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Barrelling trouble!

Hi Everyone

I have just bought my first barrel polisher - a Lortone 3A rubber
barrel - and was so excited to get underway with it! I followed all
the instructions for running it with some barreling liquid and the
mixed stainless steel shot on its own first to clean it all out. All
well & good - water was black to begin with and ran it again until it
was clear. My first couple of runs produced great results. It’s all
sterling silver components I’m using I should say at the outset. I
firstly tumbled a batch of earring wires for approx. 1 hour -
everything came out shiny, no problems. But I’ve since had two
absolute disasters, with all my silver wire turning black. On both
occasions I had been tumbling sterling headpins, which I had balled
and placed in pickling solution in my crock pot. They were well
rinsed ahead of going into the tumbler. They were placed into mixed
stainless steel shot, covered with warm water and the tiniest dribble
of barreling liquid (Palmer Metalsin UK’s own solution). I did leave
them in for a lot longer on the first disasterous occasion - for
about 2 & half hours. The coating was a heavy black - almost rubbery
to the touch. It could be removed with a rouge cloth - but it
obviously took me a long time. I thoroughly cleaned out the barrel
and the shot and tried again yesterday - same result! I’m at a loss.
I’mthinking maybe the barreling liquid, but not sure? I’ve also
thrown away my batch of acid in the pickler but I really don’t think
this is the problem. I’m terrified to have another go and risk
spoiling more components. Does anyone have any experience of this?
I’ve tried to search the archives but couldn’t find anything.


Claire -

Strange that you should get the first load clean and then have
trouble with the next ones. Recently a friend used what she thought
was sterling to make headpins, but they turned out to be
silver-plated copper (from wire, no less…she didn’t mark her stock
properly and got plated material among her solid stock). These
headpins caused no end of trouble: problems soldering, problems in
the pickle, problems in the tumbler, before we figured it out.

Once you’ve made sure it’s really solid sterling you are using, I
would recommend using liquid dish soap (Dawn, Palmolive, etc). Just
a drop or two will do.

Sniff the barrel; does it have a sulfur smell? It could be that is
leaching into the solution, especially over an extended use (2hrs as
opposed to 30min). If you detect a smell to it, then I would run
several loads of nothing but shot and liquid dish soap; this seems
to help break in the barrel. (I don’t use Lortone, I would hope their
barrel quality is better than the stuff I use, but it won’t hurt to
do this if nothing else seems to work.)

Also, the protective action of whatever burnishing liquid you use
breaks down over time. If you are going to use the tumbler for an
extended time, check it, rinse & refresh every so often. At least
until this problem stops.

Without being there and seeing what’s going on, these are my best

Hope this helps,
Kelley Dragon


I run mine all the time (it’s an el cheapo model from Harbor
Freight) and have never had any problem with it. I run it with plain
water, a drop of dishwashing liquid and a shake of powdered borax.
Everything comes out great, but then I rarely leave anything in
longer than 30 minutes. Usually 20 minutes is sufficient. So don’t
know what your problem is.

When I’m done for the day, I pour off the used liquid, rinse the
stainless steel shot in clear water (have a sieve I use for that),
then put the steel shot back in the tumbler and just barely cover it
with plain water. Sometimes it just sits in the tumbler in the water
for several weeks, and on occasion I had it sit for over a month
while I was gone. When I next used it, I dumped out the water it had
been standing in and started over using plain water, a drop of dish
liquid (usually use Dawn) and a shake of borax and it worked fine.

Recently I had to replace the belt in it, but that cost all of
around $2 and since then it works like new again. It’s a hard rubber



Yes I had this same frustrating problem. I have a Chicago double
tumbler. Honestly, what found us that it just takes about a dozen
clean out runs to really clean it out. Try running the barrels
through the dishwasher. Whatever you can to really clean them.

Once you get good clean runs, I still changed my water after every
run for the first month or so.

Lastly, ensure you are using distilled water only and only using a
squirt of blue dawn dish soap. Amy more can also cause problems.

