amount. If done without control and precision, however, one risks buffing a thin spot into the body of an instrument, unintentionally shortening or rounding off keys, damaging tone holes or moving parts such as posts. Practice and care will help you avoid pitfalls and your end results will be worth the trouble.

Cut Buffing, Color Buffing, and Polishing

The first step of buffing a piece of brass is called cut buffing or hard buffing. This process uses a coarse grit compound, such as the Grey or Brown Tripoli. The purpose of cut buffing is to remove light to medium scratches and tarnish as well as to smooth out uneven surfaces and pitting. Metal is removed quickly during cut buffing, making it essential to keep your workpiece moving and not buff one spot for too long. Also, do not apply excessive pressure during this step.

Once cut buffing is complete, color buffing will help bring out the natural luster and shine of the brass and will also smooth away the fine scratches that were left from cut buffing. You can use Red Blue, or Blue Hubble for color buffing.

Buffing is also a great way to beautify keys. Blue compound works well for polishing dull and tarnished silver-plated, nickel-plated, or bare brass keys. While silver-plate and bare brass keys can also be cleaned chemically to remove tarnish, the generally accepted way to remove tarnish and dullness from nickel plated keys is to buff them.

Buffing Equipment

For your buffing set-up you need a bench motor or buffing machine and stand, a threaded spindle that attaches to the machine, a variety of buffing wheels, several buffing compounds, a rake, safety equipment, and some metal or spare parts to practice with.

Bench Motor or Buffing Machine

Bench motors and buffing machines vary greatly. Many machines are very straightforward and are operated by simply pressing a foot switch or pedal, or by flipping a switch. Some machines allow you to control the speed of rotation. Regardless of what you're using, it needs to be firmly mounted on a floor stand or sturdy bench, with plenty of clearance around it. If you're only buffing keys and small parts you won't need much room, but if you're buffing the bodies of bari saxes you'll need enough room to rotate the instrument and the ability to approach the buffing wheel from different directions.

Attached to the bench motor or buffing machine is a tapered spindle. The buffing wheel threads onto the spindle and the machine rotates the spindle. It is essential that the wheel rotates towards you. If your machine has multiple speeds, adjust it for the type of buffing you'll be doing. Lower speeds work best with cut buffing and higher speeds for color buffing.

Buffing Wheels

Buffing wheels consist of multiple layers of fabric that are stitched together. The edge of the buffing wheel is the work surface and it varies in thickness and density to help you achieve the desired results. For some jobs, like jobs that require you to get in tight, small places, a knife-edge buff will be most useful. When buffing a large surface such as a bell, a thick muslin buff will give you better coverage and smoother results.

A different buff must be used with each compound to avoid contaminating the polishing and color buffing wheels with the more aggressive cut buffing compounds. In the shop, we label the side of the buff with the compound that was used on it; storing them each in separate containers to keep any airborne compound from contaminating other buffs in the room.

Buffing wheels are held in place on the threaded, tapered spindle. Thread your buffing wheel onto the spindle the same direction each time, as the center hole of the buff will conform to the taper of the spindle after use.

Choosing a Buff

Cotton Flannel Buff: Use these wheels for your initial cut/ hard buffing on any area of the instrument. They have a 1 inch (26mm) thickness and the stitching makes for a firm all around buff. The center is reinforced with shellac. Use with Grey or Brown Tripoli.

Stitched Muslin Buff: The stitching provides these buffs with a wide, firm center while the material itself is remarkably soft. Use to color buff pad cups and large areas on the body of the instrument that require slightly more pressure than the Loose Muslin buffs can provide. The center is reinforced with shellac. Use with Red Rouge or Blue Compounds.

Loose Muslin Buff: These buffs are especially soft and flexible, making them the perfect choice for color buffing small parts, posts, and key work. Their superior quality and soft texture will ensure a highly polished finish. The center is reinforced with leather and shellac. Use with Red Rouge or Blue Compounds.

Knife Edge Buff: This wheel is perfect for hard to reach areas on key work. It works especially well to polish the corner where a key arm and hinge rod intersect and around posts and parts soldered to the body of the instrument. The center is reinforced with leather. Use with any compound.

Buffing with a Dremel Tool or Foredom Motor

The Mini Buffing Wheels with a Dremel Mandrel will allow you to buff difficult to reach places while getting the benefits of using a wheel. You can accomplish small jobs at your bench without the hassle of setting up the buffing machine. Set your dremel tool or Foredom Motor at a medium speed, apply compound to the mini buffing wheel, and use the mini buffing wheel to polish. Be careful to not scratch the workpiece with the screw in the middle of the buff that attaches the mandrel.

