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How do you get a mirror finish on silver?

By Janae Cook

One of the most desirable finishes for the Art Clay Silver is a perfect mirror finish. But getting that mirror finish is not exactly easy, especially by hand! And what exactly is a mirror finish anyway?

A mirror finish is a shiny surface that has been polished, or scratched, to a high shine such that you can almost literally see you reflection – like a mirror. The surface you are polishing doesn’t have to be completely flush (all at the same level) but it is easier to work on a fairly smooth texture. However, a textured or patterned surface can have a mirror finish on the high spots too.

In order to get a mirror finish, you use higher and higher grit sandpapers that each take away the rougher scratches and make smaller scratches until finally the scratches are so small you can barely see them. Think of a brand-new shiny chrome bumper.

First, start with a fired silver piece and a piece of low grit wet/dry sandpaper like 400. Work in one direction only, going from side to side or top to bottom. Keep going until the entire surface to be polished is uniformly scratched. You should not see any unscratched low areas. If your surface is not all level, then you’ll need to use a corner and your finger and work the sandpaper into the low spot so it gets scratched too.

Next, move up to a higher grit sandpaper like 600. This time, work in the opposite direction and in that direction only. (HINT: By working in opposite directions every time, it is easier to see if you’ve removed all of the previous grit’s marks.) Keep going until you can no longer see any of the previous scratches going the other way.

Don’t forget to clean your piece and surrounding area each time you change to a new grit of paper. If you are working wet (in a bowl of water or in the sink) you should change the water each time. This will prevent the frustration of contamination and having a piece of larger grit making a huge scratch in a nicely polished surface! If that happens, you have to start back at the beginning. Also, if you are working without water, it is not a bad idea to wear a dust mask to prevent inhaling silver and dust particles. Safety first!

Keep polishing like before in opposite directions with 1200 grit, then 2000 grit. Be patient, you’re almost there. There are special polishing papers that go up to 8000 grit and they work really well. You can also use metal polish to get a great mirror shine. We recommend Wenol polish. All you do is apply a small amount to a dry cloth, rub it on and then buff it off with a clean cloth.

Remember, with a mirror finish you should not be able to see any scratches. There’s no substitute for a good mirror finish and if you do it right, you will be thrilled with the results.

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