materials, techniques, Tool Box
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Rotary Tumbler Test Run; The Results Are In!

I recently purchased a rotary tumbler for polishing stones and jewelry.  My Rio Grand Mini Tumbler Kit arrived this evening, and I had it set up minutes after I had taken it out of the box.  Although setup was a breeze, one thing caused me concern.  The accompanying directions called for filling the tumbler with a full 4 pounds of mixed steel shot; my kit only came with 3 lbs.  I’ve never encountered the issue of missing items in my orders from Rio Grande, so I was a bit surprised.  However, on a second look at the Rio Grande catalog, I realized that the description of the Mini Tumbler Kit includes only 3 lbs of steel shot – the amount (according to the catalog) necessary to successfully tumble in this machine. (The discrepancy between the catalog and accompanying directions is odd, but my tumbling results prove that 3 lbs of steel shot works just fine!)

Here is a photo of my Argentium Sterling Silver Pillow Pendant prior to being tumbled (at this stage all extra melted solder has been removed with a blue rubber wheel; no other polishing has been done):

Pillow pendant pictured prior to being polishing in a rotary tumbler

Pillow Pendant Prior to Being Polishing in a Rotary Tumbler

(Note the scratches overall, and the discoloration inside the pendant along the center post.)

Here is the pendant after 30 minutes of tumbling:

Pillow pendant pictured after being tumbled in a rotary jewelry polishing tumbler for 30 minutes

Pillow Pendant Post Tumbling

Although the tumbling didn’t remove all of the scratches, it effectively cut down my polishing time by about 75%.  Removing the remaining scratches was a breeze with rouge and black silver polishing compounds.  Its possible, too, that longer time in the tumbler would have removed all of the scratches…

Look for the finished pendant in my Etsy shop.

For those of you interested, the folks at Urban Maille have a great tumbling tutorial with detailed instructions, do’s and don’ts, and troubleshooting.  To this, I’d add one hint from the technician I spoke with at Rio Grande.  Make sure the lid and rubber seal of your tumbler is dry before you seal it with the rubber ring.  This helps to guard against any leakage.

Now I’m tumbling off to bed…

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the pictures.. Long ago I tumbled some rocks.. but never realized how that fantastic shine on jewelry came about. There’s so much of it around, it’s just taken for granted.. without thinking of hours of hand polishing. Glad its working for you.

    • Hi Rosemary,

      My tumbler can be used for rocks, too, but I’m planning to designate it for my Argentium Sterling pieces to prevent any issues of contamination.

      I’d say the tumbler cuts down about 75% of my polishing time. With the pillow pendant, after tumbling it the first time (the second picture I posted), I was able to quickly polish it with the red rouge and black silver compound, and then put it back in the tumbler. When it emerged, it had a completely perfect polished finish!
      Many manufacturers rhodium-plate their silver jewelry to get the perfect mirror finish and tarnish-resistant quality. Because I use tarnish-resistant Argentium Sterling Silver, I don’t feel the need to get into plating…hopefully, I’ve hit on the perfect solution for my needs!

      All best wishes,
      Joana

  2. Hi Joana
    I am very interested by your post because todays I’m still with my burnishers and I’m dreaming of a rotary tumbler….Thanks for sharing your experience, your blog is great (I’m a self taught apprentice till now)

    • Hi Lucie,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m glad my post about tumblers was helpful. The rotary tumbler I bought is quiet and it works well. I make every effort not to mar the metal when I’m working on it (pre-polish) and I still have to do a quick final polish after tumbling, but I’m still finding that the tumbler cuts back tremendously on the amount of time I spend polishing.

      All best wishes,
      Joana

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