Buffing by Hand

While it's not possible to get as nice of a result by hand as by using a buffing wheel, sometimes it is difficult to reach certain places and you will need to buff by a process known as "hand-ragging". In order to do this, apply the compound to a soft strip of cloth (the Microfiber Cleaning Cloth works well). Mount your workpiece on a jig or in a vise, taking measures to protect the piece from scratches and marks. Slip the cloth strip with compound into the difficult to reach area and lightly work the strip back and forth, like flossing, until you have achieved the desired results.


A buffing compound is an abrasive that is applied to a buffing wheel. Compounds are available in a variety of abrasive strengths, according to whether you are cut buffing, color buffing, or polishing. The compound block is composed of an abrasive and grease to bind it together.

Before applying a compound, a buffing rake can be used to "fluff" the edge of the wheel so that the fibers do not become caked together. While holding the rake firmly with both hands, lightly run it across the buff a couple of times while the buffing machine is running. In our shop, we use a separate buff rake for each compound to further avoid contamination of buffing compounds.

To apply the compound to your buffing wheel, start up the buffing machine and lightly apply the compound to the edge of the wheel as it rotates. If too much compound is applied to the wheel, the fibers of the wheel become caked and do not produce smooth results.

Choosing a Compound

The most aggressive compound is Grey and it is used for cut buffing or hard buffing. This compound is useful for removing fine scratches, tarnish, smoothing uneven and pitted surfaces, and removing leftover lacquer. Grey works faster than tripoli and has less grease which makes for easier clean up. It also produces less dust.

Brown Tripoli has long been an industry standard in cut buffing, and is used for removing fine scratches, tarnish, smoothing uneven and pitted surfaces, and removing leftover lacquer.

Red Rouge is widely used in the band instrument repair industry for color buffing and is available in small and large sizes. This compound is used to smooth very fine scratches and give a beautiful luster.

The Blue gives an excellent final polish on silver, nickel plate, and bare brass. It can be used to remove ultra-fine scratches and bring your workpiece to a bright shine. If you're only going to get one compound, this one is a great one to have.

Blue Hubble is the best choice for final polishing. You can easily bring out the bright luster of your workpiece by finishing it off with this compound. This is the only compound that produces a consistent mirror finish.

Buffing Speeds
The surface speed of your buffing wheel will have a great effect on your finished product as well as your safety and the preservation of your parts. A buffer that is too fast will often be more dangerous. A buff that is too slow will require too much pressure to buff. It's easier to change your speed on a variable speed buffer or bench motor, but it's possible to change your surface speed with any fixed speed motor. When buffing, consider the surface speed of the buff. A larger 8 inch or 10 inch wheel will have a faster surface speed than a small 4 inch wheel. When buffing with the Foredom tool, a fast speed is necessary as the wheels are one inch or less, making the surface speed very low in relation to the rotation of the spindle.

Buffing Safety

It's important to protect yourself when buffing. The process sends dust into the air, which is not healthy to breathe in. Make sure the room is well ventilated and cover your mouth and nose with a mask. Other equipment you'll need is a pair of safety goggles, an apron to keep your clothing from getting dirty, and soft gloves to keep your hands (somewhat) clean and also protect them as the workpiece can get quite hot when being buffed. Avoid wearing neck ties, jewelry, watches, and loose clothing which could get caught in the wheel.

It's also important to protect the instrument. Anyone who has been buffing long enough probably remembers a time when they have had the wheel catch and pull the instrument or key away from them. A firm grip with your elbows near your body and a wide stance will give you an advantage when taking on the task. Always place one foot in front of the other when buffing rather than side by side. Practice will get you the rest of the way there.

Getting Started

1. Thread the wheel on the spindle.
2. Set speed of rotation (if applicable) with the buffing wheel rotating towards you.
3. Once rotating at the proper speed, lightly rake the edge of the buffing wheel.
4. Apply a thin layer of compound to the edge of the wheel.
5. With your workpiece held firmly with both hands, begin to lightly apply the workpiece to the center front edge of the wheel, allowing the wheel and compound to do the work.
6. Keep the workpiece moving evenly across the edge of the wheel.
7. Apply an additional thin layer of compound if necessary as you buff.
8. Remove residue from the compound by cleaning the workpiece with Dawn dish soap and warm water. Allow workpiece to dry.
9. If you'll be using another compound, don't forget to switch your buffing wheel before proceeding.

If you have any questions about buffing or buffing tools and supplies, contact us as


Rotary Attachments
Buffing Compounds
Small Post Fitting Pliers
Rotary Attachments Buffing Compounds
Small Post Fitting Pliers
Flute Washers
Foredom Motor
Minibal Joints
Flute Pad Washers Foredom Motor Minibal Joints