Marcos - in my opinion, tumbling time isn’t the issue, you can be
doing other things, including sleeping while the beast works. So
here are my suggestions -
First you have to smooth the pieces, for that I use Rio Grande aqua
clean cut media. If you have lots of detail to smooth, you need to
use the pointy pyramids, I prefer the cones for the kind of work I
do. I do this in a Raytech TV-25 flow thru vibratory tumbler. The
flow thru is essential for cleaning the junk out of the process. A
normal run for fabricated gold or silver is 6 to10 hours.
Then you need to polish the pieces - and these are choices, you
don’t have to do all of them
If you need to work harden your pieces, or they are fairly big, use
mixed stainless steel in a rotary tumbler. Most any size will do,
as long as it has flat interior sides so that the media tumbles
rather than slides. Time about 90 minutes,
Or you can use ceramic beads in a vibratory tumbler, It takes longer
than steel, but gives a nice refined surface. Time 12 to 18 hours.
Or if you have very smooth surfaces, as in anticlastic work,
directly from the smoothing process, put the pieces in a dry
vibratory tumbler with a mixture of wood chips and wood pegs charged
with simichrome or use Rio Grande Red Buff for gold, Green buff for
silver. I add pegs (25% by volume) to either mixture. I also use
this process after the steel for planished surfaces (like on forged
chains) to get a perfect rouge finish. Time 18 to 36 hours.
Or if you have very detailed pieces, finish your process with a
magnetic tumbler - they are really good at getting into detail.
Time 10 to 30 minutes.
This is a long way of saying, there are lots of ways to have the
machine beasts help do your finishing. They don’t take vacations,
or get sick, and the processes are repeatable. Yes they take time,
but it’s not your time. And you don’t have to breathe the dust of
A little known additional benefit is that much less metal is removed
in tumbling than in hand finishing. I’ve had quotes of less than
one tenth of one percent as compared to 3 to 5 percent removed with
And if you want to know more, Rio Grande, along with Allcraft and
Frei and Borel sell copies of the small book I’ve written on the
subject, “Tumble Finishing for Handmade Jewelry”
Also to answer your specific question about running steel in a
vibratory tumbler - you can do it, but you need a very powerful,
expensive vibratory tumbler to make it work. Rotary ones are much
less expensive to move an appropriate amount of steel. (I run about
35 pounds of steel in my big rotary.) Steel is expensive, and if I
were to do it over, I’d try doing without it. Also, there is no
time difference in using a vibratory or a rotary tumbler for steel.
I run about 1 1/2 hours for an average batch.
And to answer your comment on the variety of media - they all work,
just some are better than others for different applications, and
that’s a matter of experimentation. I use lots of different ones,
but I’ve listed my workhorses for my fabricated jewelry. If you
cast, you would use different stuff. 'nuff said.
Judy Hoch, G.G.