Gemstones are often used to bring a splash of color to jewelry because of their eye-catching nature. However, as anybody looking to up their jewelry game knows, polished gemstones attract more attention than unpolished ones – so knowing how to polish gemstones is a handy skill to have.
As you polish a gemstone, it becomes easier for the stone to catch and reflect the light, giving it that sparkle that people love. If you’re into making handmade jewelry, you might wonder whether you need professional tools to polish it. It depends on your personal preference.
You can either polish your gemstones by hand or with the help of tools like Dremel and rock tumblers. If that sounds interesting to you, let’s dive deeper.
How to Polish Gemstones at Home
The idea of polishing gemstones at home may seem scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. You only need a few basic tools that you can find online to get the ball rolling. Lucky for you, we have a list:
- 60 grit sandpaper.
- 160 grit sandpaper.
- 360 grit sandpaper.
- Denim cloth.
- Finishing leather.
- Bucket of water.
- Powdered stone polish.
These tools are best used for polishing gemstones by hand, which is what many aspiring and beginning jewelers do.
But if you’re more comfortable with semi-manual tools, you can try the ones below:
- Rock tumbler
If you’re a little farther into your career and are looking for more professional material to use at home, opt for one of the following powders:
- Cerium oxide
- Tin oxide
- Chromium oxide
- Aluminum oxide
Before polishing your gems, you’ll need to clean them by using water, a few drops of dish soap, and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Mix the dish soap with water and dip your toothbrush in the mix. Gently rub the dust and dirt off your gemstone with the help of your toothbrush, and then rinse the stone. Make sure to pat it dry with a soft cloth when you’re done.
We have a whole post on how to clean gemstones if you have more questions about the process.
Once your gems are squeaky clean, you can start the polishing process.
There are several ways to polish gemstones at home. But today, we will consider the top three methods: using sandpaper, a Dremel, and a rock tumbler. Let’s get started!
This is the oldest and most affordable trick in the book. It’s also relatively easier to do at home because you only need sandpaper and water.
- Dip your gemstone in a bucket of water. The water will serve as a protective coat as you rub on the gemstone with sandpaper.
- Grab the 60-grit sandpaper first and gently rub it along the gemstone. Continue to switch between the water dipping and the sanding down until you end up with a round gemstone.
- Once your gemstone is rounded, move to the 160-grit sandpaper to remove the scratches left over from the 60-grit sandpaper. Remember to still dip the gemstone in the water while doing this.
- When there are no large scratches in sight anymore, you can start using the 360-grit sandpaper on your gemstone. With the same water-dipping method you used earlier, continue to smooth out your gemstone until there are no visible scratches left.
With a Dremel
A Dremel is a multi-purpose rotary tool. It is one alternative to those big rock polishing machines. If you use it with a grinding attachment, the Dremel will yield highly identical results.
💡 Quick Tip: When you’re polishing with a Dremel, process one gemstone at a time for the results.
- Put your stone on a flat surface and attach the smallest grit attachment onto the Dremel. Avoid creating deep scratches by using the top half of the attachment, as the lower half is more likely to scratch a gemstone.
- Just as you did with the sandpaper, gradually increase the number of grits on the attachment until the scratches are gone.
- When you’re free of roughness and scratches, grab a polishing cloth and some polishing powder. Use the cloth to buff the product into the stone for a natural shine.
Using a Rock Tumbler
Rock tumbling is an age-old polishing method. The idea behind it is to polish gemstones automatically with the help of grits and water.
A rock tumbler is essentially a machine attached to a barrel. This barrel holds your gemstones, some water, and some grit. The mechanisms of a rock tumbler are built to continuously turn, even for weeks – and this helps polish your gemstones.
- Add your rocks to the tumbler barrel and fill it with enough water to cover the rocks. Once you have your barrel ready, you can place it back into the tumbler. The tumbler will then start to turn your barrel round and round.
- Depending on size, voltage, and speed, your rocks should be polished within 12-24 hours.
💡 Caution: Not every gemstone is safe for polishing in tumblers, though. Check the Mohs scale to see how hard your gem is. Gemstones scoring between 5 to 7 are safer for the tumbler – like the pink gemstone quartz, which scores 7 – are usually optimal for these tumblers.
5 Key Safety Tips for Polishing Gemstones
Every practice requires patience and precision – polishing gemstones, too. Follow these safety tips for a successful gemstone polishing session.
First Thing’s First, Wet Your Gemstones
Wetting your gemstone provides you with a protective layer. When you’re working with chemicals, that layer of water dilutes the chemical, preventing excessive damage to your gemstone.
With hand-held tools, water reduces friction and protects the gemstone from permanent cuts, cracks, and scratches. If you don’t wet your gemstones before you start to grind them, you might damage them permanently.
So, to avoid deep scratches or cracking, always wet your gemstones before polishing.
Avoid Skipping Grits
Skipping grits means moving from lower-grit sandpaper to a higher one without using the one in the middle. For example, if you move from 60-grit sandpaper to 360-grit sandpaper without using the 160 grit in the middle, then you’re skipping grits.
It can be tempting to cut an arduous task short, but for polishing gemstones, we strongly discourage taking this shortcut. This could result in irreversible damage that makes a gemstone unusable on jewelry.
Dry the Gemstone Before Judging the Surface
The water you use during the grinding could hide the scratches on your gemstone. That’s why it’s best to dry your stone before checking its surface for possible scratches. Checking for scratches before continuing to polish ensures that you don’t over-polish the gemstone and damage it.
Polishing a gemstone usually generates heat when done right. If a gemstone is polished too fast, the generated heat will likely hurt both the practitioner and the gemstone. To avoid this outcome, polish gemstones slowly.
If you’re going to be using chemicals like silicon carbide to polish your gemstones, use protective sieves, gloves, and goggles to cover your skin.
Remember that chemicals should be dealt with carefully and may have side effects that could impact your health negatively. For example, inhaling silicon carbide could result in lung cancer, and its direct contact with the skin could cause a carcinogenic reaction.
Keep Your Gemstones Shiny
Polishing rocks and rough gems can bring out your gemstone’s beauty. Even after buying a well-polished gem, cleaning your gemstones weekly with a jewelry cleaning cloth will maintain their shine. You can also take them to a jeweler once a year for some thorough cleaning.
Now that you know the basics of how to polish gemstones, you can go out into the world and find some brand new gems to polish in your home environment. If you found this post helpful, make sure to spread the word so more people can benefit from it. Happy polishing!
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