Tumbler Purchasing for a Beginner


I’m am a beginning metalsmith and am looking into buying a Tumbler.
Can I get some advise on what brand, size, etc. I should be looking
for? It will be used for burnishing metal (sterling and fine silver),
but might possible be used for rocks at a later time.

Also, what kind of media would I use for both metal (sterling and
fine silver), and rocks?

Thanks, I have a lot more questions, but will not bombard you all
right now…Valerie


Please get Judy Hoch’s book on tumbling. It covers all the basics of
equipment and its use. The book ‘Tumble Finishing: Mass Finishing
Techniques for Handmade Jewelry’ is available from Rio Grande.

Susan Bucknam
Talisman Design

Hexagonal tumbler with good quality rubber lining and 35 rpm speed.

For my silver jewellery, casted as well as hand fabricated, i use
5mm X 5mm angle cut triangles ceramic media polishing grade(White in
colour) its a wet cycle, and put a pinch of 320 grit (only for casted
silver, as first cut to remove casting skin), second cut 1200 grit of
silicon carbide powder or aluminum oxide powder to get a fine very
smooth finish with out reflection, then to get high shining, i
burnish the silver with highly polished steel media (combination of
balls,pins,ballcones,ovals, i also put pins used in magnetic tumbler
so it reaches fine crevices of filigree work.

Once in a while I polish my steel media with quarter micron Boron
carbide powder (boron carbide powder is also used for polishing
gemstones), a pinch of it for 4 hours, you normally fill the tumbler
half with the media and put water one inch above the media, and then
charge with the load (silver).

My experience with this slow speed hexagonal barrel is the best, I
have also used vibratory tumblers and I also use centrifugal barrel
machine, but i have experienced that this slow 35 rpm hexagonal
barrel is the best,slow and steady wins the race.

I use 4 liters size. I wash my barrel thoroughly between two
different cycles so no residue of previous cycle and media is left,
the best thing is to use separate barrel for each media if it is

Best of Luck

Wishing all my Orchidian friends total Health Mental, Physical,
Spiritual and Social.

Strive to be Happy

Dear Valerie,

First and foremost it is important to know that the two basic types
of tumblers are distinctively different as to what they can and
cannot do. Rock tumblers of the old rotary type are the only
tumblers that will shape rocks; vibratory tumblers do NOT shape
rocks. The cheapest rotary tumblers that I know of are available
through Harbor Freight for well under fifty dollars. Later, you may
want to graduate to larger and more capable tumblers available
through companies such as Rio Grande.

Vibratory tumblers are great for processing jewelry, but for the
beginner it would probably be best to limit their use to burnishing
metals that have already been prepolished. The least expensive
vibratory tumplers are the ones used for shell casing burnishing by
gun buffs. Make sure that these machines can be used for your
purposes before buying one. Many of them are now limited to dry
burnishing and are not engineered for heavy loads or coarse
abrasives. They can be had for about sixty dollars.Again, if you want
to graduate to something best suited for your purposes you should
source a unit available from a large supplier. If you should want to
learn more about this selection you should get ahold of a tool
catalog from any of the suppliers who specialize in the needs of
jewelers. A catalog of this kind will be an invaluable source of
as to what each kind of machine can or cannot do. You
will also be able to learn about the myriad media options that are
available for specific purposes. Another consideration would be to
look in the book section of a large supplier and try to get ahold of
a paper back book on Tumbling. Tumbling is not near as simple as you
might think. There are many dos sand don’ts that have to be followed
in order to get the desired results.

Good luck !
Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca


I do have some of the catalogs that you spoke of, Rio Grande, Otto
Frei, Kingsley North, etc. and that is why I’ve gotten myself so
confused. They do give a lot of but I just wish they
would say, “Beginners, Start Here!”. But I guess that would be too
easy. Anyway, thanks again for all the great ideas. I think I will
just start out with just a simple rotary tumbler, for now. Then I
can graduate up to Vibratory tumblers.

I did go to Harbor Freight as you suggested, but they looked so darn
cheap I didn’t buy one. I guess I’ll head on back there or just buy
the Lortone Brand off the internet. They might be a better bet since
you can get replacement parts easily.

I will look into the book you requested. I’m sure it will get me on
the road to knowing what the heck I’m doing (smile).

Thank you so much for all the detailed advise. I have certainly
learned a few things from you.


