Daily Wire Tip Jan. 9: How to Keep Stainless Shot Free of Residue

By on January 9, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
January 09, 2010

Question:

How does one keep stainless steel shot, used for tumbling a piece, free of black oxides that build up and can impart a dark residue to silver?

Answer:

First let me say that if you use a tumbler to work-harden and clean your jewelry pieces, that you should never mix metals in the same tumbling batch. Each batch needs to be one pure metal such as all copper or all silver or all brass (this means no mixed metal pieces such as one made with silver and copper, etc.) Stainless steel shot needs to be cleaned between each and every run.

Now let’s look at a few reasons why the shot turns black. When using a new rubber barrel (even if you cleaned it well before the first use) until it is ‘broken in’, often the rubber on the inside comes off during the first 3 or 4 runs, leaving an undesirable coating on both the shot and your jewelry (especially if it is one of the inexpensive barrels, in my personal opinion, Lortone is best). If you were running a batch that included mixed metals, copper and brass will tumble off a bit of residue that will adhere to all of the material in the batch, including the shot. If you used a dish detergent with a citrus additive like ‘lemon fresh’ or something, the citrus will turn all of the metal black. If you use city water, check to see if it contains additives that could be reacting with your metals and if so, use purchased water in a jug.

Now here are a couple of methods to clean the shot.

  1. Make a thick mixture of baking soda and water and run it with the shot for 2 or 3 hours; remove the shot, rinse everything clear and if still blackened a bit, repeat.
  2. Run the shot in clear water with a good dose of pure (no citrus) Dawn dishwashing detergent with grease cutter.

Using fresh water each time, repeat either cleaning method chosen, as many times as necessary to get rid of the collected grime.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

Have a question? Submit your question here!

33 Comments

  1. avatar

    Janet

    January 9, 2010 at 10:01 am

    My goodness this all seems very complicated. I leave my shot in the tumbling fluid and this seems to stop the oxides coating the shot. I also tumble bracelets that I’ve used gold fill and silver to make and the mixed metals seem to polish fine. One of my students has a Lortone and it is good, especially as it is so quiet; but it seems it is quiet because there are no fins in the barrel so it has to tumble for loads longer and this is not practical for classes.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks for your comments Janet. I get all types of questions regarding tumbers and some folks don’t seem to have as much luck as you have.

  2. avatar

    Deb

    January 9, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Yes, I tumble mixed metals all the time and haven’t had any problems!

    Why do you say not to mix the metals? You say DON’T!!! but you don’t give a reason why not???

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm

      Deb, if you read paragraph 2 of the answer, I do tell you that sometimes brass and copper will tumble off a bit of residue that will adhere to the other metals in a mixed batch.

      And I can tell everyone reading this, that after several hours of research (both on-line and talking to associates in various jewelry-making mediums, across the USA) there is no one way to tumble everything all of the time.

      If anyone has one solid, sure and 100% proven method for tumbling all types of materials (all metals, stones, beads, etc) with clean and perfect results for every item used in the process, each and every single time, then I invite you to solve one of the mysteries of this industry and share it with us.

  3. avatar

    Grace

    January 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I agree with Janet. I leave my shot in the tumbler covered with fluid. Stainless steel shouldn’t rust and only oxidizes where there is air. If the shot is covered in fluid – there is no air…. I agree with Dale that I rinse and use new detergent (without citrus) with the shot every time I started a new batch. I also have pieces with mixed metals and have not had a problem. However, I am very carefulabout what stones I put into the tumbler; and, how long I keep some metals like GF in action.

  4. avatar

    Frenchelegantjewelry

    January 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    oh so that is what is coating my stuff. My tumbler worked fine but i put it away for 6 months then when I used it last time it covered all my fine silver in black stuff. What a pain to rub off.

  5. avatar

    Kristen

    January 10, 2010 at 12:05 am

    I read somewhere that coca cola will clean shot. I was having the blackening issue as well. So I tried pouring a can of coke in a bowl and put my shot in it for about an hour. Rinsed it and wouldn’t you know, it was bright silver again. And no more blackening. Go figure. Hope that helps.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

      Thanks Kristen, I had also read this somewhere. If anyone decides to try it, be sure the coke is flat before you run it!

  6. avatar

    mary

    January 11, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I learned the hard way about being sure that the shot you use in your tumbler is stainless steel. When I purchased it, it was labeled as such but it turned out to be a low carbon blended steel material and it rusted up in the tumbler and made the biggest mess you have ever seen. Everything was covered in a rusty orange residue and ended up being thrown out.

