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Argentium Chain Mass Finishing

Hello!

I am relatively new to silversmithing and will be producing Argentium sterling silver chains. I’ve been doing a bunch of research and have found different information so I thought it’d be a good idea to ask on here what the best methods for mass finishing the chains would be. I have a rotary tumbler so I’ve formulated the following steps from a series of resources.

  1. (Finishing chain) File and sand
  2. Tumble with steel shot
  3. Tumble with plastic media, a mix of cones and pyramids ***I am unsure for this step as to whether I should do so with medium cut or fine if anyone can offer insight
  4. Tumble with dry media and rouge, I’ll likely be using walnut shells
  5. Since it is Argentium I will be oven hardening it to get the most benefit out of the germanium this will be followed by a pickle to remove any extra copper or discoloration
  6. Final tumble in steel shot
  7. Final polish with Goddard’s Silver polish and cloth

Now i am unsure as to whether this is overkill as far as polishing is concerned but this is essentially a combination of mass finishing recommendations I found from research and recommendations made by Cynthia Eid made both on this website and in her publications. I am also unsure as to whether a simple hand wash will suffice between steps 4. and 5. to remove any excess polish before oven hardening or if I should invest in an ultrasonic cleaner to do that.

If you could please comment your advise, approvals or changes it would be greatly appreciated.

ADDITIONALLY*

I have also heard of the following sequence:

  1. Tumble with Medium abrasive pyramids (4-6hrs)
  2. Tumble with Fine abrasive pyramids (4-6hrs)
  3. Tumble in steel shot (30-45mins)
  4. Tumble in Green buff (24-48hrs)
  5. Oven harden
  6. Tumble in steel shot (30-45mins)
  7. Final polish with goddards and cloth

Nathan, are you talking about fabricated or cast links? I make Argentium chain from wire and all that needs is a 10 minute run in a pin finisher.

As to which grades of cutting media, it obviously depends on the condition of your metal. Start with the least aggressive media necessary, and the fewest steps to get the results you want.

I never had useful results with walnut shell and Simichrome. That could just be me. Try it with rouge and see what you get.

As to final polish with Goddard’s, ??? Again I use only wire, and after 10 minutes in a pin finisher the links are absolutely gorgeous. Bright white, shiny. Couldn’t look better.

Goddard’s would add nothing to the polish on my chain, might even remove some of the germanium oxide you want. That’s just a guess on my part. An authoritative clarification on that point would be welcomed.

Neil A

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Hi neil!

Thank you for replying I really appreciate it.

I’m essentially doing the same thing going from dead soft wire to chain. I’ve heard things on both ends of the spectrum–two runs in a tumbler with steel shot before and after hardening to an 8 step sequence. Do you harden your chains? If you do, do you pin finish before or after that?

The Goddard’s I got from reading alot of publications and answers from Cynthia Eid. I’ve read it functions as an insurance policy of sorts introducing thiol to increasing tarnish resistance.

Actually you should just need to only tumble the chain with stainless media and tumbler soap. It will come out very shiny. One step only is needed. Like Neil says do not over tumble. Tumbling will not harden the metal. Well it will but only the first few microns of the surface. Argentium can be kiln hardened. Rio Grande has info on heat hardening. Best to do it in a kiln.
One of my favorite tricks in soldering jump rings is… If there is a visible lump of solder at the seam do not try to make it perfect. Just hit is lightly with a rubber wheel to just only knock down the bump a little. Clean the piece, flux, and re melt the solder. It will smooth out beautifully without leaving any flat or this spots.
Good luck with your project.
Jo

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Hi Nathan,

Do you harden your chains?

No, but I use fairly heavy gauge - 14, 16… If those need to be hardened one is in trouble. :slightly_smiling_face:

If Cynthia Eid says Goddard’s is O.K. to use then I’m sold.

Regards,
Neil A

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I haven’t made chain in years. When I did, if the links were large enough, I would solder half of them with out assembling the chain finishing each link separately. Back then I polished each one on a wheel, both the soldered and unsoldered links before assembling the chain. Once polished and cleaned, I would assemble the chain with the unsoldered links joining the soldered links. This cut the tricky rigging in half. If I made a chain today, and the links were large enough, I would probably still finish on a wheel, clean and solder coating with boric acid and alcohol before any soldering operation to cut down on fire scale then pickle in new strong pickle or super pickle. If the links were small, I would tumble in SS shot as discussed by others. Jo’s great suggestion about resoldering can be applied to a lot of situations. I must precaution you that trying to polish an assembled chain on a wheel is a very unsafe practice and my polishing hood and I have the scars to prove it. Do all the wheel polishing before the chain is assembled. Good luck…Rob

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Rob is right of course about closing half the links first and connecting them with open links.