Please get Judy Hoch's book on tumbling. It covers all the basics
of equipment and its use. The book 'Tumble Finishing: Mass
Finishing Techniques for Handmade Jewelry' is available from Rio

If I may, I also carry Judy’s book.
in the Books and CDs section.


Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Valerie, I have a Lorton rotary tumbler which I have used for 20
years with no problems, except replacement of a worn belt. You can’t
go wrong with a Lorton, and as you mention, you can always get
replacement parts.


There’s a huge discussion on another list about the massive
shortcomings of inexpensive tumblers. It is such a crap shoot. Right
now the problem du’jour seems to be really inferior quality belts.
Add to the mix a motor that tends to be too small for the loads
expected to run, and a barrel that degrades too quickly, and it
spells a recipe for disappointment. I’m not saying buy the absolute
top of the line model, but don’t go for the bottom of the line
either. There has to be a happy medium somewhere.

Is this tumbler to be used for tumbling rocks or polishing findings
and finished jewelry? I use mine mostly for polishing jump rings and
brightening up my wire wrapped pieces. I seldom run it for more than
3 days continuously. I would think that if the beginner is planning
to rumble rocks, they should seriously look at getting a better


I can’t remember or didn’t see the original post for this topic this
discussion has been had before. But, I do have something to add that
I haven’t said before. Now, I know this will not be a popular view,
but it has worked for me.

For my first tumbler, which I bought several years ago and still
use, I went to a gun shop and got a vibratory tumbler (I know this is
not the correct name) that is meant to be run with dry media. I got
this one because it was heaps cheaper than any of the tumblers in the
jewellers catalogues - about 1/3 the price of the cheapest I had seen
in a jewellers catalogue - and I didn’t have much money to spare at
the time. To hold the bowl onto the shaft there is a rubber
screw-down thingy I start by screwing that down tight so that the
bowl is properly sealed off from the shaft and no water can drip down
into the motor casing. Then the tricky part you have to do some tests
to see how much polishing media you can put into the tumbler without
dampening the vibrating effect because of weight. My tumbler is quite
large and I have found I can about half fill it with ceramic media
or run it with just a little steel shot in it enough to cover the
piece of jewellery the maximum amount of each you can use takes a
while to figure out.

When it comes time to add water to the polishing media I pour it in
carefully from a jug carefully because you can’t afford to drip onto
the motor casing which is not air-tight as it was not the
manufacturer’s intention to run it with water. (You don’t need much
water). Then run the tumbler it gets very hot here in the summer so I
have to have a fan blowing on the motor casing in the summer to stop
it from over-heating I never have it over-heat with the fan running.
I have found that if the item is not polished after 4 hours it is
because I didn’t do the pre-polish work properly there doesn’t seem
to be any point to run it more than 4 hours after 4 hours it seems to
be as good as it could possibly get.

I don’t use my tumbler often if I was going to start using it
everyday I think I would upgrade to a rotary tumbler there was one of
these at a place I worked for a short time and it was very quick and
effective it would take only 20 minutes to polish jump rings, basic
rings, shields etc sometimes less if we were in a real bind for time
Also, another thought, small jump rings I had a co-worker who once
needed a short run of small jump rings polished quickly but the
tumbler was already loaded with something else he took an old, clean
flux jar, half filled it with polishing medium water and soap and
stood there shaking it up and down for about 5 minutes the jump rings
came out nice and bright. So, I guess that’s another possibility very
limited of course.

RR Jackson

I too use a tumbler from a gun shop. I have them at home and work. I
paid $44. for it and it has a lifetime warrantee. I have indeed
replaced one after six years use at no charge. The company I bought
it from is Midway. I do repairs and keep that baby running all day.
It polishes the heck out of chains and most silver items. I do have
to polish gold rings on the wheel. Charm bracelets and such that are
impossible to polish, are a breeze. I run mine all day and don’t use
a fan on it. I have paid for it several times over by offering to
polish those 10k chains for $5. each. They pick them up 2 hrs. later
and their eyes light up at how good it looks. I use stainless steel
shot with burnishing compound from Stuller or Rio. I have found that
Simple Green is the best cleaning agent. I buy that at the grocery
store. It is indeed one of my most important tools. Saves my hand
from alot of wear and tear.


I paid $44. for it and it has a lifetime warrantee.

Thank you for the great Where do you go to get such a
tumbler? I never approached any gun shops or their manufacturers.
Could you, please, point me in the right direction?

Thanks a lot in advance,
Ayalla D.