    Also, this is a source for “free” information based mostly on personal experience and research, and being offered by a company and its representatives to help further your knowledge base and your jewelry making endeavors. Lately I have been seeing a lot of one liner jabs at the information posted without really reading the information and applying it accordingly. It would be nice to see some more positive and helpful comments from the readers.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 11, 2010 at 9:34 pm

      Thanks Mary. I’d love to have more readers send me their experiences, so I can share them with everyone. In this way, we all learn a little bit more.
      Dale/Cgr

    • avatar

      Margaret

      March 21, 2013 at 6:31 am

      Wow! Been making jewelry a long time and never realized my s/s labeled shot might not be s/s! I remember “way back when” I had s/s shot and it never got a coating on it (I always leave it in water)……However for the last couple of years I must have changed my s/s shot somewhere along the line and notice that although I leave it in water, it always gets that orangy-rusty coating on it and I have to clean it before each use…..I just accepted it…..Wow! So now I’m off to find some s/s that’s REAL s/s shot!!

  7. Pingback: Black Goop on Tumbled Silver | Jewelry Making Instructions

  8. avatar

    Karen Williams

    October 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I live on a very limited income and love to make jewelry. I own a rock tumbler (which I purchased at a garage sale)and stainless steel shot which I tumble all my finish jewelry pieces with no problems (except the noise). I use a pinch of Ivory soap shavings (which I grate myself) and a drop of Dawn and have no problems with black goop. After each batch I rinse every thing in water and store my shot in the barrow covered in water. When the shot needs cleaning I run the shot in a little drain cleaner (I got from the dollar store)and water for about 45 mins to a hour. Rinse well in
    water and the shot comes out nice and clean.

  9. avatar

    Nae

    March 24, 2011 at 7:39 am

    I too suffered with the black goop of doom from a tumbling a few years ago. I have no idea what caused it. I bought the expensive commercial steel shot cleaner which made a small improvement at best. Thinking I was at a point of no return for salvaging the shot I tried a degreaser I bought at the dollar store. It cleaned the shot beautifully! It’s Totally Awesome! I do a lot of mixed metals and have never had a second thought about tumbling the metals together. I use a few squirts of dish soap (non-lemon – just because) in the water and when done tumbling, I spread the shot over a microfiber towel to dry which doesn’t take long and then store the shot in the barrel. Sometimes if the pieces are dirty and grimey from polishing, I use the degreaser in the tumbler instead of the dish soap. I haven’t had any problems in over two years.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      March 24, 2011 at 9:03 am

      Awesome sharing of your experiences Nae – thanks so much!

  10. avatar

    Willi

    March 24, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I put some tarnished silver, source unknown, in my Lortone tumbler and was stunned when everything, including the shot, came out black! Somewhere online I read a suggestion to use dry white rice, so I dried the silver and shot, and dumped it in the barrel with the rice to the same level I would have used for water. Amazingly, everything came out sparkling except the rice, which took on the black mess. All that was left was to get the shot out of the rice. I used a big magnet that removed most of the shot. The extra effort beat buying new shot.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      March 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      Wow! Such cool new information about using a tumbler on jewelry, and how to clean and keep clean, the all important stainless steel shot. Many, many thanks to all of you for sharing your valuable information with all of us!
      Dale/Cgr

  11. avatar

    Judith Pharo

    March 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Great feed back from all our experiences, Thank you Dale for the info. on “Siam” jewelry. Another gem of info. you shared with us.
    A chemist friend helped me clean my Stainless Shot, he recommended I use baby powder “talc” 1 tbs with a drop of detergent changing the water several times, running the tumbler for 30 to 40 minutes each time until the water came clean. I did this 4x and the shot was shinny again.
    He explained how the mix of metals(alloys)change throughout the world and regulations if they even exist are very different in other countries. His advise was not to tumble metals of unknown origin together because a chemical reactions can take place. There is a lot more to the explanation of the reactions and its causes but I will leave it at that. He also recommended to wash and dry the shot before storage to avoid future contamination.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      March 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      Judith – thanks for the ‘new’ excellent advice about how to clean stainless steel shot! (Special thanks to your chemist friend too!!)

  12. avatar

    celeste

    March 24, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I do lots of tumbling and also had my pieces come out black after not rinsing off enough of an oxidizer from my Precious Metal Clay. I removed my pieces and then dumped a can of flat coke into my tumbler. I let it sit for an hour and then, for good measure, I ran the tumbler for a half hour to make sure the coke touched every single bit of shot. I’ve not had problems since.

  13. avatar

    Regena Brooks

    March 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I use a rock tumbler for my jewelry and I tumble mixed metals (sterling and gold filled) with no problems. I can tell you that you should make sure that what you’re tumbling is NOT plated metal! I had read in one of my jewelry books where the author made the mistake of using plated metal spacers on a piece and it turned everything black, including the steel shot and the tumbler barrel. I store my steel shot inside my tumbler barrel, in the plastic bag the shot came in and it’s still fine after a couple of years.

  14. avatar

    Carol

    March 24, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I, too, use coke (not diet) to clean my shot and barrel. In fact, it is old coke that I bought a long time ago which is now flat and it works just fine! I think the reason I had a problem with things turning black is that I didn’t clean my shot and barrel well enough between tumblings. I also read somewhere to tumble first, then liver of sulfur, but I tend to do it the other way around. Perhaps it can be done tumble last if you clean everything well, but I haven’t tried it yet.

