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Vibratory Tumbler Setup for Flat Pieces - Recommendations Please

Hello Everyone,

Just a quick intro. We’re a family owned small business, much like many of you, and we’re beginning to scale and need a few recommendations. We currently hand condition our pieces, which are made out of sheet metal (copper, brass, silver, gold, etc.), and we’re wanting to have thing run more efficiently. In reading archived posts from here I found several helpful hints, many of them from Judy. With all of those, I’ve come up with what I think will get us to as near of a mirror polish as we can, relative to hand polishing.

Please let me know your thoughts:

  1. Vibratory tumbler with Standard Plastic Pyramid Media, Blue, Medium Cut, 5-lb - 6-8 hours
  2. Vibratory Tumbler with Standard Plastic Pyramid Media, Green, Fine Cut - Unknown Time frame (Recommendations please)
  3. Vibratory tumbler with mixed stainless steel shot - 1-1.5 hours
  4. Vibratory tumbler with woodchips with pegs, charged with the appropriate compound - chrome
    oxide for silver, rouge or simichrome for gold - 24 hours
  5. Slight hand polishing if needed

We’re going to have a separate tumbler with media for each set of runs in order to make it as efficient as possible.

Also, we’d love recommendations for tumbler as well. I see the ones at Harbor Freight, but I’m a little concerned about quality.

We welcome any thoughts, and thanks in advance.

The harbor freight vibratory tumbler is good for stage 4.

If you get a higher quality vibratory tumbler for stages 1 and 2, search for one with stainless steel interior parts like the shaft and washers …logical for a wet environment, but uncommon in the marketplace.
A rotary tumbler might be a better choice for stage 3.

Call tech support at Rio. Then see if they will run samples for you to inspect. I have a large vibratory tumbler that I bought in 1993 when I was doing shows and needed to polish a lot of material. It worked OK, but I still needed to do hand work on my polishing wheel, especially for larger flat spots. The media may be different now, but the tumblers work the same way. My work is now more one of a kind and higher end, so the tumbler sits and it rarely used. From time to time I think that I should run it, but it would take longer than to do the work by hand. I am interested in what people think about magnetic pin finishers, so some feed back on them would be appreciated. Good luck…Rob


Thank you Betty and Rob.

Betty, I mistyped number 3. I already have a Lortone tumbler for the steel shot. What are your thoughts on the media and running times? Thanks!

Rob, my concern is that the pieces won’t be as nice as my hand polished pieces, but in reading, I think it’s about as close as I’ll get. I’m spending way too much time on each piece and I need to increase efficiency as we’re scaling. In doing a lot of reading here, Judy ha’s given recommendations to get as close as you can.

My concern are that these pieces are flat. A magnetic tumbler, from what I’ve read, is a poor choice for flat pieces, but a vibratory tumbler is ideal.

I run my magnetic tumbler for only 15 minutes at a time. I examine the results with a loupe!

In my mini-tumbler, I only put 5-6 light-weight items in the container. It is very limiting, but the results are great.

If your items are not moving, lighten the load. The items must move as they are rotating in the “tumbler container”. Just experiment!

Please go to:

I’m Gerry, On my iPhone!

I have a Harbor Freight Tumbler that I have used steadily for six months. It is pretty noisy but it does the job I need it to do. I use them mostly with ceramic media for cleaning and de-burring the pieces I am making. Flow thorough water and Dawn detergent is critical. I do a lot of hand work on my jewelry to get that finish that I want. And I have made devices to hold the pieces I am working on with variable speeds on my polishers.

I find it interesting that I am using Simichrome to clean up my rolling mill rollers but it never crossed my mind to try it on silver.

Don Meixner

Found another helpful tip from Judy and now I’m second guessing my setup.

I’m curious if she’s recommending just the round shot or the mixed. I currently have the mix. If this works for high polish, I wouldn’t need that extra tumbler. I could get two vibratory tumblers instead of 3.

