Daily Wire Tip July 14: What Stones Can Be Tumbled?

By on July 13, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
July 14, 2011

Question:

I’ve tried several sites for this question, and can’t get a straight answer, just generalities. I have a tumbler, wet, and I need to know what I cannot put in it. I know shell and pearl are out, but I also know there are others that can’t be tumbled, can you tell us please.

By the way, I’m getting an ionic cleaner, and it doesn’t specify if it cleans brass and copper just gold and silver. Will it clean oxidation off any metal? Thank you so very much.

-Linda in Sherman, Texas

Answer:

Hi Linda, I would like to try to make this easier for you to figure out. When you think about putting certain stones into a tumbler, take the hardness into consideration. For example, how well do you think a stone like natural turquoise (Mohs hardness of about 4) would hold up while being tumbled around in water and steel shot before it would deteriorate? (You can find the hardness of about any stone regularly used in jewelry making by typing its name into the search box of Wikipedia).

I can tell you specifically not to put the following stones into a tumbler without experimentation on a bead or small sample first: malachite, azurite, turquoise, opal, pearl, or fluorite. Now think about the shape of a bead with relation to its harness. If you were to put faceted fluorite beads into a tumbler with water and steel shot, the facets would wear away quickly, as well as the polish. When I set up a tumbler for rocks, I have to make sure that all of the material I put into the tumbler in one batch are of similar hardness. I cannot put a piece of soft malachite in with harder agates or jaspers. So, although this is basic answer, the hardness of the material depends on whether or not it can be tumbled while in a piece of jewelry or not, or for how long.

As for using an ionic cleaner on different metals, several members of the WS Faculty and I have been using an ionic cleaner on every type of jewelry making wire, for many years, with complete success! These metals include: sterling silver, Argentium® silver, 14/20 gold filled, copper, and brass.

Answer contributed by Dale "Cougar" Armstrong

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9 Comments

  1. avatar

    rayanna Murray

    July 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I tumbled a siver necklace with amythest beads-they were translucent beads going in, and opaque coming out-did not ruin the necklace because amythest is sometime opaque naturally, but not at the price I paid for them.

  2. avatar

    Judy

    July 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Pearls and all of the soft stones in finished jewelry pieces can be cleaned safely in an ionic cleaner with very good results.

  3. avatar

    Rita

    July 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I learned in my silver 1 Class that I could not mix wire in tumblers. I had a piece of copper that I had put silver earwires on and tumbled them together. The silver earwires turned coppery in color. I just wanted to explain that we had different tumblers for each metal due to that reason.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      July 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm

      You were taught correctly Rita. Often different metals will transpose to one another.

  4. avatar

    Amy

    July 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Good to know about the rocks in the tumbler; however, in my ignorance, I have successfully tumbled every stone on your list except pearl, which I didn’t try. The only problem I’ve ever had is the gold on one quartz looked more like rose gold, and one other stone I can’t remember turned the silver black. A second cleaning by hand cleared it up. So if you don’t harden turquoise in a tumbler, what do you do?

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      July 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm

      Amy, rocks do not “harden” in a tumbler, some people use tumblers and steel shot to ‘work harden’ their finished jewelry. Lapdiaries use tumblers to polish stones and slabs.

  5. avatar

    Sherrie Lingerfelt

    July 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Linda,
    I have been using an ionic cleaner for several years and the only problem I have had was when I put some turquoise bead earrings in it and it took the color out. The only reason I can come up with is that the beads were not true turquoise but chalk. The ionic cleaner is your safest bet and I have never put my jewelry in a tumbler.
    Good luck!
    Sherrie

  6. avatar

    Maryanne

    July 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    You should also NEVER use an ionic cleaner to clean bright aluminum…learned that the hard way…now it looks like stainless steel, but lighter.. Also, don`t use the ionic cleaner with any stone with a finish (ie, swarovski crystal with the AB finish) as this will diminish the finish (pardon the rhyme…). Also, you should know that ionic/sonic cleaners come with a solution for cleaning the items, which may be part of the reason for not being able to clean some items in the machine. otherwise, however, a sonic cleaner is fine with any metal (gold, silver, copper, stainless, anything without a finish really) that you should be able to do together. I have done so myself and had no problems.

    Good luck!

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      July 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

      Love your rhyme Maryanne – thanks for your helpful comment. Personally, I rarely use anything that has any type of “finish”, so I don’t think about that part : )

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