Choosing the Right Buffing Products for a Mirror Finish on Metal (DIY Guide)

Jul 8th 2024

Choosing the Right Buffing Products for a Mirror Finish on Metal (DIY Guide)

Buffing and polishing a mirror finish on metal surfaces may seem like an impossible task for some. But with the right tools and techniques, it's something that anyone can accomplish at home. In this blog post we will go over the best buffing and polishing products get a perfect reflection on your metal surfaces.

Understanding the Buffing Process:

Buffing is a metal finishing process that progressively refines a metal surface to remove scratches and imperfections, creating a high shine. To do this, you’ll use abrasive compounds applied to rotating wheels to remove microscopic layers of material, smoothing out imperfections and creating an increasingly reflective surface.

The buffing process involves three main stages: cutting, polishing, and finishing. Each stage uses progressively finer abrasive compounds and softer buffing wheels to refine the surface further.

  • Cutting stage:
    • Removes larger imperfections
    • Establishes an initial shine
  • Polishing stage:
    • Smooths out finer scratches
    • Increases luster
  • Finishing stage:
    • Brings out a mirror-like reflection

Using the right products in the correct order is necessary if you want to achieve optimal results. Skipping stages or using products out of sequence can lead to an incomplete finish or even damage the surface you're working on.

Additional info - What's the Difference: Buffing vs Polishing

Essential Buffing Products for a Mirror Finish on Metals

Achieving a mirror finish requires a combination of high-quality buffing wheels and compounds. Here are the buffing and polishing products you'll need:

  • Buffing Wheels: These are the workhorses of the buffing process. Different types of wheels, such as airway, muslin, and sisal, are used at various stages to achieve specific results.
  • Buffing Compounds: These are abrasive substances that are applied to buffing wheels to remove material and polish the metal surface. Different compounds are used for cutting, polishing, and finishing stages.
  • Buffing Wheel and Compound Kits: These convenient kits provide a curated selection of buffing wheels and compounds, making it easier for beginners to get started with the right tools and materials.

In the next couple of sections, we'll explain more about each of these products to give you the knowledge you need to choose the right ones for your mirror finishing projects.

Understanding Buffing Compounds

Buffing compounds are essential for achieving a mirror finish on metals. These polishing sticks, also known as rouge bars, consist of tightly packed abrasive materials held together by greasy binders. They're designed to smooth out surfaces with small scratches or those that have been sanded down and need that final touch to achieve a perfect finish.

There are three main types of buffing compounds, each serving a specific purpose in the polishing process:

Cutting Compounds

Black Emery Metal Buffing Compound

Cutting compounds are the first step in the buffing process. They are designed to remove surface imperfections and prepare the metal for polishing by cutting through the top layer and smoothing out deeper scratches. Some of the key cutting compounds include:

  • Black Emery Buffing Compound: Ideal for stainless steel, cast iron, and other ferrous metals. It aggressively removes surface imperfections. Do not use black buffing compound with soft metals.
  • Gray Metal Buffing Compound: Similar in aggressiveness to black emery, but formulated to work with softer metals like aluminum, nickel, and other non-ferrous metals.
  • Brown Tripoli Buffing Compound: A versatile buffing compound that can be used for metal, wood, rubber, and more surface. Suitable for stainless steel and softer metals like aluminum and brass.

Polishing Compounds

Green Rouge Metal Buffing CompoundPolishing compounds are used in the second stage to refine the surface further, smoothing out any remaining scratches and increasing the metal’s luster. Empire Abrasives offers several effective polishing compounds:

  • White Rouge (White Diamond Bar): This compound is great for both hard and soft metals, bringing out a higher shine.
  • Green Rouge: Known for its ability to add significant color depth and shine, it is best for finishing hard metals like steel or color buffing softer metals like aluminum.

Finishing Compounds

Red Rouge Precious Metal “Jewelers” Polishing Compound

Finishing compounds are the final step in the buffing process. These compounds are the finest abrasives, used to eliminate micro-scratches and create a flawless, mirror-like finish. Empire Abrasives’ top finishing compounds include:

  1. Red “Jewelers” Rouge: Specifically designed for and precious metals like gold and silver to bring out the highest shine. If white or green rouge has you close to a mirror shine, red rouge should take it to the final step for all other metals.

