Daily Wire Tip Dec. 29: What to Use in Jewelry Tumbler

By on December 29, 2009
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
December 29, 2009

Question:

I have read so often about tumbling my jewelry projects in a tumble polisher to get a final shine on them. I got a tumbler for Christmas, and am wondering what medium I can use. I hear so much about steel shot, but some of my stones are soft like Turquoise, and I am afraid to use steel shot. I have seen media from ground corn cobs and walnut hulls all the way to big rock like chunks, and of course, steel shot. Which can I use, and which is most effective?

Answer:

Regarding tumbling wire jewelry pieces that contain soft and/or porous materials like turquoise, malachite, fluorite, amber, azurite, rhodocrosite, and pearls, some folks do it all the time with mixed results, and others say not to tumble jewelry made with them at all! I can tell you that when we tumble rocks, the entire rock batch per tumbler load is of the same hardness. For example we tumble malachite and turquoise together, and agates, jaspers and quartz is another combo, etc. (In the Resource Center, our new Gemstone Glossary has hardness listed under each mineral

Wire-Sculpture has a great new article about tumbling here: https://wire-sculpture.com/jewelry-making-blog/1384/tumbling-your-jewelry/

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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8 Comments

  1. avatar

    Catherine

    December 29, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    That is very useful information, but does not answer the question of what type of shot to use in the tumbler when tumbling. Do you use different types of shot depending on the hardness of the stones in the jewelry that you are hardening?
    Thanks.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 30, 2009 at 11:35 am

      Ok, let me clarify my answer:
      Yes, the shot is always stainless steel.
      Yes the people we spoke to use the jeweler’s shot mix.
      Unless the turquoise used in a finished wire jewelry piece has been stabilized with resin, it is not a good idea to tumble it.
      No there is no ONE procedure to safely tumble all materials in finished jewelry to work harden and polish them.
      No I personally have never tumbled any of my finished wire jewelry pieces to work harden OR polish. Rather I use a half-hard wire to begin with.
      Yes I have been tumbling rocks for more than 35 years – all types of rocks – and because I know what tumbling does to them I will never put a finished piece of jewelry into a tumbler with steel shot or corn meal, or rice, or sawdust, or walnut shells, or leather pieces, or anything else, ever.

      My best advice is to read the article we have on tumbling and then experiment on your own, writing down all of your results and forming your own ‘tumbling wire jewelry manual’. If you are interested in sharing the information you glean, please contact me and WS will be happy to publish it as a supplement to our article.

  2. avatar

    Jessie Adams

    December 29, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Hooboy that’s a complex question. I use my tumbler for strictly lapidary (rock) uses, but one thing i’ve learned over the years is that the material doesn’t always turn out the way you expect. Case in point I ran into a local deposit along one of the county roads of a layered qtz material that had bands of clear material in it. Thought it would look pretty cool wrapped and so I threw it in the tumbler and ended up with a lot of material turned into slurry (started with a pound of material ended up with 3/8ths of a pound of tumbles that had a matte finish.)
    three things with tumblers,
    1 make sure that all your material is the same hardness.
    2) completely clean your material between steps and your barrel. It’s even better if you can have a seperate barrel for each step
    3) NEVER put your slurry down the drain. It will harden like concrete and you’ll end up paying a significant amount of money into your plumbers college fund.
    There are mediums and tumblers out there for doing metal alone, haven’t played with them yet.
    Have fun and Happy New Year everyone!
    Jessie

  3. avatar

    Lila Solnick

    December 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    I use only STAINLESS steel shot. I will tumble some softer stones, but I limit how long they are in the tumbler. For example, stones of hardness 5 – 5.5 get about 45 minutes, no more. Then the harder the stone the longer I can tumble it. Very hard stone can handle hours of tumbling. Also do not over look the benefit of tumbling jewelry with no stones. I will leave such pieces in the tumbler for a day or so. They come out nice and hard with a brilliant finish. I do not tumble opal, mother of pearl, pearls, lava or porous coral.
    One more recommendation. Buy the stainless steel shot with a mixture of shapes, but if there are pin shapes in the mix, remove thom. They can pit softer stones and always get stuck in the wire work and are a pain to remove.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

      Thanks so much for sharing your tumbling procedure with us Lila.

  4. avatar

    dalecgr

    December 30, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Read the article folks, and then experiment, as there is no ONE definite way to tumble every type of stone material used in your wire jewelry.
    http://wire-sculpture.com/wire-jewelry-artists/269/tumbling-your-jewelry/
    Thanks,
    Dale

  5. avatar

    ANNETT

    January 1, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I have for years used small pea gravel(about a cup),water and two good squirts
    of dawn dishwashing soap..tumble for an hour or so and check it.
    Pour it all in a large strainer and let hot water run through the gravel to clean the rocks and the jewelry..Lila, you are right
    about soft stones if you leave them too long..I left a pair of
    mother-of-pearl and silver earrings too long an ruined the stones..
    My jewelry is nearly all stabilized turquoise and silver so it workes great..

  6. avatar

    judith mulcahey

    January 8, 2010 at 5:54 am

    I use plastic pellets in my tumbler to polish with a teaspoon of dawn it works to clean and polish. I got the plastic on pellets e-bay they don’t cost much.

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