Do you want a way to clean and polish your jewelry that goes beyond a simple polishing cloth? Maybe it is time to get a tumbler!
Tumblers are great for cleaning, polishing and smoothing solid metal items! The tumbling process works very well on jump rings and assembled chainmaille. Stainless steel, sterling silver, raw copper, brass, bronze, bare (uncolored) aluminum, nickel silver, bare titanium, bare niobium and gold filled all work well with a tumbler and stainless steel shot. You can also tumble anodized (colored) titanium and niobium but you should proceed with caution and use only short tumbling times to protect the color.
The tumbler will not only remove burrs and tool marks, but also cleans and re-polishes the metal. This eliminates any oxidation, light scratches and scuffing which are common on bracelets since they get hit against all sorts of environmental surfaces during wear.
“I have heard about ultrasonic cleaners, can I get the same results as with a tumbler?”
While ultrasonic cleaners will remove dirt and skin oils, they will not polish the metal. Ultrasonics should not be used on enamel coated copper items and they are expensive for what they can do. You can get the same results with soapy water, a soft tooth brush and a bit of elbow grease.
“Is there anything I can’t put in the tumbler?”
Yes, you should not put any plated or enameled pieces into a tumbler, as it will strip the coating off in all exposed areas. I also do not recommend trying to tumble wire as it can turn into a huge tangled mess. Stick to solid metal findings and jewelry, things that will not be hurt by rolling around with steel shot for a period of time.
“Doesn’t tumbling take a long time?”
That depends on the material you are tumbling and what kind of finish you are looking for. Copper may only take 20-30 minutes to shine up, but a full polish on some stainless steel can take 12 hours or more. If you are unsure of how long something should tumble for, you can start with 1 hour of tumbling, checking halfway though. Then just add time as needed, pulling the piece to be tumbled out periodically until you get a feel for how long each material should tumble for.
“Can I put more than one metal in the tumbler at one time?”
If your piece has 2 or more solid, uncoated metals, then yes, go ahead and put the whole thing in. I don’t suggest putting brass rings and bronze rings in together to try and save time, just think of all the sorting you will have to do later…whew! I also have found that you should clean your shot before tumbling niobium or titanium if you usually tumble brass, bronze, and copper. The particulates left by the softer metals can be ground into the surface of the niobium and titanium and interfere with anodizing. To clean your shot, rinse very well with clean water and then tumble the shot for an hour or two on its own with enough water to cover it and a tiny bit of dish soap. Then, rinse well and you are ready to tumble!
“How much shot do I need? What about a liquid?”
If you have the Loritone tumbler that I carry, then for most projects you should only need enough shot to cover the bottom of the barrel and enough burnishing solution to cover the shot and the piece(s) being tumbled. Burnishing solution? Oh yes, don’t leave home without it! Or, at least don’t tumble without it:-) The burnishing solution helps the shot to slide and bounce smoothly against the metal and keeps everything lubricated.
At the end of the day, my choice would be the tumbler for almost everything. Break out the soap, water, and a soft brush for the enameled copper, colored aluminum and non tarnish silver plated pieces.