One of the great things about Argentium is that it fuses so easily. Fusing is much quicker than applying solder, especially with my wobbly hands.

With half the links closed and the connecting links fused, what seems like a it should be a slow job can go pretty quickly. You get into a groove, which is also very relaxing.

Neil A

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Finishing Argentium chains -

  1. tumble for 30 minutes with mixed stainless steel in a rotary tumbler
  2. run for 4 hours with fine media in a vibratory tumbler
  3. run for 30 minutes with mixed stainless steel in a rotary tumbler
  4. run with walnut shell and simichrome for 24 to 36 hours in a vibratory tumbler.
    this is the process i use for 14 gauge or 16 gauge planished links. It yields a high polish.
    If you want to harden the chain, do it after all of the above. I haven’t found it necessary.
    A good alternative to step 4 media is diamond pacific’s Vibra Dry Plus. Effective and gentle. I like the 50,000 grit version.
    Judy Hochy
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Judy…Can you better define fine media and should it be a flow thru system? Are steps 1 and 3 identical? Thanks…Rob

Hello!

I currently don’t own a vibratory but will likely purchase one in the future–however, as of right now would I be able to get by using fine media in a rotary tumbler instead?

Also, do you find it necessary to wash the chains in some way after polishing with simichrome my understanding is that the polish leaves behind a residue or protective layer I am unsure as to whether this would interfere with hardening or not.

I have a brass cartridge vibratory machine from Pistoleer.com, $87. Seems to work just fine.

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A cheap vibratory as used by reloaders works fine for dry media. Harbor freight is one place for cheap ones, also cheap flow thru vibratorys. Not great machines, but utility grade and fine for hobbys or early proof of concept.

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Step one slightly hardens the lumpy surface in preparation for the fine abrasive. For step 2, I personally use Rio’s aqua fine cut cones - which supposedly yields a 3 micron finish. Step 3 is then the burnishing step. If you start at step 2 without 1, you will notice a substantially poorer result. The last dry media result sort of works like rouge. If you use a modest amount of simichrome, you don’t have a clean up. And if you do have a visible layer, a short bath in warm soapy water cleans it up quickly. I just towel dry if that happens.

Do you use a flow thru for step 2? I have an old Rio recipe from 25 years ago that uses Aqua Clean cut for step 1, A fine cut cone (don’t know the name) for step 2 and Green Buff treated walnut for step 3. I use a flow thru system for the first two steps. I now have separate tumblers for all three steps, but would like to incorporate my SS shot in a way that makes sense. My tumblers are all vibratory machines. I have your book and have studied it. With this discussion I will go back and study it some more. Thanks…Rob

From what I have read on the lapidary forums, the biggest problem with the HF vibratories is the thin bowl, which eventually abrades away. Replacement bowls are cheap, but one lapidary forum contributor says he sprays the inside of his with truck bed liner. A can of this is about $8 at your local auto parts store. When I got mine from HF, I did have to adjust the swinging weight to get the right action…I think this was a tip off the forums, too, and is pretty typical. If the weight isn’t set right, the thing can jump all over the place. HTH, royjohn

Rob - The abrasive step should be a flow thru vibe. Aqua Clean cut is good. The first step with steel is something i discovered years ago - kinda a happy accident. It slightly hardens the minute bumps that the abrasive takes away and makes the abrasive process more effective. The problem with running steel in a vibratory is that you can’t get a good torroidal motion with a vibratory unless: the machine is rated for the steel weight and second: you have enough steel to make it work. A small rotary would be a good choice for these burnishing steps. If you want to do everything with vibratories, I’d suggest getting the mixed porcelain media like the stuff Rio sells. It doesn’t harden and requires long run times but does a spectacular job.
Judy H

The harbor freight machines (vibratory) that I’ve tested have sufficiently thick bowls. I don’t like the finish inside, but unless you are cleaning castings with coarse media, they are a cheap alternative to a nice raytech machine. I wouldn’t use truck bed liner. It is soft and slightly sticky. And yes, you do need to see that the vibratory action is correct. It’s easy to fix.
Judy H

Judy,

I use a large Harbor Freight Tumbler and I am please with its operation. I have had no reason to worry about its set up as it worked fine out of the box so I haven’t gone looking for problems. I bought it on sale at a very cheap price and comparing the price to a new same sized, Raytech machine the HF tumbler could be viewed as disposable. If I had a complaint it would be the thickness of the bowl. Not because it doesn’t do the job but because it is noisy. At least my wife tells me it’s noisy. My hearing doesn’t have that ability tell it seems. And I too find the interior finish of the bowl a minor misery. I do find the second it has enough water passing through it the sound is diminished to “not bad.” Again, I know this because my wife tells me so.

Don Meixner