Tumble finishing

Does anyone know of a cheap alternative to the $32.00 per litre
soap which is used with the plastic pyramid tumbling media.Can
it also be used with steel shot.Any tumbling advice would
greatly appreciated. thanks, Chris L’atelier Designs

For my rotary tumber (stainless steel shot) I’ve been using "Dawn"
dishwashing detergent with great success. It’s a "grease cutting"
dishwashing liquid soap, so I would assume any brand that claims to
cut grease would work just fine. I haven’t tried it in my vibratory
(plastic media) tumbler, though. I’ve been pretty loyal to Rio’s
Sunsheen burnishing compound. What’s in that stuff,
anyway? Marlo M.

Chris, I worked in a production shop for a while. We used burnishing
soap with all our tumbling media, plastic, steel, ceramic. If I
remember right it cost about $8 a pound and was a powder which you
just added to the mixture. Louis Irons at Irons Lapidary carries it.
He is a lapidary and smithing supplier who gives the best deals of
anyone around Arizona. His website is
www.angelfire.com/ax2/ironslapidary His e-mail is
ironslapidary@angelfire.com. They are at Quartzite, Arizona right
now selling at the POW WOW and will be back at the shop next Monday.
Gerry Galarneau

   Does anyone know of a cheap alternative to the $32.00 per litre
soap which is used with the plastic pyramid tumbling media. 

Liquid dishwasher detergent works just as well. Rebecca.

I use Rio Grande’ Super Sunsheen Burnishing compound ($9.49/quart,
makes 10 gallons) with my stainless steel shot; and am very happy with
it. (I use theirs because my instructor told me it was the best (no,
he doesn’t work for rio Grande!) They also have Sunsheen Gold & Silver
Deburring Dompound ($8.71/quart, makes 12 gallons), and Super Sunsheen
Non-chelating Deburring Compound ($9.19/gallon, makes 12 gallons), for
use with ceramic (or plastic, but not metallic) media. I don’t tumble
with ceramic media so haven’t tried them but I assume they are also


Do you use it straight or dilute it, and if so how much? I’ve been
using the powder, and it’s always a pain to mix; won’t dissolve.

Janet Kofoed

Hi Chris,

FWIW I’ve never used anything but dishwashing detergent or household
ammonia as the case required with steel shot. Haven’t ever used
plastic media, but don’t see why detergent wouldn’t work. Just use a
low sudsing detergent. Dave

G’day; I tried various substances (we don’t have access to exotic
things like ‘Sunsheen’: Ours is common old ‘Sunlight’ (soap) but
Nelson is famous for it’s sunshine - higher than anywhere in NZ).
Except today.

I have tried a variety of substances (including none) with my steel
bearing balls in my home made vibro polisher and came to the
conclusion that a few scrapings of ordinary toilet soap - (whatever
comes to hand) together with a covering of our tap water (rain water
from the tank) works beautifully. Vibrate for half an hour with a mix
of 1.5 and 3mm balls and the finish is brilliant on sterling.
Ideally, it works best if the silver comes straight out of the pickle;
it’s surface matte white from the removal of copper and is neutralised
and rinsed then placed in the vibro vessel. Thus the surface of pure
silver is work hardened by being gently hammered by countless little
blows from the balls. Gives a far better polish than I can get from
a buff. It doesn’t smooth dents and scratches though - these are
nicely polished too! I just did a piece which had been finished
with a hammer finish - and it is brilliantly polished all over
including the little hammer marks made with a ball ended punch 5mm
dia… BUT! It doesn’t polish around details like claws and prongs -
even the 1.5mm balls can’t get that close. Pour the balls and job
into a strainer and wash under the tap. (use the gauze type.) Take
out the job, pour the balls into one of those plastic trays from the
supermarket, superficially dry with tissue, leave overnight in the
tray to dry off completely, and store in an air tight container (I
have a little perforated plastic box of indicator silica gel in there
too) The balls won’t rust that way. Cheers (can’t hear myself think
from the roar of the rain on the roof; almost drowns out the
polisher!) PS: have any of you folk who asked for details of my vibro
polisher made one yet? Give us the benefit of your experiences.

Hello John, What details of what vibro polisher? Did I miss
something? Please enlighten. Tom Arnold

John Burgess, you mention an article on a home made tumbler, where is
it? Being a student any tool self made is very welcome!
Thanks to all, efw

Chris you didn,t say what kind of metal you are tumbling but I find
spic & span [the cleaner] doze wonders for silver. when I polish the
repolish time is about 30 days spic&span time is about 6 mo.

I have been using plain old Ivory cake soap which I grate (on my
kitchen grater) to a coarse powder. This suggestion was given to me
by a friend who does lapidary work. I tried it, and found that it
work just fine with steel shot. Never tried it on plastic, but don’t
see why it wouldn’t work. It is worth a try. For best results,
unwrap the Ivory soap cakes when you buy them and let them sit a
while until they get hard. They seem to grate
more easily that way.Hope this helps. Alma.

