Buffing vs. Polishing

By Judy Kilpatrick

Polish is a word commonly used for putting a shine on objects, such as floors, cars and silver. Sometimes people use the word polish, when they really mean buff. Although the words are often used interchangeably, the metal industry distinguishes between the two terms. In the industry, polishing refers to the process of removing a small amount of metal to achieve a smooth finish. Buffing refers to removal of tiny irregularities to achieve a glossy finish. There are many types of polishing and buffing tools, from buffing wheels to rotary tools with polishing attachments that will give a superior performance for whatever project you have.

Cutting Down Metal

Metal crafters refer to the polishing stage of finishing metal as the "cutting down" stage. During the cutting down stage, a coarse abrasive is used to remove a considerable amount of material -- called "hitting the high spots." The high spots are removed until the surface of the metal is burnished to a fairly even level. Various compounds are available for this purpose. Ingredients of metal polishing compounds vary according to the types of metal on which they will be used. Ferrous metals, containing a high degree of iron, and non-ferrous metals interact differently with chemicals.

Coloring Metal

Metal crafters sometimes follow the "cutting down" stage of metal finishing with a "coloring" stage. Coloring refers to buffing the metal with a finer abrasive to bring out its natural color. Using a very fine grade of buffing compound can create a surface as smooth and shiny as a mirror.

Polishing and Buffing Painted Surfaces

Scratch removal on a vehicle involves a series of steps. A distinction between the words polish and buff is not often made. However, instructions for scratch removal follow a sequence similar to the steps for finishing metal. To remove a scratch, a rubbing compound is applied in a circular motion until the surface is leveled and the scratch disappears. The shine is restored by buffing. Wax is often used for the buffing stage. Besides bringing the finish to a high luster, the buffing stage involves removal of foreign matter, including rubbing compound and wax.

Polishing and Buffing Wood

Caring for finished wood surfaces involves cleaning and application of material to protect the finish and restore the shine. Many commercial products sold for this purpose are called furniture polish. Furniture polish is rubbed on the surface of the wood. Some products impart an immediate shine. Other products must be buffed to remove dirt and polishing product to produce a shiny finish.

© Demand Media 2011