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Let's Talk about Buffers

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith, Sep 20, 2019.

  1. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    It is true, a few careless knife makers can end up dead.

    The goal is to educate how to use them, not promote them as some boogey man in the shop and make people so ignorant on your their use they are in danger due to their lack of experience.

    I have known many knife makers over 30 years who made thousands of knives without a fatality. There are far more knife makers using buffers without fatalities then there are with them.

    We could make a list of those killed, less then 6, with a buffer and those thousands of knife makers who, use them for decades,that are alive and well.

    If a person is scared of a buffer and not willing to learn how to use one properly then they should never ever use one.
  2. I’d like to see more pics of how you attached it to your grinder please. Thanks
  3. Sam Wilson

    Sam Wilson

    Sep 3, 2012
    So the answer is buffers, undisputed deadliest (most dangerous- who can say!) tool in shop, unless there is data I missed.

    And I agree with the rest of what you said wholeheartedly. I'm going to grill dinner, have a great weekend!


    ETA: Just so this isn't lost in the exchange, I have no problems with using a buffer, and do so regularly. I just believe that you have to give the machine its' due. We don't know all the circumstances behind the knifemakers that died while using one, they may have been startled, had a heart attack or some other thing beyond their control. It's hard to "be more careful" if you're having a stroke.

    The primary point being that with some tools the margin for error once things go wrong is much slimmer. Of all the tools in the shop, it's when I turn on the buffer that I pay extra attention the most. Everybody's different, I suppose. Be careful out there.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  4. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    You do not walk past a grinder and it kills you. But miss using one can just as a using a belt grinder can throw a blade into your femur.
  5. tkroenlein


    Dec 10, 2016
    I'd be interested in seeing hoods or other shrouds used to cover the wheels. Seems like a couple well placed parts would moot the danger aspect.
  6. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 6, 2000
    Shrouds actually make buffers more dangerous.
    DanF likes this.
  7. Sam Wilson

    Sam Wilson

    Sep 3, 2012
    No, we just learned buffers can't be dangerous. There are only careless/dangerous operators. Try and keep up, guy. :cool:
    J. Hoffman likes this.
  8. Rhinoknives1

    Rhinoknives1 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 1, 2013
    Bill, could you kindly explain why to those newer around here. Thanks!
  9. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 6, 2000
    Because if your work is grabbed, your finger/hand can be pulled into the shroud.
    AVigil and DanF like this.
  10. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    There are certainly risks with a buffer, probably more significant than most other shop tools. For me it comes down to the question: Is it worth the risk?
    Still working that out, but leaning toward a big no.
    I can get a great finish sanding. Get a patina going on carbon steels and it's somewhat moot as well.
    I had the wheel grab the blade once. I held on, but it sure gave me a bit of a surge of adrenaline.
  11. AVigil

    AVigil Adam Vigil knifemaker working the grind Platinum Member

    Feb 17, 2009
    Did you really just tell Bill DeShivs to "try to keep up guy"?
    Jason Volkert and allenkey like this.
  12. J. Keeton

    J. Keeton Basic Member Basic Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    I'm with you on this one. From my limited buffing experience I feel like, while other tools in the shop are also dangerous, the buffer is more unpredictable. Other dangerous tools like the drill press can have it's danger greatly mitigated with the use of appropriate clamping. Angle grinding wheels can have their risk mitigated by using new to new-ish wheels and robust PPE (Face shield, gloves, long sleeves)?

    That's not to say the risk and predictability of buffer can't be reduced with the insight on this thread (VFD, PPE, chain mail, plywood aprons, Orientation, technique, etc).

    For handle work, I really like @Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith 's recommendation of a small variable speed polisher/buffer. This will likely be my course of action. My course of action if I can't get the results I desire with high grit papers alone.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
    Brock Cutlery and Sam Wilson like this.
  13. Cushing H.

    Cushing H. Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 3, 2019
    I think some here are being quite absolutist (at least more than I would be :) ). Almost anything can be dangerous, some things are simply more dangerous than others (water for example ... you can drown in it in a bucket, you can drink too much and die .... but you have to push things to make it hurt you. Somewhere in the middle are many acids used to etch steels - they can certainly hurt or blind you ... but with appropriate and reasonable precautions they can be used all the time with no problem and if a second of inattention leads to the occasional contact on the skin it is really not that big a deal. On the far end is something like, say, hydrofluoric acic - one drop of that stuff on your skin and you are a goner, unless you have immediate and very specialized medical attention. sure you can use it, but just one split second of inattention and things go bad really fast. (I have not and will not go near that stuff)). In the shop, some things are more subject to things going wrong, either because the of the sheer power involved, or because of the way they are used (ex. a band saw does not really readily grab and fling wood, and with a drill press you can clamp your work - whereas with a buffer you can not really use it and clamp the work piece - you need to hold it by hand. Can all of these be use without incident - sure they can. The question is how susceptible are they to injury in the face of the occasional second of inattention on inappropriate set up. Whether to use any of them can only be a personal choice based on self confidence and the risks involved.

