Jewelry vs. Stones Tumblers

I’m looking into getting a tumbler for finishing my jewellery. My
question is: are tumblers such as the Loretone barrel tumbler the
same as those tumblers used to tumble polish rough stones?

My reason for asking is that those sold specifically for polishing/
burnishing jewellery using various media such as steel shot are much
more expensive than those sold for tumble polishing rocks using
powders such as cerium oxide.

It may be a really dumb question but the two types look exactly the
same and I’m hoping I can buy the cheaper sort and use it with shot
to finish my jewellery. Any advice would be much appreciated thanks.

Helen Hill

Further to my question regarding whether or not the stone tumblers
were the same as those made for use with metals, I eventually found
a website which explained that the tumblers for metals need a more
powerful motor to cope with the steel shot and the inside of the
barrels needs to have fins to agitate the contents.

I’ve had some advice offlist regarding tumbling vs rotary and the
fact that tumbling might take up to a week to do its job!!! This
bothers me somewhat as nobody wants to take a week to finish a piece.
It bothers me if a complicated piece takes more than a couple of days
from start of fabrication to final polish so using a machine that
creates a week-long step sounds like a bad idea.

I’m really confused about what to go for. I can’t stand the dirt and
dust that I’m breathing in by polishing by more conventional methods
and so I do really want to get the right machine but it’s confusing
as to whether to go for tumbler/rotary/vibratory/magnetic???

Oh, that was the other question. Most product descriptions talk
about finish castings using such machines but I want something which
I can use to finish fabricated pieces. My solder joints are always
strong but I’m wandering whether tumbling will make the joints too
brittle from being work hardened in the machine. I fabricate
everything I make and I’ve been very disappointed with not being able
to polish my handmade chains properly by traditional methods, and
especially the danger aspect of doing so. So I need whatever machine
I purchase, to be able to finish my chains as well as my fabricated
rings, pendants, earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

I’ve read some of the articles in the archives but must confess to
still being more than a little confused. If anyone who is doing
small scale fabrication and successfully using an effective, not
expensive to purchase finishing machine, would be willing to offer
some advice on the subject, it would be greatly appreciated. Sorry
for the long almost incomprehensible sentence and post!

I’m not really looking for a cutting stage as I like to file any
inconsistencies and rubber wheel pieces to achieve an even finish
before going to the polishing stage, so perhaps I’m just after
something that will give me the final burnishing stage (I say
burnishing as opposed to polishing as I understand that that’s what
such machines do, rather than removing material as polishing does).
Some one shut me up!!!



Those tumblers sold for rock polishing will work just fine. The
important stuff is what’s inside the tumbler. If you have not already
gotten it, buy Judy Hoch’s book “Tumble Finishing for Handmade
Jewelery.” Easy to read and very practical! Rio carries it.

Judy in Kansas, who loves, loves, loves her tumbler!

I don’t know if they’re the same, but the ones sold for rocks will



I have a Beach tumbler (I’m in the UK) which has exactly the same
motor but a different barrel to the stone tumblers. It’s
excruciatingly noisy :wink: (because there wasn’t a rubber barrel
available in the size I wanted) but it works beautifully.

I found a little tumbler with a rubber barrel available through a
glass fusing/pmc site. The rock shop in Cromer does mail order
tumblers too, with barrels for metal & metal media. I got mine on
ebay, though - feel free to email me if you want the link, I’m very
happy with it.

You need a different kind of barrel for metal tumbling - finned -
but that’s all.


I use a $75 Lortone tumbler with ceramic media and burnishing
liquid(per Judy Hoch’s book on mass finishing) on all my silver
jewelry and it works beautifully. Takes a lot longer than steel shot
and a vibratory finisher, but I just load it up and run it over night
in the garage. Put a cat box pan or similar dishpan under it to catch
any disasters.

Chris (small time hobbyist)

Hi Helen,

I use a small Loritone tumbler (model 3A found heRe: ) I’ve had it for almost 20
years and replaced the barrel only once. I use it with stainless
steel shot - Rio carries it - and I think I got the 2 lb. bag, item

39-388. I often use it with only 1 item at a time - more if I’m

making more things at once. I finish the jewelry piece, sanding and
polishing - all but the final bright polish - and put it in the
tumbler with with my premixed burnishing polish. (I use Rio’s
Sunsheen mixed with water) I run the tumbler 2 or 3 hours and the
jewelry comes out beautifully. When I first got the tumbler I ran it
for about 8 hours but found that two hours is usually adequate. It
will not remove scratches so you do have to pre-finish the piece.
When its finished tumbling, I set the stone if any, and then if I’ve
scratched it, I do have to polish that out and I usually go over the
piece with zam to give the stone a nice finish. The tumbling leaves
a nice even bright finish and gets into the crevices, etc., much
better than I can by hand.

Don’t know where you can get a machine like this in England. I
noticed that Rio carries a small one (page 20, current catalog). The
machines are made for tumbling rocks but do just great with the
steel shot on metal. I use it for both gold and silver. I did get a
vibratory polisher - a cheap one made for shell (ammo) casings, I
thought it would work faster, but it didn’t work as well and was so
noisy I’ve never used it again.

