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Shine Bright: A Beginner’s Guide to Tumbling Jewelry for a Polished Finish

Polishing Jewelry in a Tumbler: A Beginner’s Guide

There’s something special about a shiny piece of jewelry. It catches the eye, and it’s hard not to turn your wrist to admire the sparkle.

But what’s the secret to achieving that lustrous finish? One technique that’s been around for centuries is tumbling.

In this article, we’ll go through the basics of tumbling jewelry, what you need to get started, and tips for achieving a beautiful finish.

What Tumbling Does

Before we dive into the specifics of tumbling jewelry, let’s explore the mechanics of tumbling. Tumbling is essentially a process of burnishing the surface of work-hardened metal.

By rubbing the surface of the metal with tumbling media, which comes in the form of small ball bearings, pins, or other abrasive shapes, the surface becomes polished and shiny. Tumbling also has the added benefit of work-hardening the metal surface, which increases the metal’s resistance to scratching and bending.

This means that the jewelry will be more durable and continue to retain its shine for a longer period.

What You Need

Now let’s talk about what you’ll need to start tumbling jewelry. – Tumbler: You’ll need a tumbler machine.

A rotary tumbler is the most commonly used type for jewelry tumbling, and they come in various sizes, so choose one that fits your needs. – Tumbling shot: There are several types of tumbling media to choose from, including stainless steel pins, mixed stainless steel, walnut shell, ceramic polyhedrons, ceramic pyramids, and porcelain balls.

Each type has its own unique properties, and it’s important to select the right one for your needs. We’ll discuss this more in the next section.

– Burnishing compound: This is a special compound used to improve the burnishing effect of the tumbling media. The compound helps to produce a more polished surface and enhances the work-hardening effect of the media.

– Distilled water: This is used as a lubricant to help the tumbling media move around easily and minimize wear and tear on your jewelry.

How to Pick Tumbling Media

The tumbling media you choose will depend on the type of jewelry you’re working with, the level of polish you’re after, and the type of material you’re working with. Here’s a quick overview of the different types of tumbling media and when to use them.

– Stainless steel pins: These are the most common type of tumbling media used in jewelry tumbling. They’re great for removing rust, oxidation, and tarnish from metal surfaces.

They produce a bright, shiny finish and are suitable for most types of metal. – Mixed stainless steel: This media is a combination of different shapes and sizes of stainless steel pins.

This allows for greater coverage of the jewelry surface and increased efficiency. – Walnut shell: This media is a natural alternative to steel pins.

It’s great for tumbling delicate or soft metals, such as gold or silver, as it’s less abrasive than stainless steel pins. It’s also a good choice for removing dirt and grime from surfaces without leaving scratches.

– Ceramic polyhedrons: These are small, pyramid-shaped media with rough surfaces that are great for polishing and burnishing small, intricate pieces. They’re also effective at getting into tight spaces and crevices.

– Ceramic pyramids: These are similar to the polyhedrons, but they’re shaped like pyramids. They’re well-suited for jewelry with flat surfaces and sharp edges.

– Porcelain balls: These are ball-shaped media that are ideal for polishing and cleaning surfaces without leaving scratches.

How to Polish Jewelry in a Tumbler

Now that you have your tumbler and media ready, let’s go through the steps for polishing your jewelry. 1.

Prepare your pieces: If your jewelry has any sharp edges or corners, you may need to mask these off to avoid damaging your tumbling media or other jewelry pieces. You can use masking tape or plastic to cover any areas that require protection.

2. Set up the tumbler: Add the tumbling media to the tumbler, along with enough distilled water to cover the media and your jewelry pieces.

Add a small amount of burnishing compound, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 3.

Run the tumbler: Seal the tumbler and turn it on. Leave it to run for the specified amount of time, checking on it periodically.

The length of time will depend on the type of tumbler and media used. 4.

Inspect finish: Once the tumbling process is complete, remove the jewelry from the tumbler and inspect the surface. If you’re satisfied with the finish, rinse the jewelry with water and dry it with a soft cloth.

If you’re not happy with the result, you can repeat the tumbling process using a different media or increasing the duration. 5.

Clean and dry media: Once you’re finished with the media, rinse it with water and dry it thoroughly before storing it away for future use.


Tumbling is a time-saving technique for achieving a beautiful, polished finish for your jewelry. With the right equipment and media, you can create a uniform shine that is resistant to scratches and bending.