    As Dirty Harry Said: "Do I feel lucky?"
    Sam Wilson likes this.
  14. J. Hoffman

    J. Hoffman KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 1, 2011
    Burr King makes a tapered spindle end like the Baldor ones. It screws on in place of the wheel nut and has a set screw to hold it on. I can simply take the wheel off and put the spindle on. Then I can change buffs quickly. I have 10" buffs because I usually have the 10" wheel on my grinder. I can keep the platen, and work rest in place. I hope that makes sense. Any other questions, please let me know.
    Scaniaman and Sam Wilson like this.
  15. Sam Wilson

    Sam Wilson

    Sep 3, 2012
    That's a pretty slick setup.
    J. Hoffman likes this.
  16. Bill DeShivs

    Bill DeShivs KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 6, 2000
    Of course, limited experience will make you uneasy when buffing. The answer is to polish some more. Practice breeds familiarity.
    When people mention using plywood aprons and chain mail to polish something, their technique and/or equipment must be terribly wrong.
    Listen guys- 75% of my business is restoring antique switchblades. I have to polish almost every one of them. If I had to dress out in plywood every time I walked over to the buffer I would just quit. This is not just pointy blades-but intricate guards, handles and pommels.

    Better than 50% of my polishing is done on a Grizzly 2 X 72 1725 RPM machine (the spindle side) with green chrome rouge. I do have a 1 HP 3600 RPM machine that I use 400 grit greaseless compound on one side and grey stainless on the other. I have 2 Baldor 2 speed dental polishers with tapered spindles, a regular variable speed bench grinder set up with a hard felt wheel and a rubber wheel, and one of the small Foredom variable speed polishers with tapered spindles.

    If you are using a 2 HP, 3600 RPM machine, and laying into it like I have seen some guys use tools- you're probably going to get hurt. On the other hand, If you use a 1/4 to 1/2 HP 1750 machine-carefully- you shouldn't have any problems.

    Can a high speed, high power buffer speed up your work? Darn right it can, but first you need to learn the machines-and this is best done on smaller buffers.
  17. John N

    John N

    Mar 23, 2008
    I only use a buffer on handles, and have had a couple grabbed and thrown. It happens very, very, fast. I can see why buffing blades is a high risk activity, especially with the 'bounce' of the thrown workpiece!

    I mostly do 'Wa' handles on chefs knives on the buffer, and it is a massive time saver, and I doubt I could get the results from hand sanding and polishing, no matter the time investment and effort.
  18. coldsteelburns


    Aug 2, 2010
    I'm only self-taught with my buffer, which I mostly just use for handles, and same goes my wire wheel that's attached to the same bench grinder and used for descaling forged items or cleaning off heavily rusted items, which has pretty much the same principles as buffing. Over the years there have been 2 or 3 times in the past where I was probably being careless and the piece I was buffing, or wire-wheeling, was grabbed out of my hand and thrown to the floor, causing my heart to skip a beat. One factor each of those occasions had in common was that, at the time they were grabbed out of my hand I didn't have a firm grasp on what I was buffing (or wire-wheeling).

    I've personally found that making sure I have a firm grasp on what I'm buffing at all times has eliminated that. On my wire wheel there have been a few other occasions since being more conscientious about my constant firm grasp where it has grabbed my work, but since I was holding onto it firmly it stayed in my hand. I also know that most, if not all, of the times it has been grabbed on the wire wheel were due to my applying a bit too much pressure on the wheel when trying to remove a stubborn piece of scale or rust, which is another safety issue that I believe has already been brought up here.

    Anyway, I'm certainly no expert and it may seem like common sense, but in my personal experience I've found that applying and maintaining a firm grasp on the workpiece while buffing can be an important safety aspect, the more difficult part of which is remembering to maintain that firm hold while maneuvering the workpiece and changing grips to get at a different area, especially once you get into a groove. Just something to keep in mind.

    My Youtube Channel
    ... (It's been a few years since my last upload)
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
    AVigil and allenkey like this.
  19. allenkey

    allenkey Gold Member Gold Member

    May 19, 2018
    I'm no Bill DeShivs but I personally found through trial and error that buffing blades in line with the wheel gives me way more control rather than the blade being perpendicular to the wheel. It's alot harder for the wheel to grab an edge that way I've found.

    But I also use an underpowered chinesium bench grinder as my buffer. I also like smaller wheels but more so I don't smear the grain of softer woods I treasure. I enjoy the final polish more than any other process so I tend to spend too much time doing it haha

    But in reality I think angle grinders with cheap cut off wheels to be significantly more dangerous. All you have to do is twist your wrist slightly and you have little abrasive knives flying everywhere. And god forbid you bind it up and it kicks back at you quicker than you can react
    coldsteelburns and AVigil like this.
  20. Drew Riley

    Drew Riley Riley Knife and Tool

    Oct 17, 2007
    I’ve got a couple of relatively cheap 6”, 3600 rpm buffers from the local big box store. I ended up putting a wire wheel on one of them, as I just don’t need that many buffs right now. I wish they were 1/2 the speed, but they do the job.

    For small parts, I usually like to hold them in smooth, parallel jawed pliers. Knipex makes a really good pair, though I think they’re a bit overpriced.

    For knives, you just have to be mindful of what your doing. Let the compound do the work, don’t push sharp corners or edges into the wheel, and keep a firm grip with your elbows locked at your sides and not over extended where you’ll lose control more easily.
    AVigil likes this.

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