Pieces that have been annealed prior to finishing will finish much better if you first run them in stainless steel to harden for a couple of hours, then proceed with the abrasives, steel, and buff.

Try engraving bright texture on pieces after the cut-down step and skip the burnishing.

Antique pieces before the abrasive process. The abrasive media will take off all the extra and leave antique finish in crevices. Don’t use buff after steel however; sometimes it will clean out the antiquing.

To emphasize planishing on round wire stuff, clean and finish when round, including burnishing, then planish. Be sure your hammer is shiny and flawless, anvil is shiny. Then complete in hardwood or shell buff.

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Bend French wires after all processes—avoids tangling.

For a poor man’s flow-through, set up a gravity system to supply your tumbler. I used a 2-gallon pail, put a plastic fitting in the lower side, fitted a needle valve in-line, and hooked it onto my tumbler. Drains into a 5-gallon pail. Tumbler sits on a home-made box that straddles the 5-gallon pail. Fair warning, this is not a recycle system so be sure that you don’t run out of liquid.

When burnishing very detailed pieces, use stainless pins in your mixed shot. Don’t use them any other time because the pins will often strike the work pieces with the pointed ends, creating a very undesirable pitting or orange peel appearance. If you must try mixing pins with your other stainless steel media, the pins can be removed with a medium strength magnet. I use the kind of magnet sold in fabric stores for picking up pins. If you put a plastic baggie on the magnet prior to picking up the pins, it is easy to get the pins off the magnet by removing the baggie. Yes, I know stainless steel isn’t magnetic—but it is—a little bit. And the pins are very light. There is also a special magnet gun that will pick up the pins.

Alternative processes. You can use a rotary tumbler for both abrasive and burnishing steps, but the cleaning steps will take 3 to 4 times as long and will not be as aggressive. You can use a vibratory tumbler for both processes, but you have to buy a more expensive one with special bowl for the steel shot. The shot must roll and that takes a big motor. Vibrating steel takes about the same amount of time as rotating steel. If you can only afford one tumbler, use a vibratory tumbler and burnish with ceramic beads or angle-cut cylinders.

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Special Applications

Highly textured surfaces

These are extremely well suited to processing in a tumbler. If the texture is from etching, it is the only way to get a bright finish without distorting the etch pattern.

File and sand as usual, antique if desired, then run a single cycle with aqua Clean Cut for 12 hours, then 1–2 hours of stainless steel. It’s beautiful!


The whole reason I got in this business of mass finishing is chains. And a tumbler is great to finish them to say nothing of saving your fingers. I tell students—yes, you can finish chains on a buff, but it’s like working under your car with it just on a jack, not a good idea, and you can really get hurt. If you have extra fingers, go ahead. Else—tumble.

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Since chains are annealed, first run in steel for 1–2 hours, then aqua cones 8 hours, then steel 2–3 hours. Then for planished and forged chains, 24–48 hours in buff. The buff removes the haze from the burnishing. I do run gold chains in the combination of gray and green hone, 12 hours each, then the steel and red buff. Nobody can tell they are not hand-finished except I still have all my fingers.

If you are making loop-in-loop roman chain, tumble all the links prior to assembly. You will have a much brighter result.

Small Work pieces

String them on plastic electrical ties or non ferrous wire and fasten the ends securely. Finish as per description for desired finish.

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Always apply the oxidizing agent prior to any finishing. It will stay lots better.

Odd-shaped pieces

Things that are hard to buff like anticlastic bracelets are perfect in the tumbler. Do make sure that your tumbler is large enough to have them move freely in the media.

Prefinish odd-shaped pieces

Gold especially works well for this. If you have exotic shapes that are very difficult to finish inside bits, try tumbling and then a final hand finish on the accessible portions. If you do this with silver, you will have to remove firescale with sanding prior to tumbling.

Precious metal clay

Silver or gold, PMC, PMC+, and PMC3 are easily finished with a tumbler. To brighten and work harden, process in a rotary tumbler with stainless steel for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you wish to smooth your piece, carefully run for 1 or 2 hours in a light-weight plastic abrasive in a small vibratory tumbler prior to burnishing in the steel. PMC is softer than most jewelry metals and time to finish is much shorter than conventional manufacturing methods.

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