  15. avatar

    D.Doody

    March 25, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I’ve been using bottled water in my tumbler. We have so many chemicals in our water ie: floride, chlorine, even benzine sometimes. I don’t drink it why whould I tumble with it.Not really crazy about showering in it. Some day I’ll buy an ozmosis system for my house. Then I’ll use it in my tumbler.
    I also use the rice system for some delicate items & have liked the results. But I am new to tumbling & have a lot to learn. I hope, not the hard way.

  16. avatar

    Lela

    August 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I was cleaning some old metal African jewelry components & forgot about not mixing metals. The gunk came off the components, but then they and all the shot were covered with an icky grey coating. I have the Loritone with the rubber barrel…and it only took 15 mins with the baking soda mixture to clean the shot. (I had to peek. ;) The mixture was already dirty & grey, so I rinsed and loaded it again with the same mixture – it’s still running & I’ll give it another hour or so.

    Again, I thank you!

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      August 16, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Cool Lela!! So glad we had the answer you needed!!

  17. avatar

    Linda

    August 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks for all the wonderful information about tumbling. It’s the most information I’ve gotten anywhere, and the best. I want to tumble some rocks that I got from a gardening store that look like jasper when opened (cracked by a hammer ). I would like to carve some and tumble polish some. I bought some grit from Harbor Freight, also where I bought my tumbler, which works wonderfully. But I thought I would have to use larger fodder to start with. Their ‘large’ is smaller than a sand grain. What should I use? Small rocks? And what kind?

  18. avatar

    randy

    January 8, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Glad I came to this site first. I have been using the same stainless steel shot for 30+ years, storing it in the liquid all the time, and changing the solution of burnishing powder and water when it seemed it was a bit dirty…never paid attention to which metal I was tumbling, but always tumbled newly made pieces that had no oxidization on them. Then I bought a new tumbler when my old one died! Now my shot is dirty. I am so glad to hear that it may just be the new rubber and am going to try the baking soda first…then the flat coke if it isn’t clean, clean. Hopefully, I won’t have to go buy rice! Thank you guys so much for your options. We all know this shot is too expensive to buy over and over!

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      January 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      You are very welcome, Randy! We are here to help when we can. Let me know how the solutions work for you?

  19. avatar

    Lolita

    September 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    This post has been amazingly helpful!! I tumbled for my first time two days ago. I excitedly went to pick out my newly made jewelry expecting a beautiful shine. When I opened the barrel everything was black and sticky. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting what I got. I have now used baking soda twice, coke once, and non-citrus dawn each separately. Everything looks much better, however for some reason all of the sterling silver is tarnished. Any suggestions on how to get the tarnish out and how to avoid it in the future? Thank you for all the great help and advice!!

  20. avatar

    Elizabeth

    June 15, 2014 at 7:17 am

    This site is fantastic, and I’m so glad to have found this thread. I blackened my shot by tumbling some rock that a friend of mine had tried to polish. She left polishing ‘grit’ all over it. Dark gray rock + polishing grit equals dark gray ss shot. I’m going to try the baking soda first, then the rice, and as a last ditch effort, I’ll go buy a can of Coke (can’t stand the stuff) and try running the flat stuff through with the shot.

    I’ll let you know how it comes out.

    PS…I did an experiment. I have found that I can polish my polymer clay pieces using small rounded rocks. I bought a sack at Walmart, sorted by size, and started tumbling away. Came out great. I also picked some out of my driveway…lol… Small, fingernail size, rounded rocks.

    The rocks actually worked as well as the ss shot…perhaps a smidge better, and didn’t get any black goop on them. In both cases, the water was very black when changed. The rocks just didn’t react.

  21. avatar

    Kristen Ramsey

    June 16, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I use coke also to clean my stainless steel shot. I have been using it for a couple of years now and love it. I actually just let it sit for a few minutes and then I tumble the shot for an hour. Never had a problem with it over flowing. I guess I am too impatient to wait for it to get flat! I used to store my shot in the water but, since I don\’t use my tumbler very often it made me nervous so, I washed the burnishing compound off and laid it out flat on a paper towel to dry and stored it in the barrel of the tumbler after it dried for several days. I\’ve never had problems with black gunk but, I also don\’t have a rubber barrel on my tumbler. It is a hard plastic that Rio Grande recommended. Hope this helps anyone that is wanting to try Coke as a cleaner and thanks everyone for the info!

  22. avatar

    Leisa

    November 6, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    This has been so helpful! I have had quite a frustrating week trying to figure out why my blanks are not shiny and the last batch I ran has more residue on them than ever! Cleaning with the Baking Soda mixture right now. I also ready somewhere that over time a barrel can break down and so I did buy another one to have on hand from this site as well. Will update with my results!

  23. avatar

    maria

    May 2, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    I never had a problem with my tumbler and steel shot till the last couple of times. I did not do anything different that what I usually do, but as of late, I noticed pitting on my jewelry, why is that?

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