How to Use a Rock Tumbler to Polish Jewelry

How to Use a Rock Tumbler to Polish Jewelry

You can use a rotary tumbler (rock tumbler) to polish jewelry and to remove burrs from jump rings or other metal components. The rock tumbler works much like ocean waves, rubbing metal pieces against each other to dislodge grime and oxidation and smooth sharp edges.

Jewelry Tumbler Materials List

You only need a few simple items to turn a rock tumbler into a jewelry tumbler:

  • Small rotary tumbler and barrel.
  • Soap (not detergent). Ivory soap flakes are recommended.
  • Polished steel shot. You want enough to fill the barrel about halfway.

Jewelry Polishing Procedure

  • Pour the shot into a clean barrel to about the halfway mark.
  • Add enough water to cover the shot plus about 3/4 inch.
  • Add a tablespoon of soap flakes.
  • Load the jewelry and/or components into the barrel. You want them to be able to tumble, so pack them loosely.
  • Seal the barrel and let the tumbler rotate for 6-8 hours.
  • When the pieces are sufficiently polished, remove them from the tumbler and rinse them well with water.

Helpful Tips

  • Keep your steel shot covered with soap and water. All it takes is a few hours exposed to air for the shot to develop rust.
  • Don't polish more than one chain at a time unless you derive pleasure from untangling some serious knots. You can add other jewelry in with a chain (earrings, rings, components), just don't polish chains together.
  • If you use the same barrel for jewelry as you use to polish rocks, make certain that the barrel is absolutely clean. Otherwise, you may find yourself scratching your jewelry rather than polishing it!
  • Remove chemical "antiquing" before polishing. Otherwise, a chemical reaction can cause green deposits to coat nooks and crannies.
  • Use extreme care if you are polishing plated or filled components (e.g., silver-plated or gold-filled). You run the risk of wearing or chipping the outer layer of metal.
  • Don't tumble components with stones, as they can become scratched or dislodged from their settings.