Hope this helps - email if you have any questions.



We use rotating tumblers and vibrating tumblers all the time for
polishing fabricated jewelry and chains. The media is a steel shot
mixture that contains both bead-like shot and small pointed pieces
that will work in tighter spaces than the beads. All jewelry
suppliers have this available in both carbon steel and stainless
steel versions. The carbon steel shot must be stored in a special
cleaning and storage fluid to keep it from rusting. The stainless
shot will survive with simple washing. I would recommend using steel
shot of either type rather than other media. It will burnish and
slightly work harden the material but I have never know the work to
become brittle.

Lortone is well known for their tumblers in the US. They may be used
either for rock or jewelry tumbling and I don’t think there is any
difference. Lortone is a brand name and their tumblers will be more
expensive than inexpensive copies imported from China. These copies
may be purchased for a single tub for about $26 in the US or about 13
GBP. The name brands will cost several times as much. I am not
familiar with British manufacturers. I believe you will find than any
rotary tumbler will work fine but a rubber barrel will be less noisy.
The vibrating tumblers are much more aggressive.

Tumbling with a rotary tumbler doesn’t take very long if you have a
nicely finished piece and are not trying to remove gouges and
imperfections. There are burnishing solutions especially made for
tumbling but don’t use too much if it is a foaming burnishing soap. A
pinch will do. If your piece has been pickled to remove oxidation you
should not require more than a couple of hours to obtain a nice

Some folks perform a final high-polish finish on jewelry with a
rouge and a buffer. You can also use a vibrating tumbler with rouge
coated walnut shells. Most chain makers find that simply tumbling the
chain with steel shot is sufficient.

I use both vibrating and rotary drum tumblers and the above are my
experiences with both jewelry and chain finishing.

Ask if you have further questions,


I’m far from an expert, for that level of knowledge you need to buy
and read a Judy Hoch’s book. (no $ connection, and a quick check of
my library revealed an even older book by a different author but the
idea is the same and I’ve heard good about her book)

In my experience with both ‘real’ and home grown machines is that
each is best at one aspect of finishing.

Vibratory with abrasive plastic pyramids for cut down… usually
overnight. Makes a lot of noise. No experience with vibratory steel
shot but you are going to need a big tough machine to throw around 50
pounds of steel.

Rotary with steel will burnish and slightly work harden. Not great
on large flat surfaces. A couple of hours is the most I use. You need
a tumbling action so either a polygonal or finned drum, but even my
toy rock tumbler has fins. Quite quiet.

Magnetic is good for getting into small details (small pins), and
orange peeling flat surfaces :frowning: Very quick and medium loud

Working with castings I can justify initial hand work (files &
sanding etc.), magnetic, vibratory, rotary, and the buffing machine
(with good exhaust) Lots of steps but an elapsed time frame of a day
max and most of it is un-attended machine time. No avoiding at least
some buffing.

From your work descriptions I’d start with a rotary (jewellery or
rock) and stainless shot. But get a book !!!



What takes a very long time in a Rotary Tumbler, is Lapidary work.

Fabricated Silver pieces, chains, only need a short time in a Rotary
Barrel Tumbler, with Steel Shot. Jay Whaley suggests a maximum of 15

I also use a Vibratory Tumbler with Steel shot for my pieces. I have
never been disappointed. I have also polished pieces with stones
already set. No problems there either.

It is easy to get a lot of conflicting advice. it is all well
meaning, but not necessarily accurate.

In a Rotary Tumbler, using Ceramic Media, more time is needed,
perhaps 3 hours for Burnishing. I have never gone more than a few
hours, except for Lapidary.


Hi Jeff,

Judy’s book is on this months list of “things to buy” - I’m a list
type person! Another thing on my list can now be crossed off and
that’s a tumbler for metal. I’m so glad that that’s what everyone’s
recommending as I’ve purchased one this morning. I still need to
purchase the stainless steel shot and burnishing soap but that’s on
the list with Judy’s book.

But get a book !!!

Hope I didn’t upset people by asking questions. I didn’t mean to. I
did read the archives but was left a little confused still so
thought I’d ask. As I said I do intend to buy Judy’s book, which will
enable me to get the best out of my tumbler. I may for example want
to apply a satin finish to some pieces, in which case I can buy a
second barrel and the appropriate medium to do that.

Thanks to everybody who has answered my questions. I’m looking
forward to using my new toy, sorry tumbler!


Thanks so much Fred. Apparently the difference is in the barrel.
Smooth barrel for rock tumbling and finned barrel for metal. I’ve
just purchased a tumbler for metal this morning. It cost me approx
67 UKP for the motor base and 3lb barrel. It’s made in the UK by a
company called Beach Lapidary Ltd. I’m purchasing the stainless
steel shot and correct burnishing soap.

I’m intending to pre-finish by using a rubber wheel. That’s what I
always do prior to polishing. Presumably that will be okay. I’m
really looking forward to using it on my jewellery and I’ll probably
be making more chains now that I’ll have something to give them a
good finish.