1 for blue cones, 1 for red/green buff, and the Lortone I have for the shot.

Judy…Are you suggesting that all four runs be in the rotary tumbler or just the steel runs? Thanks…Rob

I have a Harbor Freight tumler that I have not used yet. Someone over on one of the rock forums suggested that, since their drums are rather thin, to spray the interior with aerosol truck bed liner before using…I have no idea exactly how well this might work. HTH, royjohn

Howdy Roy,

My one complaint with my Harbor Freight Vibratory tumbler is it is noisy. It otherwise seems to work fine. I have kept the vessels from two Vigor Tumblers that have burned up after many years of use and I may see if they can run on the HB base. If not I’ll just run with the vessel I have. I read the bed liner idea somewhere too and have considered that. The big concern is inconsistent thickness of application knocking the vessel out of balance which would cause it to, um, vibrate. But perhaps not in a good way. I don’t know if this would happen and I haven’t tried it so let us know what you find out. My feeling is that compared to the price of the big name tumblers the HB machine can be a limited lifetime tool and easily replaced for not a lot of money.

Don Meixner

---- rkersey wrote:

Adding my 2 cents here. I’ve been using the Harbor Freight tumbler with steel media for several years. Qualifier: I don’t use it even weekly, but when I get going, the tumbler is going all day.

When I first got the machine, I found that the pulley needed a slight adjustment to keep it from rubbing on the housing. That bit solved, it ran like a champ. Eventually the rubber ring that connects the pulley to the motor died and I could not find a replacement. Enter my friendly vacuum cleaner repair shop. They had the perfect replacement. I bought two!

I have had no issues with deterioration of the barrel. As per Judy Hoch’s little gem of a book, I use the recommnded burnishing compound and stainless shot. Set a timer to check the tumbler after 20 minutes. Some things are bright and shiny, others need more time. You have to experiment. Also plan to change the burnishing liquid as soon as it looks dirty. Again that varies, but it’s cheap and easy to do.

And that’s what I have to say about that.
Judy in Kansas, where it still feels like summer. Been a bad year for farm crops, but there is hope for the milo and soy beans.

I use an Otec rotary machine for fast cleaning up silver castings and then a traditional barrel tumbler for a finer finish with ceramic triangles. 3 hours in the Otec followed by overnight in the barrel. Using steel shot in the tumbler after this gives a bright polish but obvious orange peel finish.
So for most high finish pieces I cut out the last process and polish by hand/rotary wheel with Hyfin here in the UK. This gives a very fine finish, almost as good as rouge. Hyfin is supposed to be for polishing steel but a local jewellery manufactuer put me on to it many years ago. Available from Cooksons in the UK.

There are more expensive polishing machines made by Otec which may do the job to a very high finish but beyond our budget.

Man I was looking at the Otec Mini and it’s nice. Expensive, but nice. My tumblers arrive tomorrow so I’m excited and a bit nervous about how the pieces will ultimately look. I went with two Raytech 5lb vibratory tumblers. I need more efficiency to scale so I hope this works.

[Another Judy!] Just a little miscellaneous advice. I found the ceramic Sunshine spheres to be totally useless (and they can get stuck in crevices). My old Lortone rotary tumbler has been great for the last 30 years (and still is!). As for a mirror finish, the only way I got that (on base metals) was on a wheel, using White Diamond, but I don’t bother with that anymore. I have a vibratory tumbler but mainly use it with medium-cut media to smoothe edges and leave a matte finish. I’m not trying a lot of new things these days. I wish you well in your work!
Judy Bjorkman

Thanks Judy. It brings up an interesting discussion. Is high polish an unrealistic goal to both the jewelers and the consumer? Is the demand for high polish greater than a matte finish? Maybe I should go for matte instead.

In reference to the noise of some of the tumblers, you can build sort of a box of something sound-absorbent to prop over it. Maybe set it on a piece of carpeting.