Experiment with different tumbling media to find the one that works best for your jewelry, and remember to protect your pieces if they have sharp edges or corners. By following these tips, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and efficiently you can transform your jewelry into a shiny and durable masterpiece.

Types of Tumbling Media for Jewelry Finishing

Tumbling is a popular technique used in jewelry making to achieve a smooth and shiny finish on metal surfaces. The process involves placing the jewelry in a container with tumbling media and then vibrantly shaking it to abrade and polish the metal surface.

Tumbling media come in different materials, shapes, and sizes, with each type suited for specific applications and metal types. In this article, we’ll go through the different types of tumbling media and their unique properties.

Stainless Steel Pins

Stainless steel pins are the most commonly used tumbling media in jewelry finishing. They are composed of small pins that break down rust and oxidation on the surface of metal to achieve a burnished, half-bright finish.

The pins are heavy and abrasion-resistant, making them effective at wear-hardening the metal surface. Stainless steel tumbling media are well-suited for brass, copper, silver, and steel.

To achieve the best result, use a non-foaming soap and water mix to accompany the media.

Mixed Stainless Steel

Mixed stainless steel tumbling media is a combination of small-sized pins and mixed shapes of pins or balls. It is also referred to as jeweler’s mix.

Jeweler’s mix provides a bright finish on the metal surface, with mixing pin sizes allowing for greater coverage and improved efficiency in larger jewelry pieces. The mixed shape of the media improves the radius of the jewelry set, making it suitable for polishing the surface and eliminating tool marks.

The media doesn’t have any abrasive properties, making it ideal for jewelry with intricate designs or delicate surfaces.

Walnut Shell

Walnut shells are a natural and environmentally-friendly alternative to steel pins. They are composed of ground-up shells that are usually used for tumbling soft metals like gold and silver.

The tumbling process with walnut shells produces a mirrored finish on the surface of the metal. As such, it requires special treatment and a longer tumbling process compared to other media types.

Walnut shell media must be dry before use. The shells produce fine dust, which can be harmful if inhaled, and should not be used for tumbling ferrous metals.

Ceramic Polyhedrons

Ceramic polyhedrons, also known as triangular triangles, are cone-shaped ceramic tumbling media used in finishing jewelry. The polyhedrons do not grind the surface when in contact, but rather lightly abrade and even out the surface.

As such, they are perfect for improving the radii and edges on cast jewelry pieces. The media doesn’t leave scratches on the surface of the metal and is ideal for deburring sharp edges.

Ceramic Pyramids

Ceramic pyramids are similar to polyhedrons, but they have a pointed end that makes them highly abrasive. The pyramids are available in different grits for polishing finer metals.

The media is reliable in providing a bright and shiny finish on silver jewelry, with polishing times varying with the size of the jewelry. Ceramic pyramids are efficient in eliminating scratches, tool marks, and dents that surfaces can acquire during production.

Porcelain Balls

Porcelain balls are small, differently shaped, and delicate media designed for tumbling smaller jewelry pieces. The media is non-abrasive and ideal for use in deburring cast or stamped jewelry pieces.

The tiny size of porcelain balls provides a delicate finish to jewelry surfaces that require minimal touch-ups.

Preparing for Tumbling Jewelry

Tumbling jewelry is a process that requires the jewelry pieces to be prepared before inserting them into the tumbling bowl. It is best to tumble jewelry when it is directly before the stone setting, usually after the soldering process.

The pieces should be cleared of excess solder, and the surface should have a uniform sanded finish to ensure maximum effectiveness. Ensure that the tumbling cycle runs for the appropriate time to avoid overworking the metal and making it brittle.

Other Uses for Tumbling

Tumbling has numerous applications in jewelry making. The process is excellent in deburring small metal pieces, removing fire scale, and polishing surfaces before final polishing.

Tumblers are cost-effective and time-efficient, making them practical for larger jewelry productions.


Tumbling is an effective finishing technique that requires understanding the different types of media and their unique properties to choose the appropriate one for the intended application. The type of media used depends on various factors, including metal type, size of jewelry, and desired outcome.

By selecting the right tumbling media, you can finish jewelry with a stunning, polished luster.

Setting up and

Running the Tumbler

Once you have your tumbler and tumbling media, it’s time to set it up and start running it. In this article, we’ll go through the proper steps for loading the tumbler, running the tumbler, checking the finish, and cleaning and drying the media.

