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Buffing with the Beall System


Using motor-driven cloth wheels (and bowl buffs) to buff the finish on a turning can work wonders by smoothing the surface and imparting an eye-catching shine.  However, buffing will not remove gross imperfections.  

In the method I use to apply a lacquer finish, I do not apply a “wet coat” of lacquer that looks shiny because of the tendency to get a film that’s too thick and which may develop orange peel – an uneven surface that resembles the peel of an orange.  Instead, I apply several light coats and then depend on the buffing to add the shine.  

The Beall system employs a three-step procedure using three different buffing wheels.  The first wheel uses tripoli as a buffing compound; the second uses an aluminum oxide known as “white diamond.”  The third is used to apply carnauba wax and bring the finish to its final luster.  

The wheels and buffs can be mounted on a dedicated motor (1750 RPM is preferred) or on a lathe.  An advantage of mounting them on a lathe is that the speed can be adjusted.

The Beall Tool Company

A description of the system along with instructions are given on the Beall website.  Links to videos are also given with Jerry Beall himself doing the presentation.  What follows in this article is a description of my setup and a few pointers on buffing in general.  

My Setup

I use a 1750 RPM motor mounted on a stand so that the wheels are at a comfortable height.  The adapter supplied with the kit slips over the motor shaft and is held in place by two set screws.  The buffing wheels screw into the adaptor.

My bowl buffs (not the Beall buffs) have 1/4” shafts which fit conveniently into a Jacobs chuck installed on my lathe.  I typically run the buffs (4” diameter) at about 2400 RPM.  When I use smaller 3” buffs, I increase the speed to about 3,000 RPM.  

The recommendation is to “clean” the wheels initially by backing a sheet of 100-grit sandpaper with a small board and touching the sandpaper to the wheel.  When I did this, the air filled with fibers and lint.  This prompted me to build the enclosure that allows the dust collector to be used to catch whatever comes off the wheels.  I found, however, that far less debris is produced after the wheels are put in service and loaded with compound.

Using the System

The first thing to do is charge the wheels with buffing compound.  It doesn’t take much.  With the wheel rotating at speed, touch the bar of compound to the wheel only for a second or two and without forcing the bar into the fabric.  The tripoli is a dark reddish-brown color so you get a visual indication of the amount that’s been applied. With the white diamond and wax, it’s harder to judge.  

My suggestion is to do a bit of experimenting with a bowl that you are rejecting for some reason, or turn and finish a bowl just for this purpose.  If you leave the tenon at the base of the bowl so that it can be rechucked later, the entire surface can be cleaned up easily if desired.  

Apply a finish to the test bowl using your normal method.  It might be instructive to have thick and thin regions to see the effect.  Let the finish cure for a couple of days, at least.

Try differing amounts of charge on the tripoli wheel and note the effect.  Begin with “obviously too little” and work your way to “probably too much.”  Do a similar test with the white diamond.

If you suspect you have too much charge on the wheel, some of it can be removed by lightly touching the sharp edge of a board to the wheel.  

Use a light touch.  Pressing the bowl against the wheel with considerable force only increases the heat generated where the wheel contacts the bowl.  Moreover, it does not speed up the buffing process.  Keep the bowl moving so that the heat production is not concentrated in one area long enough to raise the temperature of the finish appreciably.  

If you’re using a motor that turns at 3450 RPM, you will need to be especially careful not to overheat the surface and melt the finish. If you do, a big smudge and bad streaking will likely result.  Your only option then is to sand away the damaged area and start over.  

The wax.  A bar of carnauba wax, which is very hard, is supplied with the kit and works well.  I have also gotten good results with Renaissance wax by rubbing a very thin film on the piece, letting it dry, and then buffing.  

Using bowl buffs.   The Beall bowl buffs can be mounted on the same motor-shaft adaptor used by the wheels or, with the optional Morse-taper adaptor, mounted on the lathe.  Another option, and the one I use for non-Beall buffs, is to install them in a Jacobs chuck inserted into the Morse taper of the headstock spindle.

