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Tumbler Questions

I just started making jewelry a couple of months ago. I have made
some simple pendant from soft colored/enameled 20 and 22g wire and
beads I bought at a local craft store. The pieces are pretty and
similar to ones I’ve seen for sale online. However I am afraid they
are too soft to sell.

They could be easily deformed from rough handling. I bought a cheap
rotary tumbler and attempted to work harden some of the pieces. They
were no more sturdy after 4 hrs of tumbling with ss shot. I then
exchanged the tumbler for a cheap vibrating tumbler to attempt the
same process. However the manual says this vibrating tumbler is not
suitable for ss shot. I am wondering if most people go ahead and use
shot despite the manufacturers recommendations (and if so do I put
water in with the shot which the manufacturer also advises not to use
in this tumbler)? I am not sure if I should just return this tumbler
and scrap the idea of selling these pieces because they are not the
quality of jewelry I want to sell or I should continue to pursue a
way to work harden them (most of the pieces are too twisted to work
harden with a hammer).

Anything you make for sale should be, well constructed, sturdy and
hold up well. The fact that you have these concerns about the
materialsyou got leads me to suggest that you do not use them, but
get better quality wire and beads.

The time and effort you are spending trying to make them work
hardened would be better spent making new items out of strong
materials. Sterling wire, as well as gold filled will hold up well.
Also, be selective about the beads you use. Alma

Hi Rachel,

My vibratory tumbler works just fine stainless steel shot. That’s
all I use in it, balls, pins and cones with Rumble Bright burnishing
liquid. I find it particularly useful for work hardening the hooks on

Jennifer Gow

Rachel - Tumbling is not a good tool for hardening. Deformation of
the metal is the best way. As you make the piece, twist, bend and
bend back, hammer, any of those will harden the metal.

As to steel in the small vibratory tumbler - believe it when the
manual says it is not suitable for steel shot. First the tumbler
motor isn’t strong enough to properly move the steel - it will just
jiggle and do nothing. Water in a tumbler not designed for wet will
likely short out the electrics.

Yes - steel should always be run with a liquid. There are special
products that lubricate, clean and create the proper pH for optimum
movement. Your rotary, regardless of size, will function properly
with steel shot.

Judy Hoch

It sounds as if you are, like most of us were when we began,
confused about the materials you are using.

Soft colored/enameled wires are usually made from non-precious
metals such as aluminum and they don’t work harden.

Having said that, the amount of hardening you get by tumbling silver
and gold is usually minimal.

If you are happy with the designs you’ve made then you need to
change the materials you are using.

If you can post some pictures of your pieces my guess is that
colleagues here will be able to recommend materials more suitable.

Rachel. That wire is intended to be decorative and to form and bind
things. I doubt that any amount of tumbling will harden the wire
enough to give the piece structure. To do this, you need to start
with harder wire.

You can harden wire by buying it hard, forging it, drawing it,
rolling it or manipulating it in some way. You can also heat treat
it. I draw dead soft 16 gauge SS wire to 20 gauge. By then it is
hard enough to make ear wires that hold their shape. You can also try
twisting the wire back and forth. This will take some time, but it
may harden it without deforming it.

I do this when I make post earrings. I solder the earrings to the
post material as pairs, pull and twist the two earrings now connected
to a common post (obviously twice as long as the finished post),
finish (you can hold the two on the wheel better as a pair than
separate. You can also find them easier in the tumbler as a pair),
then cut the post in the middle and finish the post ends. The pulling
and twisting will both test the solder joint and harden the post that
was softened by the heat of soldering the post to the earring. I
don’t know what all this manipulation will do to your enamel. You
might just go to the hardware store and buy some small gauge copper
wire and try working with it to see what you can do. There is a
current discussion on Orchid about the purity of copper wire, but
that shouldn’t be a factor in this experiment. Don’t let your
frustration stop you. For me, solving these problems is the best part
of making jewelry, and each problem solved makes you a better artist,
jeweler, craftsman or whatever you call yourself. Good luck. Rob

I successfully used a cheap vibratory tumbler with SS shot for 10
years. I feel I got my money’s worth.


I have found a tumbler will help to harden freshly soldered copper
wire pieces. 14ga. Or finer. And the tumbler is OK for hardening 20
GA. sterling ear wires if the metal is dead soft. But it can’t
harden the wire as well as if it was bought full hard or hardened as
Rob describes.

The tumbler is perfect for rounding the end of earring wires and
posts. And it is pretty good at doing what it was designed for.

Don Meixner