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Tumbler? ultrasonic? magnetic? steam?

I have none of the above and would like to buy one of them for
jewelry finishing and cleaning. Can someone tell me what are the pros
and cons of each. FYI I am a jewelry student who will never go into
business, so I’m not looking for something big and/or expensive.


Hi Ronny, welcome to the fold!

Of the things you are asking about, I would recommend you first get
an ultrasonic. The reason is that dirt is your enemy. It will
interfere with practically everything you do. You can get by with a
boil-out (a covered pot of water on a hot plate kept at the boiling
point) and a toothbrush for some things, but if you want to do much
soldering, you’ll want to have things far cleaner than that. If
something is just a little dirty and you start to heat it, you can
burn the dirt, making it black and almost impossible to remove
without an ultrasonic. Any kind of grease or wax, even a fingerprint
near a solder joint can prevent solder from flowing. Dirt will give
you more headaches than just about anything else. You will also need
a non-abrasive method of removing firescale, flux and polishing
compound after soldering and polishing. An ultrasonic will take care
of all of these.

You needn’t spend thousands, but if you decide to buy them you
should get quality equipment. For an ultrasonic, a steel tank and
heater are definite requirements. Size is secondary, but the bigger /
more powerful (more volume = more transducers = more power) the
better. A small on-demand steamer like the Steam Dragon should be
just fine for your needs, and would be the second thing I would
recommend. The $99 variety might not quite cut it long-term, but
might be worth a shot if for no other reason than finding out whether
you need one or not. You can survive without a steamer though. I
recently learned that Neil the Jeweler didn’t have one and he got by
just fine.

Tumblers are nice to have but not necessary. I went decades without
one. We have a very small magnetic tumbler we got about three years
ago that we call “Tumbelina” that works great for our shop and I will
say, it’s pretty nice to have around. I wouldn’t mind having a larger
one, but I can’t justify the expense right now. I’ve also owned a
flow-through vibratory tumbler and as far as tools go, it was the
worst waste of money I’ve ever spent. It did a fine job, but the
amount of time required to operate and monitor the tumbler coupled
with the cost of the equipment and recurring cost of the media far
outweighed any savings. I used it primarily for production style
work, mainly finishing castings. It would probably work great if we
were doing more castings, but unless you are doing more than 50 or
100 castings a week (we were doing about 20 to 30) it isn’t worth
the effort, in my humble opinion. Others may have had different

Good luck to you Ronnie!
Dave Phelps

Hello Ronnie,

machines do what they do the best and that is reproduction. If
nothing changes in the process, you get every time the same results.
Tumblers are polishing or grinding (according the tumbling media)
and more then one item each time. Magnetic’s do allmost the same but
with a different result and for for other purposes. Ultrasonic’s
remove dirt in very small places very accurate and precise and very
good results. Steaming is more related to casting for removing
investment from items however, steaming can be used for cleaning
items aswell but keep in mind that some organic material
like pearls and others do not withstand the heat.

I never wanted to start a toolwar and I not going to give people
another chance to question this subject. The world is already full
of war and the meaning of this forum is for sure not to start another
meaningles stupid war. My respect for the hard labor of Hanuman and
his good intentions are to honnest and greatfull ! That beside the

Do you need them? At a particular point you chose for a certain
level, faster work, mass production or whatever you goal is, that
you have to go into buying machinery. Another choice can be that
these machines are making your life more comfortable. If you like
machinery, it can be that you become a toolfreak (no offence meant
to anybody) and you just want to have them. All these machines do
have a place (and a price tag) in this jewellery world even a very
simple flex shaft but you can live without one…if you chose do
drill a hole with a drillbow. The answer to this question is left
free and up to everybody’s own choice Ronnie. If you’re doing fine
without any of them, then keep on doing what you do. True
craftmenship comes from the hart and it’s up to you to chose your
tools to make it happend.

To everybody on this forum, this is my last contribution. I’m still
going to read and follow fine conversations but I’m not going to
reply anymore. I’m not going to end up like Neal the jeweller, live
is a way to precious, more precious then any jewel!

Keep in mind, have fun and enjoy…stay honnest, particular to


I have none of the above and would like to buy one of them for
jewelry finishing and cleaning. Can someone tell me what are the
pros and cons of each. FYI I am a jewelry student who will never go
into business, so I'm not looking for something big and/or

Since you’re not going into the business, get none of them. Stones
can fall out and weakly soldered parts can fall off. Better to take
your jewelry to a professional and have her check your prongs, etc.
before cleaning.

Soaking in a warm solution of detergent with a dash of ammonia
followed by a scrub with a toothbrush works well for cleaning

If you do invest in a machine I would recommend the ultrasonic
because it has a wider range of other uses. Using appropriate
cleaning solutions an ultrasonic will clean your eyeglasses,
grandma’s jewellery, a carburretor, and gun or bicycle parts. Very
small holes can be cleaned or unblocked; an atomizer, inkjet
cartridge, drawplate, sharpening stone. An ultrasonic will also
speed up the diffusion of solids in liquids, for example removing
laquers in acetone, or dissolving shellac in meths.

Bigger and more powerful (within reason) is better. The small
home-use ultrasonics are not very powerful and the small tank limits
their applications.


Yes, one can do without tumblers, ultrasonic cleaners and other power
tools, but if you are an one person operation who does everything
from production jewelry, jewelry repair, flatware and small garden
sculptures and teaches jewelrymaking, I find having a tumbler and
ultrasonic cleaner invaluable. Due to allergies to buffing in
general, I found mass tumble finishing works best for 90% of my work.
With all the rings I make and repair, an ultrasonic cleaner is superb
for getting jewelry really clean. In the absence of an ultrasonic
cleaner, Simple Green, a common household cleaner is really wonderful
for removing buffing compound and getting your fingers clean. As for
steam cleaners, I do lust for an industrial size one, but have one of
the little countertop steam cleaners ( $55 at that time) is great for
those once in a while jobs that needs a good steaming to get clean,
plus it travels well. There is one tool I can’t do without is a small
belt sander makes life so much easier in the filing dept. However, my
belt sander died last week, so I have to get a new one fast. One last
tip, the 3M deburring wheels are perfect for emerying metal.


Hi Ronnie,

I, for one, happen to love my little Harbor Freight tumbler that has
been chugging along for years. They go on sale now and then. I use
tumbling solution and stainless steel shot from Rio and everything
comes out beautiful, shiny and perfectly work hardened.

Good luck with whatever you choose.

I’ve had very bad luck with the Harbor Freight tumblers. The belt
keeps breaking because it is obviously underdesigned. After
replacing he belt repeatedly I finally gave up on the unit.