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Is a small vibe tumbler practical?

Hello group,

Thus far I’ve done all my finishing and polishing of the (mostly)
silver pieces I make by hand and it is my least favorite part of the
"job". I’ve long wanted some way to automate some of this. Needless
to say there are many choices when it comes to tumblers but from what
I’ve read thus far a vibratory tumbler sounds like it might suit my
purposes best.

I work in small batches, half a dozen rings at a time, maybe two or
three bracelets at once, etc. I estimate that I would need to finish
or polish at most 200 or 300 grams of goods at a time.

I’ve determined that stainless steel shot is definitely something I
want to use but had always understood that you needed a larger
heavy-duty vibe unit in order to handle it. I recently asked for
recommendations from a major supplier of vibratory tumblers units and
their recommendation shocked me.

Based on my needs they suggested their smallest unit which has an 8
inch bowl and can handle up to 5 lbs in the bowl at a time. It’s also
one of their cheapest units at a fraction of the price I was expecting
to pay.

Is this for real? Given what I want to do does this sound like a
reasonable recommendation? If so I’m sold but frankly I’m still a
bit taken aback. This is not at all what I was expecting to hear.

Trevor F


A vibratory tumbler will cut down on the finishing work but you
still have to do your prefinish work before you tumble them and then
you may still need to do some buffing afterwards.

I have used a number of different types of tumblers over the years
and the one I am now using seems to be a good value for the results
it gives. I am using a Thumler Ultra - Vibe 18 in the heavy duty

Good Luck
Greg DeMark
Link Exchanges Welcomed

Dear Trevor,

Don’t hesitate for a moment to get a small vibratory tumbler It is a
"must have" for most any jeweler…especially one that works in
silver. Over the past thirty five years I have worn out a half dozen
of these critters. What great work horses they are !

I use non abrasive ceramic media with a bit of liquid detergent and
a fairly sparse amount of water…it won’t take you long to
figure out what works best for you. Using this technique you will be
able to do a quantity of things at once or a single item at a time.
The media should be the smallest size available and the best shape
for me has been the bias cut cylinders. YOU MUST BREAK IN THE MEDIA
! Your supplier will advise you as to the best method of
accomplishing the foregoing. Rio has a good selection of media.

It should be born in mind that this finishing method does a great
job of burnishing, but the best polish should be accomplished by
using conventional methods…it won’t take much. This method is
also ideally suited to stock that has been shelved too long and
needs touching up. Tarnished silver comes out looking new after a
short spin.

That old cliche’ about getting what you pay for doesn’t apply in
this case. The cheapest vibratory usually does a great job and lasts
a very long time.

Ron Mills at Mills Gem Co.
Los Osos, Ca.

Trevor, they’re not kidding you. I’ve heard all the same warnings and
put-offs for using the small vibratory tumblers for steel shot, more
than I can tell. I’ve also used a Tumble-Vibe 5 for longer than
that! It still works perfectly. The key is to not overload it. Know
how many pounds of stainless shot you put in. It usually works out
to 3lbs, plus your work, or closer to 4lbs for very small loads.
Weigh your silver if there’s any doubt. You will never be sorry and
you will wonder only why you didn’t get that tumbler sooner. If mine
ever dies of old age, I’ll buy the same again.

It is way more used than a larger one I keep on hand for much larger
work - like buckles or such.

The TumbleVibe tub is too small to efficiently work with pieces that
size. Super for rings and earring batches. Enjoy !


I just got a small TumbleVibe (Raytech) from Thunderbird Supply
(great prices) and stainless shot, and it’s great just as Ron says.

One caveat vis a vis his line below, though: don’t try getting one
for cleaning/polishing shells for reloading ammunition. It was
tempting because they are half the cost of ones made for jewelry,
even less as you can get them used (lots of us shooters think we’re
going to reload, then find it’s its such a pain!). But their motors
are VIGOROUS to say the least and would knock around sterling too
much, in my opinion. They’re built for very heavy loads.

Roseann Hanson
Desert Rose Design Studio
Tucson, Arizona

I have been using a Mini-Sonic with steel shot for years on my rings
and the occasional bracelet, it works great. And at under $200 it is
a real bargain as well.

Jim Binnion

James Binnion Metal Arts
Phone (360) 756-6550
Toll Free (877) 408 7287
Fax (360) 756-2160

Member of the Better Business Bureau

I have been using a Mini-Sonic with steel shot for years on my
rings and the occasional bracelet, it works great. And at under
$200 it is a real bargain as well. 

Hello James,

Thank you for the suggestion. As I mentioned, I’m used to doing my
polishing by hand so I’m not familiar with hands-on merits of the
different tumbler and polisher options.

Can you offer any insights as to why you chose a sonic tumbler and
what advantages you have found in using it?

Also, if any one can recommend a reference that compares and
contrasts the various tumbler options I would be most grateful.
Rotary, vibratory, magnetic, sonic, centrifugal, flow-through,
wet/dry, ceramics vs steel vs plastic, etc … yikes! It’s a little

FWIW, my primary interest is in finishing small lots of rings,
earrings, pendants, chain too if possible. If I could swap out the
finishing tub, or whatever, and polish a handful of stones that would
be a bonus. I realize that wouldn’t be possible with some of the

Trevor F.