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Hobby-store low cost tumblers


#1

Hello Everyone!

I am so honored to have “lurked” the forums for the past year or so
and excited to have a question worthy to throw out to you all! It is
so neat to know that someone’s going to have an answer-!

I’m just starting to incorporate hand-made chains (generally
open-link, delicate constructions in need of a final work-hardening)
into the custom work I do and need to invest in a finisher of some
kind… have been borrowing use of a friend’s GIANT rotary tumbler
and don’t need this sort of capacity for the one or two chains I have
going at a time.

My question is this- how are the tools sold by Otto Frei and Rio
Grande so different than the hobby-store rock tumblers or machinists
tumblers one can purchase at Harbor Freight Tools or other
hardware-type stores? In comparing items online, I saw a reference
to the multi-sided interior of the machines made specifically for
jewelry, and then one note on a lower-end vibratory tumbler that
said it did not have the amplitude to properly turn steel media…
does anyone know what the proper amplitude is? Or where I can find
technical info on the various specs for such finishing techniques &
machinery? I’m not particularly concerned about a quiet machine, I
just need a small capacity steel shot ready tumbler or vibratory
polisher at the best possible price; there’s got to be a reason
there’s such a big price difference from rock tumblers sold for $50
and the seemingly identical Rio mini-tumbler kit for $150.

The very last aspect of this question regards Argentium sterling
chains- is there any point to tumbling for hardness if I’ve
precipitate hardened my pieces?

I so appreciate any input; I have learned so much from everyone’s
posts! Thank you!

Deanna Webster


#2

Hi Deanna,

I tumble all my work and your right, sometime you just need to tumble
1-2 pieces. The only time I use my large rotary tumbler is before a
show whenI throw everything in there to be polished together. The
tumbler I use on a regular basis is the one I purchased from Harbor
Freight. It does the job and works great. You cant overload it with
jewelry or steel shot, but it works great with just the right amount.
I wouldn’t spend too much on a tumbler, they all do the same thing.
With regards to vibratory tumblers, cant help ya there, I don’t use
them.

Good luck,
Steven Brownlee


#3

Check the Orchid archives for lengthy discussions on this very
topic. Bottom line the Thumler’s tumbler is 2ed to the Lortone,
(based solely on warranty terms) and the harbor freight double barrel
model is adequate if you get a good one So as the salesman at Harbour
Freight told me “run the hell out of it for a few days” to make sure
the motor is not going to burn up quickly.

If it does return it and try another, and if it tolerates that
duration (turning it off for a few hours each night though!) without
becoming very hot to the touch, you are the owner of a low cost good
working model. The single barreled HF ones are essentially not worth
fooling with and ALWAYS open the box and check that the lids fit
tightly- if not open another box until you find a satisfactory one.
Many will say all HF stuff is junk- It is simply not so. I have a
great magnetic and vibratory tumbler/polisher I received from Harbour
Freight- It has worked quite effectively (with crushed fabulustre
added to the plastic media that is available at HF in the bowl ) for
castings, and stainless steel shot in the other with a good
burnishing compound liquid-(all run without incident and a bit of
abuse at times from students!). Keep your shot well maintained
between uses and store appropriately and any unit you get will serve
you within fractional units of difference of each other… The axiom
frequently asserted on Orchid says" the tools are only as good as the
money invested in them" in this case is not always true.


#4

Hi Gang,

Another source for less expensive tumblers than the jewelry
suppliers is stores that cater to folks who reload their pistol &
rifle shells.

Usually shell casings are tumbled prior to reloading.

Dave


#5

I can’t talk for Rio Grande or Otto Frei but the first tumbler I
bought was a relative cheapie from Harbor Freight for $32. It worked
fine but sometimes my silver would turn brown and within a few
months of it, I needed to replace the belt. I still have the tumbler,
but invested in a Lortone which I found on the Internet for under
$70. I use the Harbor Freight one for polishing rocks now. If you do
wire work, join the Yahoo Group WWJ and it’s sister group,
WWJNancyBulkBuy. I believe she’s in the process of doing a Bulk buy
for Lorton Tumblers. If they haven’t done it already, you can get a
good price for it. I just lucked out and found it on sale for $61.

That being said, you don’t have to tumble Argentium to work harden
it. For polishing a bit, yes, but to work harden Argentium, no.
Argentium can be heat hardened by first annealing it to a pale red,
let it cool until the visible red heat has disappeared and water
quench. Or allow to cool to room temp. Then put it in a pre-heated
oven or furnace at 580 F/300 C for 45-60 minutes, and allow to air
cool. When annealing, be sure to do this in a shaded area or darkened
room so you can actually see the color and avoid overheating.

For those of us whose ovens only go up to 500 F, you can use lower
temperatures with a corresponding increase in time, such as 2 hours
at 365 F/220 C. It will come out harder than Sterling. For more info,
read about Argentium at http://www.argentiumsilver.com.

