Polishing Jewelry

by Barrie Edwards

As a jewellery maker, I was truly frustrated when it came to finishing jewellery on a buffing machine for many reasons. Primarily it was time consuming & I couldn't reach the more intricate areas. Then my husband discovered that we could tumble polish our jewellery in our rock tumbler (every good rockhound has one!). Now. There's no fuss, no muss, just great looking jewellery every time!

This method utilizes a burnishing effect caused by the tumbling of polished steel shot with your jewellery pieces, bringing them to a dazzling sparkle. The major benefits of this method are:

  1. No more dust & particles flying around the room.
  2. No more half-polished pieces flying around the room (go on, admit it - everyone's had a piece ripped out of their hands by a buffer!)
  3. No more burned, black fingers!
  4. And most importantly ... this requires none of your valuable time - you can sleep through the whole process if you want!

The only disadvantage I can think of is that you can't get a 'mirror' finish on very large flat surfaces.

Okay, so what's the secret? First, you will need the following:

  • Small rotary tumbler & barrel (separate barrels for jewellery & rocks, please).
  • Enough polished steel shot to fill the barrel at least half full.
  • Ivory Soap flakes (laundry soap - Ivory Snow - the kind that say’s it’s 99-44/100’s Pure Soap). Yes, you can use the small Ivory bar soap instead.   NO - don't use Ivory dish soap - too many bubbles!  And, no, you can’t use DETERGENT or everything will go an icky-icky BLACK.

It's very important that you make sure the piece you are going to tumble is emeryed as smooth as possible - just as if you were about to take it to the buffer. If you take extra care at this point, making sure you've removed any file marks & heavy scratches, you will save lots of time after it's tumbled.

Now, put the shot in the barrel. Fill with enough water to cover the shot by about ¾ of an inch. Add one tablespoon of soap. Put your jewellery in the barrel. Pop on the lid--tightly. Put the barrel on the tumbler & leave it to rotate for 6 to 8 hours. Remove barrel from tumbler, then remove pieces from barrel & rinse very well with water. That's it.  You're done! Now you can set your stones, if there are any, and you have a beautifully polished piece of jewellery!


  1. Always (and I mean always!) leave your shot in the barrel covered with water & soap. Even just a few hours with no water can cause rust to set in. Then you'll start to find your sparkly jewellery isn't so sparkly anymore. The soap (and this is why soap is the key) will prevent rust from forming on the steel shot by keeping air out of the water.
  2. Tumble polish one chain at a time. It's okay to add other jewellery, like rings & earrings etc. We have found though, that more than one chain tends to cause massive knotting.
  3. You will find that you can tumble even the most delicate pieces (I've successfully tumbled a 30ga sterling wire miniature tree). Only experimentation will show you how many pieces can be tumbled at once. As long as it fits loosely into the barrel, you can tumble it.
  4. If your piece has been antiqued with liver of sulphur or silver black, gently scrub it with a toothbrush under running water before you tumble it. If any of the blackening solution is left on when it's tumbled, you end up with green deposits in hard-to-reach spots.