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Do I really need a tumbler?


#1

Hi to all

I’m a little jewellrer doing little simple things, which include a
bit of soldering.

My question is: do I really need a tumbler? When I get a piece
soldered, I put in the solution (can’t remember the name), and then I
polish it with a fine steel wool and finish with the foredom.

Is this okay?
Thank you so much
Cecile


#2

Hi Cecile,

You could get away with a fire, a wooden tube, a couple of rocks and
a handful of fine sand :wink:

We have a lot more to play with these days, but do you need all the
modern toys(?), not necessarily.

If you’re getting the results you’re happy with, and what the
clients want, that’s all that matters.

You can get the other toys later if you like.

Regards Charles A.


#3

Hi Cecile,

Do you really need a tumbler? The trade survived for a long time
befor tumblers came along, so I guess the answer would be “No”.

Would a tumbler make your business more efficient? Bearing in mind
the cost of the tumbler, the cost of consumables etc it may not if
you are only doing a few makes and repairs. In the end it is up to
you.

Roger


#4
My question is: do I really need a tumbler? 

Nobody ever absolutely needs a particular tool, since there are
always more than one way to make a thing or solve a problem in
jewelry making. Tumblers are just a tool, not some magic device you
must have or you won’t be a jeweler. You need a tumbler only if you
have needs in finishing your jewelry that your existing methods don’t
solve to your satisfaction, and that a tumbler would do better or
more economically, and if you can afford one. It’s that simple.
There are various types of tumblers, each doing somewhat different
things. All have their uses, and none of them will do everything.
Many of us find them quite useful, but I’d hazard a guess that even
the most ardent proponant of tumblers doesn’t use them for
everything. So the questions are this: Does your existing method do
the job you wish it to do? Are you happy with those results, and
does the time it takes you seem reasonable to you? If so, then maybe
you don’t need a tumbler. if on the other hand, a tumbler could
improve the results, or save you money and time, then perhaps it
would be a good investment.

When I get a piece soldered, I put in the solution (can't remember
the name), and then I polish it with a fine steel wool and finish
with the foredom. 
Is this okay? 

How would we know? Our opinion isn’t what matters. You are the maker
and designer of your work. You set your own standards. If the work is
coming out as you want it to, then it’s OK. You don’t need our
permission or approval to decide that your work is good enough or
not. Now, whether your end results or methods are what any of us
would find appropriate for our own work, is an entirely different
question. For some, it might be, for others, it wouldn’t.

What you need to do is examine samples of what others are able to do
with tumblers, and decide whether this would be an addition to your
work or not. For some of us, it’s a definate yes, but for others,
moving to a tumbler might remove some of the personal touch and
variability in the work.

For my money, though, considering your description of what you’re
doing, I’d guess you might wish to upgrade your traditional polishing
and finishing equipment before going to a tumbler. A decent polishing
setup, with mounted motor and dust collector, for example. I’m kind
of a traditionalist in this. I’d rather see someone (a student,
friend, etc) learn how to polish and finish well using the
traditional manual methods before learning how to automate it with a
tumbler. The tumbler does not produce quite the results of proper
hand finishing, but it can be pretty good. So if you become dependent
on a tumbler for acceptable results before you learn to do it the
traditional way, you may never quite get past that stage of
dependency on the tumbler. Learn to polish well first, and then the
tumbler becomes an addition to your capabilities, not a limitation.

Oh, and the solution you clean the work in after soldering is
"pickle". You may wish to search past Orchid archives on methods of
soldering that preserve surface finish, without giving you fire scale
or fire stain on the metal. That will allow you to solder nice clean
silver assemblies, and get them out of the pickle still looking like
nice clean metal, so you don’t then have to scratch it all up with
steel wool… Using Argentium silver is one way to avoid this, but
others are methods of fluxing and coating the silver prior to heating
that protects the surface. Cupronil flux or prips flux (you mix it
yourself) are two such products/methods. Steel wool has it’s place,
but it does, after all, start by scratching the work up a bit. Not
always what you might want.

Cheers
Peter Rowe


#5

Oh boy, I am really going to be stepping into this one!

