Hi Linda -
Yes you can finish stainless with mass finishing. It’s how all the
commercial stainless is finished.
The process is straight-forward. First remove the scale formed from
heating with an aggressive abrasive media, then refine the surface
with a medium abrasive media. Follow those steps with burnishing with
What you have been seeing about machines disintegrating while
running steel is accurate. If you would use a vibratory tumbler for
steel, it needs to be rated for steel and to be effective needs to
have sufficient steel in the bowl to roll and thus to burnish your
work. There are vibratory machines that work with steel, the AV25SS
is one but to use it requires a lot of expensive steel - 50 pounds of
steel at about $700+. And the machine is $550.
If you want to buy something, I’d recommend the AV25SS but only for
abrasive media. The machine is well engineered, mine has run for the
better part of 20 years. It’s a real workhorse. There are lots of
suppliers of machines and media, I’ve used Rio Grande for years -
they are close and shipping is quick and cheap - and that is the
stuff I know. What ever supplier is close to you will have good stuff
For scale removal and general clean-up on steel, use ceramic
aluminum oxide media for your first step - rio number 339416. The use
the clean cut media - a synthetic quartz number 339408. How far you
go with clean-up will depend on how good you want the final finish.
You can go one step farther with the fine clean-cut abrasive. To get
a shine, economically, I’d use a rotary tumbler and mixed stainless
steel shot. The rotaries require far less steel and, in my 20 years
experience, are really durable.
All that being said - this isn’t a cheap process. Two things that
might help you get on the right path, first get “Tumble Finishing for
Handmade Jewelry” - a book I wrote that will help you understand the
process, then you might want to try and convince one of the tumbler
suppliers to run samples for you. The book will help you with
terminology and techniques so you can talk knowledgeably with the
tech support folks. Book available from Rio Grande, Otto Frei, and
Mass finishing is a somewhat technical subject and rife with
misIt is extremely useful, especially in a small shop.
It’s like having another employee, but you only have to pay them
once. It can do pre-finishing, texturing, cleaning of all kinds of
stuff - even beach shells. It removes very little material, far less
than hand finishing, thus saving real costs of precious metal. It
preserves detail. And it is absolutely repeatable. I first got
interested in the process to avoid the dust and dangers of hand
finishing. I’ve never looked back.
If I can help further, please contact me directly. I’ll gladly help
if I can.