Tumbling - separating items from media

Has anyone a good method of separating tumbled items from media. I
use quite large ceramic chips to process silver items and have not
managed to work out a simple method of recovering the items except
by hand picking, quite long and laborious. Separating them from steel
shot is easy using a seive but not so easy if the items are the same
size as the ceramic chips, a custom made seive will not work. Any


Hi David:

If the parts are the same size as the media, hand picking really is
your only shot. If it’s annoying enough, change the media size until
you can use a custom sieve. (I made a bunch of sieves by finding some
plastic pans that were a good fit into the top of 5 gallon paint
buckets. Drilled a bunch of holes (of particular sizes) into them,
and away I went. Failing that, if the parts are different shapes than
the media, you might be able to make a sieve with oddball shaped
holes that would admit the parts, but not the media. It’d be slow,
and a right pain, but maybe faster than hand picking. Personally,
I’d change the media, bust it up with a hammer, or run it until it’s


Thanks Brian,

I do have some custom made seives using old ice cream cartons (1ft x
1ft x 1ft) with holes drilled in the lids. Grinding down the media is
an option or using old media I have discarded (but kept) because it
is too small for my Otec machine. I will have to be inventive and
selective with my batches of work unless a magic solution is revealed
to us!


If the items being tumbled have a hole through them, one way to make
it easier to retrieve them from the tumbling media is to thread a
wire through the hole in each & put a number of them on the same
wire. Then instead of having a lot of small individual pieces you’ve
got a large grouping of items that’s easier to find.


David - the obvious answer to separating pieces is to use the
various size screens and bucket made for the purpose. But if your
media and your pieces are the same or very similar size, I have
another suggestion.

I started using this technique when I had a lot of tiny pieces. Now
I use it all the time. Connect several of your pieces together with
flexible plastic ties - I like the ones that are like fishing line
that have a lock on the end. I can position one piece in the middle
of the string by tying the plastic and then add another and close.
You can stop there or make more modules and interlock the strings.
That way if I’m processing 30 pieces, I would usually have three
distinct strings, each with 10 pieces. If you are doing earrings, use
bits of chain and the stud protectors sold for tumbling to make a
string of earrings. While it seems like a nuisance, the time you save
will make it all worthwhile. I sometimes use small zip ties but they
force you to only put one piece on a tie.

You can either fish the strings of jewelry out of the media or dump
the contents of the tumbler into the largest sieve and the strings of
jewelry will be on top and all the media bits will fall below.

I don’t know the proper name of the flexible plastic ties but I got
them in a big package of zip - electrical- ties from Sams club. Uline
has them as security loops, 5000 9 inch for $36US.

Judy Hoch

When tumbling small pieces, if possible I link them in pairs with
paper clips. This also gives me a better way to grip them during

Janet Kofoed

I started using this technique when I had a lot of tiny pieces.
Now I use it all the time. Connect several of your pieces together
with flexible plastic ties - I like the ones that are like fishing
line that have a lock on the end. 

I do something similar. I use stainless steel ‘memory wire’. I curl
a tight loop in one end and string a metal bead on it as a stopper
(keeps charm loops from working their way through the coil and off of
the wire). Then I string several small charms on there, add another
bead and curl up the other end of the wire.

Make sure the wire ends are curled inside the loops so they can’t
scratch anything. I don’t space the charms apart, but I do leave a
couple inches of extra wire so they can slide around during
tumbling. I’ve had as many as 30 tiny charms on a wire at once with
several such filled wires in the tumbler. The charms all tumbled well
and came out just fine.

When they’re finished, I cut one loop off of the end of the wire to
free the charms. I save the wires for re-use in the tumbler until
they become too short to be useful any longer.

Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Jewelry

For items that you cannot string up I tip out onto a large (18"X30")
tray I got from a garden centre, you tip the shot along one long side
and shake the shot down. The silver items stick to the wet surface,
at least to a certain extent.

If you put less shot in the tumbler it is faster to sift through it.

regards Tim Blades.

If you’re using stainless steel media you’re probably stuck with
hand picking through it all if the pieces are near to the media size.
If you’re using carbon steel media a good magnet might help.

Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Henderson, NV