Daily Wire Tip July 25: Tumbling Finished Jewelry

By on July 24, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
July 25, 2010


You’ve mentioned tumbling wire work to harden it. Could you please explain this for new members like me?

-Linda in Portland, Oregon


Yes, I do mention tumbling as a way to work harden your finished jewelry pieces, but personally, I do not do it! We do have a great article on tumbling, though, written by Wire-Sculpture Faculty member Scrimshaw Mary. She did quite a bit of research and interviewed several professional jewelry-making friends who do use a tumbler. Just follow this link to read their advice about Tumbling Your Jewelry. You can also Search Our Blog on the left side of the screen. Type in the keyword tumbler and press Go to read several discussions regarding tumbling advice!

Many wire artists find that working with half hard wire reduces the need for tumblers to work harden a piece. You can read previous tips about Forging Soft Wire and Hardening Finished Jewelry on our blog as well.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Lila Solnick

    July 25, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Tumbling is a great way to work harden and polish your pieces. However you should not tumble any piece that has soft materials or stones with a Mohs hardness of 5 or less. This would include pears, mother of pearl, opals and some turquoise.

    Tumbling involves using stainless steel shot, burnishing compound or dish soap and water in a rock tumbler. First the shot is placed in the barrel, then your pieces. The number of pieces you can tumble at once will depend on the size of your barrel. Then water is added, to about 1/2″ over the shot, then the burnishing compound or soap. Then put the barrel on your tumbler and let ‘er rip!

    How long you tumble will depend on what materials you’ve used. If the piece is entirely metal (sterling, gold filled, etc.) then you can tumble it for a very long time. I’ve tumbled such pieces overnight, for as long as 12 – 18 hours. The pieces come out super shiny, with many work imperfections gone and the piece is REALLY hard. If there are stones or glass in the piece then I adjust the time to the hardness of the stone. For example quartz is relatively hard (Mohs 7) and can withstand tumbling for about 4 – 5 hours. Softer material should be reduced in time accordingly. Burnishing compound is a great way to tumble your pieces and get fantastic polished results quickly. You could keep a piece in the tumbler for 30 minutes instead of 3 or 4 hours and it will come out beautifully polished. However it will only be mildly work hardened.

    I like to tumble my work, when I can, because I like to use dead soft wire. I can get much better results with soft wire and when I am done with the piece it is as strong as if I’d used half hard.

  2. avatar

    Carol Wilson

    July 25, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I finally broke down and bought a tumbler. I love it! It does harden the piece, but it also polishes and removes tiny burs that are sometimes hard to file away. The pieces come out looking very professional. Also, if you antique any with liver of sulpher, the tumbling usually polishes off just the right amount. I have put finished pieces with stones in it, but I would do that with caution. I found out really fast that some beads I bought had some kind of finish on them to make the colors clearer and make the stones shinier…but they aren’t anymore!

  3. avatar

    Sherrie Lingerfelt

    July 25, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Hi Dale,
    Just wanted to throw my two cents in, I have yet to tumbled a piece of jewelry and have never had a problem with any of it. All of my customers have been very happy with their purchases. 90% of the wire I use is half-hard square or half-round.
    Good luck,

  4. avatar


    July 25, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    To work harden soft sterling silver wire I polish it on a buffing wheel. It’s fast, it takes less than a minute.

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