Preparation of magnesium and its alloys is rather difficult due to the low matrix hardness and the higher hardness of precipitate phases that lead to relief problems, and from the reactivity of the metal. Mechanical twinning may result during cutting, grinding, or handling if pressures are excessive. Final polishing and cleaning operations should avoid or minimize the use of water and a variety of solutions have been proposed. Pure magnesium is attacked slowly by water while Mg alloys may exhibit much higher attack rates. Some authors state that water should not be used in any step and they use a 1 to 3 mixture of glycerol to ethanol as the coolant even in the grinding steps. Always grind with a coolant, as fine Mg dust is a fire hazard. Because of the presence of hard intermetallic phases, relief may be difficult to control, especially if napped cloths are used.
MasterPolish is nearly water free and yields excellent results as the final abrasive (See figures 6.3 – 6.4). After the last step, wash the specimens with ethanol. Cleaning after the last step, without using water, is difficult. Holding the specimen under running water for about a second eased the cleaning problem and did not appear to harm the microstructure. Cosmetic cotton puffs can scratch the surface when swab etching. For best results, etch-polish-etch cycle may be needed. Magnesium has a hexagonal close packed crystal structure and will respond to polarized light. To enhance the response, use a brief vibratory polish with the materials used in the last step.