Now that you know all about each of the different types of buffing compounds, let’s get into the tools you use with these compounds.

Choosing the Right Buffing Wheels

Choosing the right buffing wheel is just as important as choosing the right compound. Different types of buffing wheels are suited for different metals and for different stages of the buffing process. Here’s an overview of the main types of buffing wheels and their uses:

Muslin Wheels (Conventional Buffs)

Spiral sewn and loose muslin buffing wheels

Muslin Buffing Wheels are made from soft muslin cotton and are versatile for various stages of the buffing process. There are two main types:

  • Spiral Sewn Muslin Wheels: These are denser and used for heavier buffing action. Ideal for the early to mid-stages of polishing with compounds like Black Emery and Brown Tripoli.
  • Loose Muslin Wheels: These wheels are gentler and best suited for late-stage cut buffing, color buffing, and finishing metal to a mirror shine. Use for finishing with compounds like White Rouge to achieve a high shine.

Sisal Wheels

Sisal Buffing Wheels are made from coarse, stiff fibers from the agave plant (sisal) and are used for aggressive cutting and buffing of harder metals. They are excellent for the initial stages of buffing. Paired with Black Emery, these wheels are perfect for cutting and prepping the surface for further polishing.

Further reading - What is Sisal (Material)?

Airway Buffing Wheels

Airway buffing wheels

Airway Buffing Wheels are made with pleated cloth to increase airflow and reduce heat buildup. Each of these colors has a different firmness/softness of the cloth pieces which are meant for different steps in the polishing process.

  • Blue Mill Treated Airway Buff: Mill-treated for increased firmness. Used in the first step for cutting with compounds like Black Emery, Brown Tripoli, or Gray bars.
  • Yellow Mill Treated Airway Buff: Also mill-treated but 15% less stiff than blue buffs. Use these in the second stage with compounds like Brown Tripoli or Green Rouge.
  • White Untreated Airway Buff: Soft and plush buffing wheels composed of white cotton 86/80 and left untreated. These have a minimal stiffness and can be used to aggressively cut or gently color with compounds like White Rouge and Green Rouge.
  • White Domet Flannel Airway Buffs: Ultra-plush wheels best saved for the final polishing stage to achieve a perfect shine or mirror finish.

Felt Polishing Discs

Felt polishing discs

Felt Polishing Discs are made from premium 100% Australian wool felt. These high-quality felt buffing wheels are gentle on metal surfaces and excel at achieving a high-gloss finish. Empire Abrasives offers felt polishing discs in various sizes and thicknesses, suitable for use with angle grinders, drills, and other power tools

  • XL Flat Felt Polishing Disc: Provides a long-lasting, thick surface for achieving a mirror finish.
  • Felt Polishing Flap Disc: Increases airflow and reduces heat buildup, ideal for the last steps of polishing.
  • Quick Change Polish Plus Discs: 2” quick change polishing discs and 3” quick change polishing discs for drills, die grinders, and air grinders work extremely well in small and hard to reach areas.

Buffing Drums

Felt buffing drums

Buffing Drums are ideal if you're working on larger projects or need to buff extensive areas. These cylindrical attachments are designed for use with surface conditioning tools and offer a larger surface area than traditional buffing wheels. Empire Abrasives offers both spiral sewn and wool flap buffing drums, each catering to different stages of the buffing process. Spiral sewn drums are ideal for initial cutting and polishing, while wool flap drums excel at achieving a final mirror finish.

Further reading - Buffing & Polishing Wheels and Discs Differences

Achieve a Professional Mirror Finish with Empire Abrasives

Whether you're working on a small jewelry piece or a large metal surface, our selection of buffing compounds, wheels, and accessories will help you achieve that sought-after mirror shine. Remember, the key to success lies in using the right products in the correct order, progressing from cutting to polishing and finally to finishing.

Ready to start your metal finishing project? Visit to explore our extensive range of buffing products. Our abrasives experts are always available to answer any questions you may have about choosing the right tools for your specific needs. Place your order today and benefit from fast shipping, with orders leaving our warehouse within one business day.