Monday, July 20, 2009

Tumbler Tutorial

Once I have finished making a piece of jewelry in sterling silver, it goes into the tumbler. I've had several customers and friends ask me exactly why I use a tumbler and what it does. Tumbling does two things: it polishes and cleans the silver, and it also helps to harden soft sterling silver wire.

Here's a picture of my tumbler. It's an inexpensive one that I purchased from Harbor Freight. The barrel is made of black rubber. Many people use more expensive tumblers, but this one works just fine for my needs.

To tumble sterling silver jewelry, you put about a pound or so of stainless steel "shot" in the barrel, add water to about an inch over the shot, your jewelry, and then a squirt of Dawn dishwashing liquid. Here's a picture of the barrel before tumbling.

Here's a picture of a bracelet before tumbling. The only edit I made to this picture was to crop it down to size.

Once the tumbler is loaded up, just turn it on and leave it alone. When you're finished, rinse everything well and admire the amazing shine on your piece! Here's that same bracelet after tumbling.
The difference looks subtle in these pictures, but believe me it is amazing in person! The bracelet is perfectly polished and has settled into its final shape. It is still flexible, but it will retain its shape much better now than before.
Tumbling is also the easiest way remove tarnish from sterling silver. If you have a piece that has tarnished, I'd be happy to tumble it for you.
Oh, one more thing . . . If you have a tumbler lying around in your garage or attic that has been used at some point to polish rocks, don't attempt to use that same barrel to tumble jewelry. No matter how hard you scrub out that barrel, there is likely to be some grit left over from the rock tumbling that will scratch your jewelry.
Some additional tumbler tips:
  • The water in your tumbler may turn grayish-green or even blackish. This is normal. It is the result of the shot in the tumbler wearing down the rubber barrel. The soap will keep the yukky stuff suspended in the water and off your pieces.
  • Don't let your jewelry sit in the gunky nasty water once you're finished tumbling. Rinse it immediately.
  • I recommend getting a fine mesh hand-held strainer to pour your shot into after tumbling. Rinse the shot after each use and let it air dry. Rinse the barrel and other components too.
  • Only use regular-strength Dawn dishwashing liquid. The concentrated stuff contains bleach, which will eat away at your barrel and could damage your pieces.
  • Make sure your shot is STAINLESS STEEL. Otherwise it will rust. Yuk. You can find it at and
  • Yes, you CAN tumble Swarovski crystals and hard stones (6 or higher on Mohs' scale). Even pearls. But only for a short time - no more than 30 minutes, just to be safe. I've tumbled AB coated Swarovski crystals with no problem. (I can't vouch for other brands of crystals with AB coatings, as I've never tried tumbling them.)


Curtis Collectables :) said...

Wow that looks amazing. I'll keep my eye out for one at the garage sales.

elsiee said...

I always wondered about tumblers thanks for the quick fun lesson!

Christie said...

Curtis . . . if you do find one at a garage sale, inspect the barrel closely to be sure it isn't all gritty and nasty. You don't want to damage your jewelry.

Christie said...

elisee - thanks! I'm glad I could help!

Athena's Armoury said...

I love my Harbor Freight tumbler!

deb said...

Lots of good basic info here. Thanks!