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Build your own buffing machine

(Some pictures can be found here)

After some time a pipe will inevitably look, well, used. Dull finish, tarnished stems ... time for a fresh polish.
 
Using a power drill and one of those DIY buffing wheels may be acceptable if you only have a few pipes, but it is not very stable and quite often very loud.
My solution was to buy a bench grinder from a hardware store and convert it to a buffing machine. Such grinders are quite affordable, especially as they are on sale every couple of weeks. They come with two grinding wheels for metal (diameter approx. 150-160 mm) and start at a power of about 150 Watts. This may be too low for many applications. I once tried a beast of 750 Watts, impressive, but scary. Something between 250 and 400 Watt seems to be sufficient.
Bigger machines with 15 mm shaft diameter have another advantage. The thread on the end is often M14, which is exactly what angle grinder accessories, such as sanding discs, need. If you also think about making your own pipes, you should consider this.
Having the right speed is important, the typical 3000 rpm together with a wheel diameter of 150 mm create just the right circumferential velocity. It would be nice to have variable speed, but you are already lucky if you get a two-speed model.
Continuously variable is probably the optimum, but needs extra electronics. If you are good with a soldering iron, you may consider building this from a commercially available kit.
 
To mount buffing wheels instead of the grinding discs, remove the safety enclosure. As this will not fit anymore afterwards, the machine poses a certain risk! Do this only, if you feel comfortable with it.
 
Once the grinding wheels are off (left shaft has left-handed thread), measure the shaft diameter. You may find 12,7 mm (1/2 ") on smaller and 15 to 20 mm on bigger machines.
If you already own a polishing kit for the power drill, such as the one from DanPipe, you may need an adaptor. These discs have a hex socket that fits 19 mm wrench size nut. Drill or turn the nut to a 12,7 mm (1/2 ") inner diameter and you get a nice adaptor.
You may also need a few spacers, in order to fasten the buffs properly.
 
Suitable buffs may be hard to get, but a few shops specialized on pipe making may help you. I was lucky to find an industrial maker of polishing wheels, who will make any material and dimension I want. Alternatively, you can make your own buffs . You will need 4 wheels to start: One each for the coarse and fine polishing agent, one for the Carnauba wax and a blank, untreated disc for the final polish. The last two discs should be made of soft material.
 
Once the discs are fastened with the nuts, start the motor and turn it off again. The wheels will probably have set, so tighten the nuts again. The motor should be safely mounted to a workbench. If it is a low power model, it may be just temporaily clamped down with a vice.
Please make sure to work as safely as possible! Avoid loose clothing and jewelry. Long hair, if present, should be kept under a cap. Without the original safety enclosure, the machine can be somewhat dangerous, if things get caught and are hurled away at high speed. Murphy's law will make sure that the pipe hits you hard on the forehead.
Be especially careful when polishing edges on pipes and stems. Also, do never put a finger in the tobacco hole of a pipe to be polished, even if you think that this gives you better control! If the wheel catches the pipe, it will be at least a frightening, if not painful experience for you.

See some images of the machine I built ...

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