The very first thing is that buffers are dangerous. Almost certainly the machine tool most likely to cause a lethal injury to a knife maker is the buffer. There are a variety of reasons behind this danger. A large part of which is simply how harmless the buffer looks. It has soft cotton wheels, not abrasives or moving blades. The fact that it is also one of the last tools used in the knife making process means craftspeople are often tired or excited to finish a piece when they start to use the buffer. Its important to be focused and present while working on the buffer.
The danger of the buffer is its ability to throw items at incredible speeds directly at the groin and thighs of the maker. A sharp knife can easily cut a major artery, and this is probably the most common lethal accident knife makers have suffered.
To lessen the risk of this, there are several steps to take.
1. the first and most important step is being focused on the task at hand, and never using the buffer distracted.
2. a heavy apron of leather, thick canvas or other tough material can add a layer of protection. Thin cloth aprons for protecting your clothes will not offer much protection.
3. Always wear safety glasses or a face shield, buffing compound is fine grit mixed with wax and if it gets in your eye can do some SERIOUS damage. It will also damage glasses like prescription classes, marring the finish. Sacrificial safety glasses are strongly encouraged.
4. When using a buffer, use only the front, lower quadrant of the wheel, so the spin is always down and away from you. This reduces the risk of catches, and makes them much less dangerous if they do happen.
5. Be aware of the edges of your work. The buffer will grab on to an edge ledge, causing the force exerted by the buffer on your work suddenly increase, ripping the item out of your hands. Do not present sharp edges aimed up into the spin of the buffer.
6. Use only gentle pressure. Gentle buffing passes improve not only the quality of the finish but also makes using a buffer much less dangerous. Catches will be less likely and if they do happen the item is more likely to drop out of your hands rather than being thrown at high speed.
Cleaning the buffs and the wood
Before you start buffing, I would recommend thoroughly cleaning the handle. Compressed air, a tack cloth or a clean soft brush would all work. You must make sure the wood is completely clear of abrasives or leftover sawdust which could get caught in the buffing wheel and damage the finish.
Buffing wheels should be kept covered, if on the machine putting a shower cap over them when not in use works, otherwise being kept in a drawer or bags also work. You can also blow down the wheels with compressed air. Grit and dust that settles on the wheels will be present and mar your materials finish.
Be gentle, soft wheels, low speed and fine compounds.
Use slow speeds if possible, 750-1000 RPM is best. Higher speeds make both damaging the finish and throwing the knife much more likely.
I recommend using a soft, unsewn buffing wheel Dense, spiral sewn buffing wheels can damage the wood and the finish.
https://trugrit.com/product-category/buffing-etching-sharpening/buffing-wheels/ I recommend the 40 or 60 ply loose, fitted to your buffers arbor, speed and Hp.
Practice good wood buffing technique. Apply a small amount of compound and recharge often.
Avoid overloading the wheel with compound. If you apply too much compound to the buffing wheel, it will become clogged. It will stop effective polishing and deposit a layer of the compound onto the handle, often filling pore or staining part of the wood. Use a buffing rake to clean the wheels as needed,
When buffing, take short, slowly moving passes to keep the buffing action even. Buffing a cutting action, just like sanding. If you linger too long in one position, you will carve into the wood slightly, heat up one area and lead to other issues.
If you see scratches, you will NOT be able to buff them out. You will have to return to sanding and remove any scratches by progressing through the grits again, cleaning well with compressed air before returning to the buffer.
Picking what compounds
I like to start buffing using a brown tripoli compound
To go over and establish a nice shine and make sure there aren't any leftover scratches. Using slow, short passes on the buffer go over the wood until you’re happy with the finish.
For most handles, this can be the end of finishing. A high grit and tripoli buffed finish is often incredible. If you wish to continue however,
The next compound to use would be a blue moon or pink scratchless.
This is a finer finish and should have its own wheel. The only downside is that the compound is much more sticky, and can deposit in a thin film on some open pore woods. This can be cleaned afterwards, but it is something to consider.