Loading the Tumbler

Before running the tumbler, you need to load it correctly to ensure maximum efficiency and the best possible outcome. Here’s how to load the tumbler correctly:


Add the tumbling media: The first step in loading the tumbler is adding the tumbling media. It’s important to add the right amount of media for efficient tumbling.

Overloading the tumbler can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the machine, while using too little media can cause the jewelry pieces to bump into each other and reduce the effectiveness of the tumbling process. The general rule of thumb is to fill the tumbler about 2/3 full.

2. Add water: Once you’ve added the tumbling media, the next step is to add water.

Use distilled water to avoid mineral deposits that could damage the jewelry and the media. The correct amount of water depends on the size of the tumbler and the amount of media you’re using.

It’s best to consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the suggested water to media ratio. 3.

Add soap or burnishing compound: Add a small amount of soap or burnishing compound. The soap works as a lubricant to keep the tumbling media moving efficiently and prevent damage to the jewelry pieces.

The burnishing compound is a polishing agent that enhances the burnishing effect of the tumbling media, resulting in a more polished finish. 4.

Add the jewelry: Once you’ve added the tumbling media, water, and soap/burnishing compound, it’s time to add the jewelry pieces. Be sure to evenly distribute the pieces throughout the tumbler and avoid overloading the tumbler.

Running the Tumbler

After loading the tumbler correctly, it’s time to run it. Here are the steps for running the tumbler:


Timing: The amount of time required for the tumbling process depends on various factors, including the type of tumbling media, the size of the jewelry pieces, and the desired outcome. It’s best to consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the suggested tumbling time based on your specific needs.

2. Monitoring progress: It’s important to check the progress of the tumbling periodically to ensure the best possible outcome.

Check the progress every couple of hours, inspecting individual pieces for scratches or excess solder, and shaking the tumbler periodically to move the pieces around for even tumbling. 3.

Noise reduction: If you’re running the tumbler in a shared space, it’s essential to reduce the noise levels. Place a rubber mat under the tumbler to reduce vibration and use earplugs to protect your hearing.

Checking the Finish

After running the tumbler for the suggested time, it’s time to check the finish. Here are the steps to follow to check the finish:


Remove the jewelry: Once the tumbling process is complete, remove the jewelry from the tumbler. 2.

Excess solder: Check the surface of each piece of jewelry for excess solder. Solder that wasn’t buffed off during the tumbling process can leave rough, unsightly spots on the surface, detracting from the polished finish.

3. Scratches: Check each piece of jewelry for scratches or other imperfections.

If some pieces have scratches, set them aside and run them through the tumbler again with a new batch of clean and fresh media. 4.

Examining each piece: Carefully examine each piece of jewelry, looking for any areas that might have been missed. Use a polishing wheel or a polishing cloth to touch up any area that needs further work.

Cleaning and Drying the Media

After finishing with tumbling the pieces, it’s time to clean and dry the tumbling media before storing it for future use. Here’s how to clean and dry the tumbling media:


Avoiding rust: It’s important to keep the media clean and dry to prevent rust, which can lead to damage to your jewelry pieces. When rinsing the media with soapy water, make sure to rinse it thoroughly and dry it with a clean cloth.

2. Soapy water rinse: To clean the media, fill a container with warm soapy water and pour the media into it.

Swirl the tumbling media around in the container to remove any dirt or debris that has accumulated during the tumbling process. 3.

Air-drying: Once the media is clean, remove it from the soapy water and place it on a towel to air-dry thoroughly. Ensure the tumbling media is entirely dry before storing it to prevent the growth of mold or bacteria.


Tumbling is an efficient, cost-effective, and straightforward polishing method used in jewelry finishing. The process requires correct setup and running to achieve the desired results.

Follow these steps carefully to load the tumbling media, add the water, soap/burnishing compound, and jewelry. Exercise proper timing, inspect regularly, reduce noise levels, and thoroughly examine each piece to ensure the desired finish.

Once complete, take extra care to clean and dry the tumbling media before storing it. In conclusion, tumbling is a highly effective and efficient finishing technique that yields impressive results in polishing jewelry.

With the right setup, running the tumbler, checking the finish, cleaning, and drying the tumbling media, jewelry designers and makers can achieve stunning and durable finishes. As a cost-effective and time-efficient technique, tumbling is an ideal finishing method for larger jewelry productions or as a final step in jewelry-making procedures.

Here are some frequently asked questions about tumbling to help you achieve the best results in your jewelry making and finishing process. FAQs:


Why is stainless steel tumbling media the most commonly used type in jewelry finishing? – Stainless steel

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