I have no affiliation with the web site. I just like learning about
things. :slight_smile: Especially Argentium.

Hope this helps.

Michele
MikiCat Designs
www.mikicatdesigns.com


#6

This may or may not have been mentioned, but you can make your own.
If your so inclined.

Just thought I’d share. Pete


#7

Tumbling can be fun. Here are a few ideas for cheap sources:

  1. Put a WANTED: Lapidary Equipment / Tumbler(s) on your local
    CraigsList and any other local classified sites.

  2. Find out your local lapidary/gem & mineral club and send them a
    postcard with message same as above. There have been many, many rock
    hounds leaving the hobby - and selling their rough, machines, etc.
    for very reasonable prices in the last 10 years.

  3. Do a Google, Bing, or what have you search on “discount rock gem
    tumblers”. You will probably find someone who is offering a sale
    from 30-40% in August.

  4. Finally, look on Amazon - they seem to have EVERYTHING in the
    world, cheap and many times with free shipping. This buggers are
    usually heavy. Same goes for eBay.

You will probably use this equipment for years, so hold out for the
best quality and the lowest cost. If you don’t use it, good equipment
will be easier to sell.

Good luck,

Ray
www.raygabriel.com


#8
The very last aspect of this question regards Argentium sterling
chains- is there any point to tumbling for hardness if I've
precipitate hardened my pieces? 

It’s a popular misconception that tumbling work hardens anything
significantly. Tumbling with shot certainly burnishes and peens the
surface, but has little or no effect on the interior of the
workpiece. The surface gets a toughened skin but the interior metal
remains as it was before.

Regards, Gary Wooding


#9
It's a popular misconception that tumbling work hardens anything
significantly. Tumbling with shot certainly burnishes and peens
the surface, but has little or no effect on the interior of the
workpiece. The surface gets a toughened skin but the interior
metal remains as it was before. 

That’s precisely why I tumble my pieces - not to work-harden them
throughout (as James Binnion has pointed out many times that it
won’t do that) - but to work-harden the outer skin, so as to maintain
a good finish. I have noticed that a polish lasts far better with a
tumbled piece than a non-tumbled piece.

Don’t get me wrong, I too was taken in by the popular
misconceptions, and first bought my tumbler because people said that
it was a substitute for polishing! I very quickly learned that it was
no such thing, and that it burnishes, rather than polishes. Then I
fell for the hype that it work-hardens a piece so was happy with
that. However, I now use it within its limitations, but realise that
it does have its place.

For work hardening, I rely on the design of the piece and its
engineered strength and work-hardening steps following any
soldering. But even the tumbling will offer some structural strength
surely? If it’s hardening the outer “skin”, then the whole structure
will have an improved structural integrity over a non-tumbled piece
because the inner core is constrained within the outer skin.

This brings me to a question I’ve been meaning to ask. When making a
piece which may be quite complex, there may be some areas that you
can’t get into, to work-harden them. I was wondering, whether work-
hardening elsewhere, whether by hammering, filing, etc, might somehow
be transferred to a certain extent to the rest of the piece due to
resonance? I ask, because when I’m filing or hammering a piece of
metal, there are obviously vibrations traveling through that piece,
and I can’t imagine that the work-hardening occurring at the site of
the work is restricted only to that area. If my theory on this is
correct, then perhaps the tumbling action goes a little deeper than
just the surface too. Obviously I could be way off the mark on this
one, but just wanted to put it out there for opinions.

Thanks,
Helen
UK


#10
It's a popular misconception that tumbling work hardens anything
significantly. Tumbling with shot certainly burnishes and peens the
surface, but has little or no effect on the interior of the
workpiece. The surface gets a toughened skin but the interior
metal remains as it was before. 

This is absolutely correct. There was a paper presented on tumble
hardening at this years Santa Fe Symposium. They tumbled various
items then sectioned them and measured the hardness from the surface
inward. While there is a significant hardening given by the steel
shot the hardened surface is so thin that simple polishing will
remove it.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#11

Tumbling will slightly work harden the skin and probably in inprove
the structural strength. A good design with proper material use will
do far better. Just make it a bit thicker.

I have 2 boats, one is styrofoam with hard plastic on both inside
and outside, the other an inflatable made of air with a stiff skin.
I’ve pushed both well beyond reason and sanity and never had to swim
home. So while the theory is sound but I doubt that it makes much
difference in a jewellery scale.

Resonance work hardening I view as about as effective as waving
crystals over the piece. True there might be some which is
undectable but why even bother to think about it. Lots of bikes on
the road outside my house resonating like crazy and I have yet to see
bike sized piles of dust from over work hardened metal.

jeffD
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#12

Hi Helen,

Don't get me wrong, I too was taken in by the popular
misconceptions, and first bought my tumbler because people said
that it was a substitute for polishing! I very quickly learned that
it was no such thing, and that it burnishes, rather than polishes. 

