Faultless finish

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Blackened stainless countertop.

Craftsmanship aided by the right tools achieves exceptional results

November 2014 - Applying heat to metal is an elemental process that allows a fabricator to bend and cut and then weld pieces back together to achieve the desired shape. Welding, the rebinding of the metal, requires the use of fillers, leaving bulky seams and excess that needs to be ground away. Some jobs go beyond making an edge smooth so as not to snag. Higher finishes up to and including a mirror finish are becoming more and more the norm. Finishing thus becomes a painstaking process requiring skill, patience, and the right instrument. 

Mike Winters Metalworks in Bozeman, Montana, doesn’t receive typical fab shop orders. Clientele come here with unusual, high-end requests, such as a solid copper shower with mirror finish—not exactly practical. Why? “Because they can afford it. It’s antimicrobial and extraordinary,” says Mike Winters, owner.

Achieving a mirror finish requires a clean work environment. The eight-step process begins with rough grinding of welds and ends using polishing paste. “It requires two different flapper disc grits, three different Velcro quick-step polishing discs and finally, two different polishing pastes,” he explains. “Once somebody breathes on the surface it’s not the same any longer. [A mirror finish for a shower or sink] is not a very practical application, but some people like the extraordinary.”


Considering that copper scuffs relatively easily, one might wonder why a different customer ordered a mirror finish copper apron sink for their vacation home. “Copper isn’t ideal for stacking dishes, pots, pans and silverware. It’s nice looking but, again, not practical,” Winters says, but his customers rarely concern themselves with practicality as long as the finished product meets their aesthetic expectations, providing the wow factor.

In order to achieve the mirror finish in a timely manner, the fab shop uses the Varilex WSF 1800 sander polisher from Norwalk, Connecticut-based CS Unitec Inc. “Right-angle grinders, tools designed to use grinding wheels and/or cutoff wheels, generally operate at full speed for heavy grinding, cutting and the removal of burred edges,” explains Mike Marshall, inside sales and customer service manager at CS Unitec. “But the rpm of a right-angle grinder is often constant and best suited for the use of a hard abrasive. In the world of finishing, right-angle grinders are not the best choice because they turn too fast. A fixed rpm right-angle grinder just isn’t going to achieve the look you’re going for. The Varilex WSF 1800 is a variable-speed blending and polishing tool.”

Precision with power 

The Varilex WSF 1800 is a 15.9 amp tool. “When you slow the Varilex down for blending and finishing, the operator gets continuous performance from the high amperage of the tool,” Marshall explains. “In addition, the tool is designed to withstand the heat generated when the tool is turning slowly because you have to run it at varying speeds to match or achieve specific finishes.”


When working with intricate pieces, Winters found a lot of time was spent switching from tool to tool. Now, the Varilex allows operators to change the abrasive consumables on the tool depending on the abrasive needed for the job, which is a significant time saver. “It’s a nine-in-one tool—that’s huge for us,” Winters says, adding the tool is comfortable to use and, “consumables aren’t constantly being worn out using them,” due to the tool’s variable speed. “There are very few tools I would call a perfect tool in that class but this is one of them,” he adds.

Form, fit and finish are becoming increasingly important, says Marshall. 

“The creations using more nonferrous and exotic materials by true craftsmen like Mike Winters have been discovered by discriminating and affluent people who want unique and one-of-a-kind pieces with higher finishes,” he says. “It used to be that you could just weld something up and grind it a little bit and send it out the door and it was accepted. Those days are gone.” 

European styling and the greater use of stainless and aluminum have grown more popular in North America and with that come the tools, techniques and procedures needed to achieve higher finishes. 


The WSF 1800 has a variable speed of 2,000 to 7,600 rpm with 15.9 amp (1,710 W) power and allows fabricators the ability to change discs in seconds. The tool can accept discs with diameters of 4 in., 4.5 in., 5 in., 6 in. and 7 in. According to CS Unitec, the variable-speed control doubles the service life of most discs being used for blending and prevents glazing of the disc, eliminating heat deformation on the work piece. The tool is also quieter than a traditional right-angle grinder. 

Consumables are not all created equal. Tool users want higher removal, long life and low cost. “You can have high removal and long life but not low price,” Marshall says. “Likewise, you can have low price and you might be able to get high removal but you won’t get long life because it will wear away too quickly.”

The abrasive flaps of CS Unitec’s discs are attached to the backing disc using a patented adhesive system. The flaps are pressed, not glued, onto the entire backing disc and remain in place throughout the entire hardening process, according to the company, allowing for smoother, more consistent grinding and longer disc service life.

CS Unitec’s consumables are manufactured with careful attention to detail and use high quality raw materials. “If you don’t focus on the raw material quality you cannot guarantee performance, life or consistency. But if you use the best quality raw materials, you end up with a better product and this results in longer life, higher productivity and a more consistent finish,” Marshall says.

“We’re not unique to the marketplace because of the types of discs we offer; we’re unique and different in how we approach the marketplace.” 


Sleek silhouette

“Metalworking—forming, bending and cutting are pretty destructive processes for raw material,” Winters says. “You have to bring it back to what it started as—or make it look as though it came out of a mold, not cut and welded. [Clients don’t want to] see the seams or joints. You have to bring the material back to where it doesn’t look manipulated.” 

Mike Winters Metalworks also fabricates parts for airplanes and cars, which also adhere to strict quality standards and don’t allow seams. 

Application-specific tools for jobs are superior to an all-purpose tool because there are different expectations for each job. “In Winters’ case, the WSF 1800 lets him use one tool that allows him to switch out attachments and consumables while giving him the finishing he requires,” Marshall says. 

As customers request unique pieces with high-end finishes, he expects “more craftsmen will be making beautiful pieces for the marketplace because they can achieve those finishes with our tooling and our systems.” FFJ


  • CS Unitec Inc.
    Norwalk, Conn.
    phone: 800/700-5919
    fax: 203/853-9921
  • Mike Winters Metalworks
    Bozeman, Mont.
    phone: 406/586-4683
    fax: 406/585-4532

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