Many metalsmiths totally rely on sophisticated mass-media tumbling
systems to sand and finish their work, and swear by them. It kind of
depends on what you’re doing with your work, and how much of it
you’re doing.

We don’t do too much with mass finishing in our studio, but we do
use an asst. stainless steel shot for final polishing quite often.
After hand finishing, we use the tumbler to bring up a higher polish.
The tumbler and steel shot is quite cheap, and takes about 10 to 15
min. to bring up a polish on silver or gold pieces in our inexpensive
"hobby" tumbler I bought at Harbor Freight.

(Now the serious mass finishers are going to eat me for lunch.)

Jay Whaley


#6
My question is: do I really need a tumbler? When I get..... 

Cecile, a tumbler will make your hand finishing a little easier.
That being said, if I bench make a piece I never tumble it. I do
tumble castings in a couple of different ways. If you buy a tumbler,
I’d suggest one of the small, inexpensive magnetic type perhaps from
Rio. If your pieces have a lot of tiny detail, the magnetic can peen
& polish (one & the same) into really tiny detail. This saves having
to do any heavy polishing on the detailed areas. Only you can really
judge if its worth it. :wink:

Hope this helps. Dan.
DeArmond Tool
http://www.dearmondtool.com


#7

Cecile - No you don’t need to have a tumbler to make jewelry. It just
makes your work more consistent and quicker.

Judy Hoch


#8

I love mine for production work- if I have to satin finish 150 rings
doing them all by hand is awful. So, I tumble them matte (gets in
all the nooks) and then finish with a satin wheel to give it my
favorite finish.

I do also love my rotary with stainless.

I do more production so it’s a life (or hand) saver for me.

We all have our own methods.

Amery Carriere Designs


#9
Is this okay? 

Sure it is - it is absolutely OK to use whatever you like, however
you like. A lot of jewelers like the convenience of throwing jewelry
in to be tumbled while we do other things. I myself hate to hand
polish, and I make chain, which is dangerous to polish on a wheel,
so I use a tumbler. But if your method works for you, stick with it -
and if you ever do want to try a tumbler, you can pick one up cheap
at Harbor Freight, and then buy the shot - I’ve even found a used
one at the thriftstore!

Blessings,
Susan “Sam” Kaffine


#10

I do not do production work but I do have a vibra-tumbler in my
teaching studio. It is very handy for shot- polishing ‘the little
things’ where my students haven’t yet developed the techniques to
clean up by hand. Twenty -30 minutes in the tumbler and baskets and
composites come out ready for a quick buff on the lathe and they are
done. I also have one in my own studio and use it often. Don’t make a
big deal of it but I would certainly recommend having one.

Cheers from Don in SOFL.


#11

It depends on how much work needs to be polished and the type of
constructions. Wire work and chain maille are almost impossible to
polish by hand. I was given a small gem tumbler and spent my time
trying to get the belt to stay in place and when I burned out the
motor from overuse, I was desperate. My solution was to go whole hog
and I purchased a C&M Topline, two barrel tumbler, expensive and a
work horse. It goes for hours and does an excellent job. With two
tumblers, I can put different media to work at the same time. The
thing paid for itself the first month. I’ve had it for years. It can
handle over a dozen items at a time and now I spend my time creating
and not polishing. Before, my work had a grey quality and the
sterling wire never looked shiny. I often use patina to bring out
the depths in twisted wire and so on and the tumbler handles it all.
Occasionally, I clean the tumblers with sudsy ammonia and the steel
shot stays bright.

If you have only a few pieces once in a while for a tumbler, that’s
one thing. But if you work daily, make chain maille and wire
constructions, there’s nothing like a C&M work horse.

Ruth Mary Pollack


#12
a tumbler will make your hand finishing a little easier. That being
said, if I bench make a piece I never tumble it. I do tumble
castings in a couple of different ways. If you buy a tumbler, I'd
suggest one of the small, inexpensive magnetic type perhaps from
Rio. If your pieces have a lot of tiny detail, the magnetic can
peen & polish (one & the same) into really tiny detail. This saves
having to do any heavy polishing on the detailed areas. Only you
can really judge if its worth it. ;-) 

Dan- I really have to disagree with you. The magnetic tumblers are
expensive and on silver give a sparkly not smooth finish. They work
well on small stuff like ear wires and on small gold pieces. They are
useful to slightly work harden pieces prior to abrasive steps to
smooth the work. They are often used by casters to get the last of
the investment off the pieces.