Carin Jones

Thanks everyone for responses. Rinsing with Coke to clean up the
barrel and shot sounds like a plan - its been suggested by a few of
you. Doug, I’ve a feeling my experience might a little different to
yours. Like Marnie suggested, it does sound like the rubber on the
barrel is dissolving in my case. I’m convinced it’s the barreling
liquid that’s caused the issue - has to be. It’s a brand new machine
and shot so it’s certainly not over use or wear and tear. Although
I’m a bit of a novice with the barrel polisher, I did my research
before taking the plunge and, Charlie, they are most definitely
designed, like Marnie also says, as work horses. I can’t see that it
would make much of an impression on my components after 10 or 15
minutes? One of the reasons I bought mine was to cut down on time
spent work hardening earring wires and other components - and the
advice seems to be that you should leave them in the tumbler for
hours. I think I’m going to ditch the barreling liquid and go with a
tiny spot of mild Fairy (which I think is the Dawn equivalent in
UK?) after getting it thoroughly cleaned out. Fingers crossed… I’ll
keep you posted. ClaireP.S. Thanks also Marnie for the tip about
turning the larger items. I really am new to the barrel polisher so
any tips greatly appreciated!

Claire Kane
Designer Handmade Jewellery

My two cents, I don’t know if it is the heavily chlorinated water in
my area or not, but since I started using distilled water I have not
had this problem reoccur. Cheapie Harbor Freight rubber barrell
model. Maybe the chlorine started breaking down the rubber? IDK.
Scrubbed the inside well with a green scrubbie then ran a couple of
batches just distilled water and squirt of Dawn. No problem since.

Hi Claire - I’ve inquired as to the pH value of the barreling liquid
that you purchased from Palmer Metals. In the meantime, I have a
couple of suggestions.

To clean up your mess - drain the liquid, then with both your dirty
silver and the steel, use a can of Coke - Coca Cola, not diet and
without bubbles, and run it for about 45 minutes. Drain, rinse and if
it isn’t clean, repeat it.

The mess you had is usually caused by either running without a
correct pH additive, running without enough of the additive, or
running too long. I often hear of the problem when folks run with
just a bit of dish soap.

So in looking at the Palmer Metals site, follow their directions
exactly as to the amount of additive. I would recommend that the
water in the barrel just be visible in the shot - in other words,
don’t flood the shot with water.

A normal burnishing run ranges from 30 minutes to an hour. Any
longer and you start to break down the function of the additive. You
can also damage the surface of the silver.

Judy Hoch

I've inquired as to the pH value of the barreling liquid that you
purchased from Palmer Metals. In the meantime, I have a couple of

Thanks Judy. You’ve given me a few extra pointers here - that’s
great. It does say to add just ‘oneor two drops’. I’ve probably put
in more like a tiny ‘dribble’ than drops, so I was thinking maybe I
put in too much, but from what you are saying the opposite is likely
to be the case. The solution certainly didn’t ‘froth up’ and the odd
thing was that the solution remained clear - it was just my silver
that was black. It’s also really interesting that you say not to run
for more than 30 mins to an hour. There’s so much conflicting advice
out there about this. I’ll also hold off with the washing up
detergent. I’ll drop Palmers a line too and see what they say. Thanks
again! Claire

We frequently run into this problem with our tumbler and vibratory
finisher. It sometimes seems like the rubber is breaking down and
leaving residue on everything. The only solution we’ve arrived at is
to run the shot alone with a solution of shot cleaner. In our
studio/classroom, students don’t always clean the shot when they are
finished and we’re not sure who last cleaned everything.

Ruthanne Robertson
Metals & Silversmithing, Art Department
Johnson County Community College

Strange that you should get the first load clean and then have
trouble with the next ones. Recently a friend used what she thought
was sterling to make headpins, but they turned out to be
silver-plated copper (from wire, no less… .she didn’t mark her
stock properly and got plated material among her solid stock).
Definitely sterling Kelley - all wire bought from Cooksons or Bairds
bullion suppliers here in UK. It’s a head scratcher but taking
everyone’s comments on board, I’m leaning towards combination of the
PH values of barreling liquid, water and the fact that the barrel is
new and perhaps not quite broken in. Bought some coke this morning to
give it a good clean out and will take your advice and run it a good
few times with mild detergent and water (perhaps bottled as opposed
to tap). Fingers crossed…! Thanks for advice.