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.