Mass finishing is appropriate for cutting, burnishing, polishing and
buffing. Different combinations of media and compounds will produce
the desired finishes. Although many prefer the vibratory type
machines over tumblers for certain finishes, the tumbler is capable
far more than just burnishing.

Jamie


#13
While there is a significant hardening given by the steel shot the
hardened surface is so thin that simple polishing will remove it. 

Im a bit confused now. Some people on here seem to swear by tumble
hardening before polishing. Is it actually a pointless process?

Jon


#14

I have a cheap tumbler from “Midway” that I have been running
everyday for 6 years. All of my chain repairs go straight into the
tumbler. A good many of most of my repairs do as well. Most silver
ring sizing are finished out at my bench and then into the tumbler.
Gold sizing have to be polished at the wheel. Any tarnished and
tired jewelry in the store goes into it for a refurbish. This $45
tool is like having an extra employee sitting in the corner.


#15

While there is a significant hardening given by the steel shot the
hardened surface is so thin that simple polishing will remove it.

Im a bit confused now. Some people on here seem to swear by tumble
hardening before polishing. Is it actually a pointless process? 

No not pointless but definitely misunderstood by some. Mass
finishing is a very useable set of techniques for doing a reasonably
acceptable job of finishing castings to keep labor costs down. It is
not superior to hand finishing if the hand finisher knows what they
are doing.

Steel shot burnishing is going to give the work a bright burnished
finish. This will hide the lack complete, proper pre-polish clean up
of a piece to casual view. The surface hardening has been touted as
an additional benefit of steel shot burnishing but has had no
scientific backup of the claims. In recent years there have been a
few scientific tests done on the hardness increase and the result is
that there is no increase in bulk hardness and the depth of surface
hardness increase is extremely thin and will be removed by simple
polishing with rouge or wear in a very short time. So I think it is
mostly wishful thinking combined with a bright but not necessarily
properly finished surface.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#16
But even the tumbling will offer some structural strength surely?
If it's hardening the outer "skin", then the whole structure will
have an improved structural integrity over a non-tumbled piece
because the inner core is constrained within the outer skin. 

Just a couple of thoughts - I didn’t read this thread until I saw it
was one of those perpetual things… ;}

Helen, most people don’t use tumbling at all except to clean up
castings and similar things. Magnetic tumbling is great for shining
up details that are difficult or impossible to reach. Remember on the
polishing thread where people were saying not to agonize so much
over 25 steps? Almost all jewelry is not work hardened in the ways
you mean- it’s just not that important, if it’s important at all.
The above quote is akin to asking if a swimming suit will hold a
human being up. Much of it is “a little bit of knowlege” like what
you hear about files and filing, for instance. Sure, there are
factors involved in tumbling - I would suggest you don’t agonize
over it too much. It’s optional…

As for polishing with it - yes it can be done, and some do. It’s so
much simpler to just polish one or two or six pieces that it doesn’t
pay to tumble them to final. 100 or 500 pieces, maybe. Again,
remember the polishing thread - polishing is much more than just
making the metal shiny - fullytumble polished pieces have a "dead"
shine. They are shiny but there’s no life to it. Tumbling is
handy… to some people in some situations it’s essential, but for
most general jewelry making it’s really not…


#17
As for polishing with it - yes it can be done, and some do. It's
so much simpler to just polish one or two or six pieces that it
doesn't pay to tumble them to final. 

I don’t use it to “polish”, as it doesn’t polish things, but
burnishes them. I don’t like the finish it gives and that is never my
end result - apart from on handmade chains. I prefer to polish
afterwards for a better, less “dead” shine. I will then, perhaps just
continue to use my tumbler for finishing my handmade chains.

Incidentally, my bench polisher with dust extraction is now up and
running! Finally, the woman takes the advice so many have been
offering for so long! It’s ace, brilliant, fandabidozy, the dog’s
danglies, etc!!! I’m actually enjoying using it, and it’s finally
giving me the mirror polish I’ve been wanting - and I no longer look
like a chimney sweep!

Anyone still using a Dremel or Foredom or the like to polish pieces,
seriously invest in a bench polisher - it takes finishing to the
next level. I’m still having to use my Foredom for hard-to-reach
places, which I do first, then it’s onto the bench polisher for a
final buff.

I resized my brother’s gold wedding ring a couple of weeks ago
(which he’d been unable to wear for years due to putting weight on
thanks to steroid meds). I had to insert a 3 mm new piece of gold
into it, then obviously round it up, file, sand, etc, etc. He wanted
to wear it again as he and his wife just celebrated their silver
wedding anniversary. He said it now fits better than it ever did,
that the joints are invisible and also that it is shinier than it
ever was too! He also noticed the bevel I filed into it, which had
worn away previously. His was the second one subjected to my new
bench polisher (after a less important guinea pig piece went through
first). Don’t know how I ever managed without it.

Thanks to everyone for singing the praises of what is an essential
workshop tool.

Helen
UK