For much simple machine finishing, a vibratory tumbler with abrasive
media smoothes the work and then a rotary tumbler with stainless
steel will burnish it. The magnetic tumbler is expensive and has
limited utility. It probably shouldn’t be your first tumbler. IMHO.

Judy Hoch


#13

If you’re in the market for a tumbler, I’d suggest you consider
looking at a vibratory tumbler.

Vibratory tumblers work faster than the rotary tumblers. Usually the
vibratory tumblers don’t have any belts to wear out or come off &
they don’t have any lids that tend to leak.

The bowl on most vibratory tumblers is shaped similar to a angel
food cake pan. They’re made of a heavy, flexible plastic. I’ve been
using a small 10" diameter vibratory tumbler with about 5 pounds of
assorted shapes of stainless steel shot for 20 years. It’s worked
fine for all sorts of things made from both gold or silver.

When looking for a tumbler be sure you check with a shooting sports
company/store. Folks that reload their own ammo use them to polish
the brass casings prior to reloading. Prices at the shooting sports
stores are usually better than at a jewelers supply.

Dave


#14
With two tumblers, I can put different media to work at the same
time. 

Ruth Mary, what media do you use to polish your chains?

Thanks, Alice


#15

Since we are talking tumblers I need to work harden sterling
earwires. I have a rotary tumbler and steel shot and have not had a
lot of success getting the wires as hard as I would like. I start
with half hard wire. Am I doing something wrong? How long should I
tumble? I read a vibratory tumbler is better for this job but I but
can’t afford one.

Beverly Jones


#16

Beverly,

... I need to work harden sterling earwires. I have a rotary
tumbler and steel shot and have not had a lot of success getting
the wires as hard as I would like. I start with half hard wire. Am
I doing something wrong? 

Your problem is that you, and apparently many others, have a
misconception about what sort of work hardening you get with a
tumbler. Metal work hardens when it’s crystal structure is physically
changed and distorted. crystals need to be stretched, mashed, pulled,
bent, or otherwise distorted in shape, which also distorts and
stretches the boundaries between crystals, in order for the metal to
harden. This happens fully, when sheet metal is rolled, wire is
drawn or metal is hammer forged in a way that the whole shape
changes.

But tumblers don’t do this. They affect mostly just the surface
layer of the metal. They burnish the metal at the surface, which does
cause some distortion, just as tiny hammer blows would do, but only
to the extent that the metal is actually moved and changed in shape.
It’s not enough to merely exert force on the metal. It needs to
actually be changed in shape (though this does not have to mean the
overall object changes much. You can, for example, twist wire along
it’s axis. This quickly distorts the crystals, hardening the wire,
yet apart from slight surface spiral markings, the wire pretty much
stays the same shape… But this is the exception rather than the
rule.). With a tumbler, the burnishing action is sort of a "smearing"
effect on the surface layer, so there is some surface hardening. But
unless you’re using rather small diameter wire (too thin for most ear
wires) it doesn’t extend all the way through the wire. So while the
surface gets harder, the main body, or center core, of the wire
doesn’t get much harder, since under the surface, the crystals are
not being distorted. The forces exerted by tumbling simply don’t
penetrate far enough into the wire to fully harden it all the way
through. You end up with wire that’s soft on the inside, and harder
on the outside. This is good for giving you a surface that’s more
resistant to dents marks and scratches, or closing up porosity and
defects, but it’s not as useful if you need actual springy behavior
in the wire that wasn’t there before. While the tumbler improves the
springy nature some, it’s not as much as actually working the wire
would do.

In short, Your tumbler will give you some work hardening, by
hardening the surface. But it will not equal the sort of work
hardening you get by actually working the metal.

