How To Polish Metals with a Rotary Rock Tumbler
Professional tumbling machines use special polishing media, but for the home studio, a small tumbler with a rubber container filled with stainless steel shot works just fine. I use shot that is composed of three different shapes to get into small crevices of my work. Buy 10 lbs. of shot -- it's really not all that much, and will fill two containers. I use a tumbling machine that holds two canisters that I can run at the same time. If you already own a lapidary tumbler, all you'll need are rubber containers and stainless steel shot.
Here's an important note: The tumbler works like a burnisher. It won't remove scratches, nicks, or other surface imperfections. So, you'll have to get rid of those beforehand. I find that removing scratches, then polishing with white diamond, then washing the piece completely before tumbling, gets me the best results. I recommend tumbling before you set any stones in your piece.
Here's how to set up the tumbler:
a. Fill the tumbling container half-full with shot, then put in your piece. If you have several pieces, alternate loading shot and the pieces until the container is 2/3 to 3/4 full. Avoid loading very fine chains because they will end up hopelessly tangled.
b. Pour in lukewarm water until the shot is covered, plus about 1/4 to 1/2" more water.
c. Add a squirt of Dial liquid hand soap or similar liquid detergent (or burnishing compound).
d. Close up the container tightly and turn it on its side. If water leaks out, you need to close it even tighter.
e. Completely dry off the container. Wet surfaces will slip, not rotate.
f. Place the container on the machine and turn it on.
g. Tumble for 1 hour, then check your pieces. A 2-hour tumble is usually sufficient to bring out a dazzling shine.
h. When the tumbling is finished, go to the sink and carefully pour out the contents into a wire mesh colander (with very tiny holes). Remove and rinse your pieces, then thoroughly rinse the shot and the container.
i. Slowly pour the shot out onto a towel to air dry. Then, gather up the edges of the towel and return the dry shot to the dry container for storage.
Article by Judy Kiriazis, Heart of Stone Studio.
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