John Burgess, you mention an article on a home made tumbler, where is
it? Being a student any tool self made is very welcome!
Thanks to all,  

If you - and Tom Arnold - REALLY want a diagram and description,
mail me direct. Cheers John Burgess

Hi Dave, I always use the powder detergent that one uses in the
dishwasher. No bubbles to get rid of. Its is called Electrosol, works
great. Susan Chastain . Cold Wet and Rainy here in Florida but still
better than shoveling all that snow up in Omaha. Ugh…The horses love it too.

John, A little late here, returned from Tucson a few days after
partaking of the wonderful Orchid gathering, to over 1600 messages. I
am still looking at 700 to go.

I noticed in your commentary on vibro polishing you mention steel
balls. Do you also have other shaped steel in there? I have a
combination of shapes that along with balls include pin ended, as well
as other shapes not rounded. With my chains, I do get a burnished
finish along with my polished surface. I have far less filing as the
other shapes go into and through the links and smooth off the burrs.

I had an extended chat with Ed Smith who designed the Vibro line of
vibrating tumblers. These work on a magnet rather than a motor and
seem to be the tumbler of choice among the silver smiths I know. No I
do not own one. Ed suggested to me using the particles of glass left
from a broken windshield, wind screen in your neck of the woods. He
suggests using this as filler rather than plastic or vermiculite. It
is necessary to first run the tumbler with the glass and media without
the material to tumble to round off the sharp edges. This is for
tumble polishing stones. Ed has written a wonderful book on tumble
polishing stones that is available through Diamond Pacific for one. He
is a delightful man working through Muscular Dystrophy which has put
him into a wheel chair. He demonstrates his tumblers during the length
of the show in the Diamond Pacific booth which will close shortly.
Dr. E. Aspler
Ganoksin Jewelry Co.,Ltd
Webmaster Ganoksin Online

    I noticed in your commentary on vibro polishing you mention
steel   balls. Do you also have other shaped steel in there? 

G’day; No; I only use steel balls - a mixture of 1.5, 2.0 and 3.0
mm. We don’t seem to be able to get the other shapes here. I do find
however, that although the insides of chain links do seem to get
polished in my gadget, even the 1.5 mm balls can’t get close enough to
some parts of my jewellery, and leave a sort of very tiny ‘tide mark’
of unpolished silver… I might try cutting off very small lengths of
steel wire, but as I would need at least 300, it sounds a bit
daunting. :-[ I tried broken up walnut shells, but they only
pitted the job which was then rather useless. But because the smallest
links of my chains are made of rings made on a 2mm mandrel, they all
come out beautifully burnished and polished. Isn’t it lovely to get
our Orchid ‘fix’ again! I hope Hanuman is having a pleasant break,
and many thanks to Dr E Aspler for taking over in the meanwhile. –

        /\      John Burgess
       / /
      / /      Johnb@ts.co.nz
     / /__|\

John, Stainless steel shot is more costly to purchase, so one day I
took myself off to metal salvage stores to see what I could find. I
bought odd packages of small stainless screws, nuts, and similar and
added them to my round balls. The different angles aid in the debur
and polish.

I will see if my friends are about ready to return to NZ, and send
along some of the other shapes. Are you using steel or stainless
steel? Don’t say no, it is a small return for the volumes of very
valuable you regularly post. Teresa

Hi John, what does an excellent brightning/polishing job inside of
areas that are normally not accessible with steel/stainless beads and
points commonly used in vibratory /burnishing equipment Is a
“magnetic” Pin Polisher. We commonly use this machine on a daily basis
to brighten the insides of chain, complex cocktail rings, earrings,
rings and pendants.Due to this machine, we have not used any cyanides
or stripping solutions in over 2 years. We bought our machine over 2
years ago for $ 950.

Here is a brief description of the machine for those who may wish to
build one. The spinning base is a ceramic encased
magnet(powerful)attached to a variable speed motor. You then build a
platform that sits about 5mm above the spinning magnet .this base is
usually made of Alumunium. We then place a plastic, lidded bowl on
this platform (permanently borrowed from my wifes kitchen collection).
The pieces of jewelry go into this container along with about 1 kg of
miniature low quality stainless pins.The pins are .48mm dia. X 5 mm
long ,there are no burrs on these pins, so its not a questions of
clipping some wire and making them . ( these pins may have come from
a bearing manufacturer) I bought mine from The contenti Co.
http://www.contenti.com (best price i believe) and also available
from gesswein and rio grand. John, Do you remeber the magnetic stirrers
that were used in chemistry… I wonder if this would work instead?I
don’t know how the insides were built, but the concept seems
similar.You might have one or some one on orchid may have one in their
archives of machines and could possibly test the idea.

Daniel Grandi http://www.racecarjewelry.com We do
model/moldmaking,casting , high polish finishing in
gold,silver, bronze/brass and pewter for designers and jewelers.