Barrel tumblers - Finish, am I missing something?

Hey guys!

Im curious about how you use your tumblers & for what purpose…

Have heard that many use it for final finish, but i have also heard that some use them right after casting for like 12 hours to harden + when they come out, they can better see if any erros has occoured from casting etc etc…

I got following barrel tumbler & mixed steel shots.

image image

When i work with silver, i normally do my casting -> grinding + filing -> preparing for polishing with silicone dics & sandpaper -> then buff with tripoli, and polish with wihite Dialuxe for silver… This works for me and produces very luster jewelry.

However since i will be making many pieces in my current business model, and im therefore experimenting with the barrel tumbler, since i often hear that it helps when manufacturing many pieces at a time… However i dont really get the hype about “mirror finish” that it should be producing?

They do come out shiny, however i do feel that the sheelshots gives the pieces a rather, “rough & bumpy” surface? Maybe im just a bit OCD with my finish?

I dont use any barrel compund, just regular soape btw… I just made a batch, buffed them, and threw them in the barrel for like 2 hours… I do feel like i need to redo them all since they are a bit too rough for my taste… I like the surface on my jewelry very smooth, close to flawless i would say :3.

What do you guys think about it??

Best regards

Yes, Will. You are missing something.
Just throwing stuff in a tumbler yields what you have found. There is a lot to learn.
First, get rid of the pins in your shot mix. They leave marks on flat surfaces.
Second, you need to have your work prepared for the shot phase. I do this with a vibratory run with a mild abrasive.
Third, if you have prepped your work sufficiently, run for a max of 45 minutes. Any longer causes the finish to deteriorate. Use a prepared compound mixed with water for your shot.
For further information, check out the book “Tumble Finishing for Handmade Jewelry” available from Rio or Otto Frei. Amazon doesn’t have it.

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I get an awesome finish with the shot pictured.

I’ve been using it in my tumbler forever 10yrs. Not “rough and bumpy” at all. If any piece comes out wavy-looking - it’s my error. I may have skipped a step (sometimes I’m in a rush…) in my finishing process, like didn’t sand enough at 400 - or skipped from 400 to 1000 w/o the 600 and 800 steps…

Lori in central MA

Hey Judy! Thanks for the answer, exactly the kind i needed!

  1. Alright noted on the pins… Had thought about it, but werent sure… Will try take them out! So can you say that , you mostly would want to be using “round” shots when you go for the final finish? (Out of curiousity, when is pins needed? is it just if you like that kinda finish?)

  2. Perhaps you could elaborate a bit more on what you mean with “vibratory run with a mild abrasive.”? Not sure what is meant by this!

  3. Noted on the time 45 min MAX!.. Do you always use compounds such as Barrelbrite when you tumble? I got some compund it when i bought my tumbler from UK… But when i asked my local danish retailer for barrel compound, he looked like a questionmark and said that they only had a soap for barreling… And reffered to cutting compounds to when you tumble stones.

Will try see if i can get my hands on “Tumble Finishing for Handmade Jewelry” somewhere within EU!

And just anoher quick one

  • What would be the reccomendded ratio of shots for a 3 lb / 1.5 kg barrel?

Best regards!

Hey Lori!

Hehe good to hear that you are getting good results anyway!

For how long do you normally barrel & do you use any compounds when you do?

best regards

Hi Will! I tumble for 1.5hours. I use a very unscientific combination of Ultra Dawn (2 squirts) and Borax (about a tablespoon) in an old Dawn squeeze bottle filled to the top with water. I add enough pf this mixture to the barrel to just cover my steel shot. I have tried alternatives - but everything i’ve tried just doesn’t do as nice of a job as the steel shot. I carefully rinse the shot after each use, and spread it out on a thin towel to completely dry, before storing in a 35 yr old tupperware bowl with a lid until the next use. Best, Lori

tumblers do not work harden. they burnish and compress the surface to shine if you are using stainless steel shot. if anything the tumbler will “case harden” the first molecular layers.

Will - a vibratory tumbler works differently from a rotary tumbler. It is used with an abrasive media. In the US, I recommend rio grandes clean cut media. It comes in different levels of abrasive. After casting, I use a medium cut, followed by a fine cut. that results in somethin like a 3 micron finish. I follow that with a run in the rotary tumbler for about 40 minutes and that gets a decent shiny surface. When I want a high polish, I then run my batch in a vibratory tumbler for about a day in a dry media charged with simichrome or rouge. While it is a lot of running, the tumblers do the work and I can start the next batch. The abrasive media removes very little metal - like about 0.5%, where hand polishing removes about 8% so details are maintained.
Judy Hoch

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