Working the inside surface of a bowl follows the same procedure as that used for the wheels, namely tripoli, white diamond, then wax.


Orient the bowl so the side of the buff does the work.  The buffing action at the center of the buff is greatly diminished because of the low surface speed at that point.  Keep the bowl moving so that heat generation is not concentrated in one area.

Beware of heat buildup when buffing the inside of a small bowl where the buff contacts almost the entire surface.  It is not a bad idea to reduce the speed in this situation.  

Safety.   In regard to personal safety, just use common sense.  I’m not sure about this, but I think a bowl buff is more likely to grab loose sleeves, long hair, or dangling jewelry than a wheel, so pay attention and be careful.

The greater hazard is to the piece being buffed.  The wheel can grab the piece and take it out of your hands in a heartbeat.  This is a real issue; do not take it lightly.

Always keep a firm grip on the piece.  It takes some thought and practice to grip the piece firmly while applying it to the wheel with a light touch.  The tendency is to hold it lightly, in keeping with the light touch.  

Be careful buffing a piece with openings or voids because the wheel can grab the edge of an opening. Also, be alert when buffing near the rim of a natural-edge bowl with the bark still in place. This is risky, but another issue is that a white powder from the white diamond may be deposited in cracks and voids in the bark (see below).

The wheels can grab a small-diameter spindle, such as a finial, because the strings of the fabric tend to wrap around it if you press it too far into the wheel.  The safest way to present the spindle is with its length pointing in the direction the surface of the wheel is moving.

Possible Problems

The tripoli doesn’t seem to remove any material from the surface.  It’s not really supposed to, at least in an amount great enough to observe.  It will not level a surface and will not remove orange peel.  What it should do, however, is impart a shine to a smooth surface that is initially dull.  That is, it polishes the surface of the finish.  This action will be slowed if, by chance, there is not enough compound on the wheel.  

Streaks or blotches.  This can be caused by at least three things:

Too much compound on the wheels.  Rather than buffing, the wheels are smearing the compound around over the surface. Remove some of the compound, as described above.

Overheating the surface.  Pressing too hard or remaining too long in one spot can melt a lacquer finish.  Use a light touch and keep the workpiece moving.  

Buffing before the finish has cured all the way through.  It takes at least two days for a fairly heavy coat of lacquer to cure.  Buffing away the surface of the finish will expose the layer underneath that may not be fully cured, and this makes streaking almost inevitable.

To repair streaks and blotches, use sandpaper or steel wool to take the affected area back to a uniformly dull surface.  Wipe the surrounding area lightly with lacquer thinner; one quick stroke is all that’s needed.  Recoat with lacquer, let it cure, and try it again.   

Ripples in the finish.  Visible ripples are evidence that the surface was not leveled properly prior to applying the top coat of lacquer.  If the ripples are minor, try removing them with 0000 steel wool.  If this doesn’t work, sand the problem area lightly with 400-grit and then try the buffing again.  

The surface looks “plastic.”   The plastic look is produced by tiny, hardly-visible ripples on the surface of a thick finish.  A thick finish with a smooth surface looks like glass instead of plastic.  

Hold the piece so that light reflects from the surface and look for the tiny ripples.  If you can see them, that is the problem.  Use fine sandpaper (wet sanding is an option) to level the surface and reduce the thickness of the film.

A white powder gets into voids.   This is residue from the white diamond.  Try blowing it out with compressed air.  If white spots remain, use a small artist brush to apply a bit of lacquer thinner to the spots.  Sometimes the lacquer thinner will get rid of the white powder.

The surface feels faintly tacky.  Try using a light coat of Pledge buffed out with an old tee shirt to knock the sticky off the surface.  

Don’t try buffing metal.  It will work but will permanently discolor the buffing wheels.  

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