Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to Tumble Polish and Harden Metal Jewelry

By on Thursday, September 23, 2010 9 Comments

You can hand polish jewelry but that's too tedious. Using a tumbler not only polishes jump rings for chain maille, precious metal clay pieces and finished jewelry, it also deburs and work hardens the metal.

Types of tumblers
There are actually two types of tumblers - rotary and vibrational. I've been asked before what the differences are and which to choose. Rotary tumblers like my old Lortone above are cheaper, quieter and don't need supervision. The vibrational ones tend to "walk" when in use but they give faster results - an advantage if you are into tumbling rocks which can take weeks. However, if you are a typical jewelry artisan and not a rock hound, I would recommend you get a rotary tumbler.

How to use a tumbler
If you are in the market for a rotary tumbler, here is a video which shows how to properly use one. Different manufacturers will have other kinds of lids but the barrel on the side idea is the same.



Tumbler Dos and Don'ts
  • Make sure the shot is rinsed and dried well after use. Store in a dry place.
  • Any good dish washing liquid will do - not just Dawn! Some people use a pinch of burnishing compound instead.
  • It's okay to add more than a drop of detergent (a small squirt) if your pieces are dirty - the extra will degrease better. (I sometimes clean my all metal jewelry with my tumbler). Too much though will create lots of suds and will impede the tumbling action. It's the same reason why you have to buy a low suds or high efficiency (HE) detergent if you have a front loading washing machine.
  • Like the video instructor said, change the water often! There is a minimal amount of water used so if there is a lot of dirt, the water can only hold so much.
  • Don't tumble more than one chain necklace at a time. Trust me on this one because I actually did this. Duh. You don't want to spend the next several hours untangling.
  • Don't tumble plated or coated metal or risk losing the outer layer.
  • Tumbling jewelry with stones is not a good idea if you don't know how delicate the stones are. These could be damaged or the stones could part company with their settings.
  • You can also use dry rice or crushed walnut shells (see past post) instead of the shot (without any water) if you just want to polish up chain maille jewelry.
  • On a budget? You could start off with an inexpensive craft rock tumbler (see my past post). The barrel is plastic and the unit is noisier than my Lortone. Stainless steel shot will likely ding the sides of the plastic barrel with time. I think it's fine for the beginner chain maille enthusiast who will be just tumbling with rice or a hobbyist who won't be doing much tumbling.
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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 

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9 comments:

  1. I tumble everything except pearls, Pearl. And really soft stones, but that would have spoiled that last line. Figure that it's a good test of my settings and if the stone comes out, it wasn't set properly to begin with. I have also found that green dishwashing liquid works better than yellow, for some reason. Maybe it's the same reason that green makes better bubble blow liquid as well.?? One question, though. I had to get my stainless steel shot from a U.S. supplier. Do you have a Canadian supplier?

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  2. very helpful post, as usual! Thanks.

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  3. I guess I am too chicken to risk settings. That's an interesting observation of green dishwashing liquid. I hadn't noticed.

    You can try Lacy West which is on the west coast. My shot came with the tumbler which I bought secondhand.

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  4. Thanks Pearl - hope the storm didn't play havoc with your life - peace

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  5. Thanks for your concern Ruralrose! Hurricane Igor missed us but as you can see in the news the torrential rains hit parts of Newfoundland hard.

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  6. Thanks so much for the info. I still know so little about metals, hardening them and such.
    I also have a question and I hope I can make it make sense. Re: tumbling with stones- is this for polishing or for hardening? I'm assuming it for polishing only. And if it is, has anyone made a comparison between this method and the tinfoil and baking soda method?

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  7. Both, actually. The tumbling makes the metal all shiny and the hardening "sets" the metal.

    I've not come across a comparison. Bear in mind the tinfoil method just shines up the metal. It doesn't harden it.

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  8. Aluminum foil, baking soda and hot water is a safer way of cleaning tarnished silver jewelry than harsher chemicals. Check out this video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyOJLGfabFA

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