Many thanks Fred.


Thanks Terrie. I’m surprised about the tumbling with stones already
set. I’d be worried about chipping facet edges as it’s a little like
hammering the jewellery. Maybe I’ll try it with some inexpensive
stones first.

Thanks again - oh and I bought a tumbler this morning - yay!!!


Hi Jan,

Thank you SO much for your email. Thanks to Sophie who emailed me
yesterday, I’ve bought a tumbler this morning. I’ve bought the one
specially made for metals (barrel has fins) and am buying the
stainless steel shot and the correct burnishing compound. I intend
to pre-finish the pieces first using a rubber wheel. I alway do that
before polishing, to remove any scratches and/or lumps and bumps
from any miscreant bits of solder that may have hitched a ride. Will
a fine rubber wheel be enough of a pre-finish before burnishing in
the tumbler with steel shot?

Thanks also for answering another query I’d not yet voiced but was
just about to. I was wondering whether stone setting would be
possible after tumbling. I was obviously hoping so as the vast
majority of stones wouldn’t stand up to the tumbler. I don’t think
I’d even bother trying setting before tumbling as I’m sure it would
chip pretty much all stones, even diamonds as it would be like
hammering them. I’ll just have to be extra careful not to leave
tools marks when setting, or else I’ll cancel out any advantages the
tumbler gives me and I’ll still have to suffer the mess of polishing
the traditional way.

Thanks again.

Helen - There are many varieties of tumblers. The most common for
jewelry finishing are rotary and vibratory.

The simple rotary tumblers used for rocks will work just fine for
jewelry if the inside of the barrel is not round, rather has flat
sides. This is so the load of material actually tumbles rather than
slides as it rotates. Pay attention to the composition of the barrel.
You would be using a burnishing compound with the steel shot and the
barrel of some very inexpensive rotary tumblers can react to the
burnishing compound. Do your self a favor and use the chemistry
intended for burnishing. If you just use the "bit of ivory soap"
plan, you will get black junk stuck to your jewelry that is really
nasty to remove.

Burnishing properly prepared pieces should take 30 to 45 minutes
max. Longer times yield damaged surfaces - it’s a long explanation as
to why.

I would encourage you to think about a vibratory tumbler for
smoothing the jewelry with a mild abrasive media prior to using the
rotary tumbler. You will remove much less precious metal in the
process than by hand work, and save a bunch of time. A typical run
time for my fabricated work is 4 hours in the vibratory tumbler.

For all tumblers, ensure that your jewelry can move freely inside
the tumbler.

To answer the concern about long run times - the only time that I do
long runs - 48 hours max – is when I finish very high shine pieces
using dry media in a vibratory tumbler. Right now, that is only for
planished big “bubble” chains. I do that run only once or twice a

I love tumblers - they are my employees with a plug - no FICA or
pension or brown bottle flu on Monday mornings. They don’t talk back
or want more money. Who wouldn’t love 'em?

Judy Hoch

Author - “Tumble Finishing for Handmade Jewelry” - available from
many Orchid supporters.

Hi Judy,

Thanks for your email. I only have funds for one machine so the
rotary tumbler is the one I’ve gone for. I’ll stick with the filing,
sanding and rubber wheeling steps prior to pieces going in the
tumbler and see how that goes.

I’m looking forward to using my tumbler - it’s great to get a new
toy every now and then! :wink:


Hi Helen,

Although I have tumbled jewelry that already has the stone set - I
tried an old piece with a garnet cab that I needed to clean up - and
it was OK, I am leery of polishing anything with the stones already
set with the steel shot also. I usually finish everything with the
radial wheels before I tumble. You will see what results you get
once you try it. And usually, if I goof on the setting job, its not
hard to sand, etc., that small spot and then get the shine back with
a polishing cloth.

Have fun with your new toy (tool) - You will love it.


Hi Helen,

Just a small tip that might help you : I took a stone setting
workshop last year, and what we used for minor clean up after
setting was a very fine cut 3-square needle file (I think it’s an
8/0). The trick is, you need to file off the corners of the file,
which then keeps the corners from damaging any metal (or stone) it
comes in contact with. It’s very good for getting into relatively
small areas, and for cleaning up both before you put the stone in the
setting and in some cases afterwards. All you need to do after that
is get in with the burnisher to shine it up a bit.

Robin Cassady-Cain

I use a small vibratory tumbler for fabricated jewelry. I don’t do a
lot and I like the small size. It came from a gun shop for tumbling
brass casings and I use it with stainless steel shot. What I really
like about is that it is top loading and the lid is just a piece of
plexiglas that I clamp on with bull dog type office clips. The art
center has the rotary from Rio. I don’t like using the lid with the
gasket arrangement. It’s hard to get it on correctly.


Hi Marilyn,

Yes, I do like the look of the vibratory tumblers and a few have
recommended them, but the budget didn’t allow for one of those

Lots of people have said they have great success with the rotary
tumblers for metal, using stainless steel shot and burnishing
compound so that’s what I’ve gone for. I’m all set to use it when my
shot and burnishing soap arrive on Monday.