Vibratory tumblers tend to work faster, but they are not any better
at work hardening. In fact, in some ways, they’re often a bit
gentler, especially the smaller sized vibratory tumblers.

My suggestion would be that if you need your ear wires to be harder
and springier, you need to start with harder wire. To then get the
same end bends in the wire, you may need to bend the wire over
smaller diameter curves, be it with pliers, or a jig or mandrel of
some sort. This is because the harder wire will spring back more than
the half hard wire you’re using. Bending harder wire around a
slightly smaller diameter tool will compensate for this. The tumbler
is a great tool for helping you with the finish of the metal. It
gives a nice uniformly burnished surface that can sometimes be quite
good enough for a final finish, and it does this without removing
metal the way buffing/polishing operations do. But don’t expect it to
do the same thing to the wire that a drawplate would do…

Hope that helps.
Peter Rowe


#17

Hi Beverly,

Since we are talking tumblers I need to work harden sterling
earwires. I have a rotary tumbler and steel shot and have not had
a lot of success getting the wires as hard as I would like. I start
with half hard wire. Am I doing something wrong? How long should I
tumble? I read a vibratory tumbler is better for this job but I
but can't afford one. 

Have you tried hardening the wire before you make the earwire?

Wire can be hardened easily.

  1. Make a small loop on one end.

  2. Clamp the other end in a vice or twist it around a nail in a
    sturdy support.

  3. Place a cup hook or a hook you fashion yourself in a drill.

  4. Place the loop on the cup hook & start the drill.

  5. Draw the wire taut with the drill.

  6. Run the drill for a little while & check the wire by bending it
    to see if it’s hard enough. If it’s not hard enough, run the drill
    some more.

If you are just hardening short (12 inches or less) pieces of wire
you may be able to use a pin vise instead of the drill.

I’ve used this method to harden lengths of wire up to 30 ft.

Dave


#18

Alice:To answer your question about what media I use for finishing
jewelry I do the following:

When I want a patina, first I dip in Grobet’s Silver Black,
(hydrocloric acid, be careful. I can’t use liver of sulphur), rinse
well in water before putting in a tumbler barrel. I use Rio Grande’s
Clean Cut Media, using pyramid and cone shapes, and add Deburring
solution for the first part of the process. After a couple of hours,
I wash everything and transfer the jewelry pieces to a barrel that
contains Stainless Steel Shot. The black (and/or tarnish) is gone
except for the recessed parts. To the stainless shot I add Burnishing
compound for the second part, the polishing. Sometimes I leave it to
tumble for 3-4 hours, depending, then wash well and dry jewelry in a
towel. The result is a high gloss but not a mirror polish. For items
that I don’t want to patina, I use both methods if there is a lot of
tarnish, but if not, then I use only the stainless shot for an hour
or so for cleaning and high polish.

When I find that the barrels become at all greasy or blackened, I put
sudsy or plain ammonia in the barrels for 20 min. Stop and rinse away
the darkened liquid, repeat with fresh ammonia, sometimes 2-3 times
for the shot and barrels to come clean. (This trick was taught to me
over the phone by the engineering dept. at Gesswein who I called in
desperation).

The Clean Cut Media doesn’t seem to need any particular care. I
leave all barrels rinsed and well drained through a sieve and left
open to air dry. I don’t patina chain maille or chain but it works
well for all other sterling silver wire work.

Ruth Mary


#19

Ruth Mary,

Thanks for your description of the media and process you use on your
chains. I’ve been doing a fair amount of chain weaving the last few
years (classic double loop in loop, and Viking Weaves) and have
wondered how to get the slightly “dingy” look out of the deeper
crevices after a few months of wearing. I use fine silver for my
chains, so it’s not so much tarnish as it is just dirt and oil from
being worn. I’ve tried cleaning with a soft toothbrush and warm,
soapy water. It helps a bit, but never gets it back to that original
beautiful glow. Do you think the Clean Cut Media would be
appropriate for this sort of cleaning? And I’ve been a bit nervous
about tumbling the 24g fine silver chains for very long in the
Stainless Steel shot… thought it might be too soft. I am worrying
needlessly?

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with
those of us on the short end of the experience curve!!

Best,
Alice