Daily Wire Tip April 14: Tumbling Your Jewelry

By on April 14, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
April 14, 2010


I’m using a Lortone tumbler with stainless steel shot to polish/harden my sterling silver creations.  What medium should I use when polishing creations with sterling AND gemstones?  I tried putting a couple of sodalite beads just to see what happens and they got dull and smaller.  I know that sodalite is a softer stone.  What would happen with amethyst or jasper for example?


Most folks just use original, blue Dawn dish detergent as the burnishing agent for everything that ‘can’ be tumbled (excluding soft and porous materials, etc). Sodalite is a very tricky stone to polish and definitely one that I would include in the ‘do not tumble softer materials’ list, as the hardness of the steel quickly grinds it away. All quartz materials such as agates, jaspers, amethyst, citrine, etc have significant hardness and do well in a tumbler. (Unless it contains druzy, where the crystal edges can become worn down/dulled by the shot). For more tumbler information and further discussion:  Tumbling Your Jewelry

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar


    April 14, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I use blu tak to cover the stones in the tumbler and even though it gets wet it still stays put till you remove it afterwards. Be sure you only cover the stone, as the blu tak (if it covers anything else) will stop it being polished.

  2. avatar


    April 14, 2010 at 9:59 am

    For a while I was using steel shot and it always ruined my delicate stone. Then I read in a article that if you but in glass marbles, it works just as well. Go to a craft store and buy glass decorative marbles of large or small size. I use 8mm size. It doesn’t matter the color, since the color won’t rub off. Marbles work so much better then steel shot in a rotary tumbler. I also found if I but a freezer bag in first as a liner. Then the marbles, dawn soap and jewelry, that the jewelry didn’t have a black look to them when they cameo out, after hours of tumbling.
    Marble cost a lot less then steel shot and work just as well. But in just about the same amount as you would steel shot.

  3. avatar

    Casey Willson

    April 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

    If I’m ever going to try to tumble the softer stones my late husband who was a lapidarist, taught me to use walnut shell medium.

    • avatar


      April 14, 2010 at 11:44 pm

      Hi Casey As a lapidary, other medium does work well for ‘rocks’. The article I mentioned in another reply post to this ‘tip’ is a good reference as well as reading the past discussions on tumbling (I will try to find and link them for you here later.)

  4. avatar

    Susan Mazlum

    April 14, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Each time I read about folks tumbling their wirework, I still wonder. How is it that the shot doesn’t pit or damage the scroll work or spirals on a wire creation? Sorry if this is a silly question, but I’m a novice and have never even seen a tumbler, so am not quite sure how they work.

  5. avatar


    April 14, 2010 at 10:23 am

    To tumble my jewelry, I use the heavy glass shapes that most folks put in their fish bowls and candle scapes. I keep a 2 lb mixture of stars, hearts, pepples and marbles. These different shaped glass pieces can be purchased at craft and department stores. I do not use shot. I tumble all my jewelry inculding sodalite, opals, cameos, pearl simulants and all gemstones.

    By using the heavy glass I do not have to worry about a piece reacting with the shot or getting damaged by the shot.

  6. avatar

    Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor

    April 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    That is an awesome idea! I use blu-tac (or the white version) for tons of things in the studio but never thought of this! It also is excellent for propping up awkward jewelry pieces when taking photos since it sticks well but can be easily and cleanly removed!

  7. avatar

    Pete M

    April 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    A few times you have advised using a liquid detergent in a rotatry tumbler. I have not tumbled jewelry but I have tumbled many semi-precious stones and have used a couple of different brands of tumber. In my experience, the manufacturers caution against using liquid detergents in “rubber” tumbler barrels – it will actually attack the barrell. (The last tumbling operation when dealing with stones is a short soap and water tumble.) What I have done, with good success, is to get a bar of Ivory soap and shave a good bit into the tumbler barrell with the required amount of water. I did, in the “old” days, use Ivory flakes – can’t find them these days.

    • avatar


      April 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm

      Personally Pete, I only tumble rocks; however a lot of folks do tumble their finished wire and chain maille jewelry to work harden and polish it, which only needs to be run for a short time (as opposed to weeks for rocks) thus the reference. Regarding tumble polishing rocks, I also use Ivory Snow flakes (still find them in TN) to break the water tension in my polish run as well as for the final clean up.