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Dry media in vibratory tumbler

So I bought a Harbor Freight vibratory tumbler, as I have a HF near my house. Bought some Stainless Steel shot from Rio Grande. Ran some test cases for sterling silver. Silver was coming out great with Dawn and Water. Cleaned them up nice and put a nice burnish on them. Then the dreaded black/grey coloring happened to a batch of sterling. Ran coke through the tumbler with the shot three times, and then ran some baking soda and distilled water with the shot. Removed the shot rinsed it in the sink with dawn. Shot looks good. Dried out the tumbler and wiped it down.

Since I don’t want to go through the above again, I think I will only use the HF tumbler with dry media such as Sunsheen Green Buff Dry media, and purchase a second non-black non-HF vibratory tumbler for the steel shot.

My question, reading through the various threads on the black/grey coloring, it looks like I have done what I should do. Am I good to go just switching over to the dry media without any further actions for the HF tumbler?

Thanks in advance.

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I bought a Pistoleer tumbler for shell casings, and dry media. Seems to work fine though only short time of use. I use Rio media, but the tumbler comes with a dry one also.

Tumbler burnishing liquid

It’s all about the right tool for the right job. Shortcuts can bite you in the butt: We’ve heard from many that they use household cleaners and detergents when mass finishing. What they don’t realize is that even though those compounds may bring a decent shine to the piece, they are not designed for that process, and can produce damaging side effects. Below are a few reasons why you should always use specifically formulated compounds for your tumbler, instead, when mass finishing:
•these burnishing compounds are formulated specifically to maximize the life of your media.
•They are designed to help separate your metal fines from your media for easier metal recovery.
•They are formulated to maximize the efficiency and action of your media.
•Many household cleaners are either too thin- or too thick-bodied to give you the correct media to surface ratio. This will not only result in uneven finishing, but also can increase the risk of damage on contact, known as part-on-part impingement.
•Household cleaners often times damage the bowl or barrel of your tumbler. These compounds are designed to work with the common barrels and bowls used in the mass finishing industry.
You may feel like you are saving money by using their household cleaners, but the reality is that over time, you will consume media faster, lose more metal, and disrupt the surface of your pieces! Don’t cause damage to your equipment. These side effects are far more expensive than using the correct tool/liquid for the job.

the flat coke thing works for cleaning shot. there is also a commercial shot cleaner.

Dry media works in a vibratory tumbler. You can charge plain cob meal with simichrome for a final high shine. But - getting that shine depends on what you do before. Smooth the work with an abrasive media run wet in a vibratory tumbler. Then burnish it in a rotary tumbler with stainless steel. at that point, you can productively go to the dry media. IMHO, most black barrels degrade and cause the dreaded smutz.
judy hoch

bbbsimon - you got it right about what cleaner to use. No regular soap, ever.
judy hoch

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silverhound - the harbor freight vibratory tumblers are not effective for running stainless steel shot. Get a decent rotary with a plastic barrel. the media can then do a good job of burnishing. The vibratory tumbler is useful for deburring or smoothing and for final finishing.
j hoch


i am not a mass finishing expert.

this post is just about barrel size and shot weight really…

i did investigate and attempt the processes awhile ago…

i read Judy Hoch’s excellent book first thing!

i also watched a video , about barrel tumbling with steel shot that was very instructive…

(i have not been able to locate that video again, so if any one knows of it and can send the link, that would be awesome!)

(i think it was an embedded link on a tumber manufacturers website…)

it showed the desired “action” of the media for optimum results and least part on part impingement.

they described it as the “S” motion…where the shot is rotated/ rides up the sides on the barrel to the optimum height and then gently slides back down the sides…rather than rolling too high up and then raining down…

i recall that barrel speed was said to be a factor too (in addition to other factors too of course) but more importantly the ratio of steel shot to barrel size was critical in achieving the right S flow action to reduce impingement potential…(i was attempting flat discs at the time, so i had a specific focus…)

i believe it wad 50% shot to barrel size…ie: fill the barrel up halfway…

what i discovered with a few small barrel tumblers that i bought, was that the motor rating was lower than the weight on the shot needed to fill the barrel halfway…

ie: motor rated for 3lbs maximum, but half a barrel of shot was 5lbs…

not sure how closely that needed to be followed…so i returned the smaller tumblers and continued my tumbler search…

i was trying to do multiple pieces, as opposed to single pieces…

somewhere along the way i got the idea that i needed a minimum of 50lbs of shot

which lead me to search for a barrel tumbling system that could accomodate the weight…and a barrel size that would be half full at 50lbs…

(i should preface all this with the declaration that i am an avowed tool junkie, and often go into “overkill” mode relative to my needs…)

anyway, i am just rambling on here…the main point being that be sure to look at the motor max weight rating, and barrel sizes. and weight of shot desired…

if i ever come across that lovely video again i will post it here!


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I have a vibratory tumbler from a gun shot. It’s done a fine job of polishing with stainless steel shot for me. I’ve never used abrasive media in it.


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I have a GY-ROC Model B vibratory tumbler… for the past 20 years. I really like it. Not terribly expensive… and you can Stack 3 plastic bowls… on top of each other.

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All, thank you for your comments

I have received my Shell Shine and Green Buff and am experimenting with that in the HF vibratory Tumbler.

Judy - Am anticipating your revised/updated edition of your book! I am looking for a decent rotary tumbler for the steel shot. I have Simicrhome, however, I typically use Mothers religiously for hand polish. I will get some cob meal… Hah… I was just reading the description of using cob to mitigate the occurrence of dreaded water marks.

BBBSIMON - Will purchase some # Super Sunsheen Burnishing Compound for the incoming Rotary Tumbler

So to recap an appropriate process would be
1 - Vibratory - Smooth with abrasive media (wet) such as plastic or ceramic
2 - Rotary - Burnish with Stainless Steel (wet with Super Sun Sheen) - 30mins to an Hour
3 - Vibratory - Finish #1 with Shell Shine - 24 Hours
4 - Vibratory- Finish #2 with Green Buff - 12 Hours
5 - Vibratory- Finish #3 - Run with Cob Meal (charged) - XX mins - Does #5 replace #3 and #4?
6 - Let sit in uncharged Cob Meal to remove moisture


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