Polishing without Tumbling Wire Jewellery
by Karen Murdoch
(New Zealand )
Firstly thank you so much for your site. It is like a miracle to a novice jewellery maker like me. I'm getting a bit confused by all the advice around re polishing my wire wrapped work. There are so many options and products to use. I am considering getting a tumbler but here in New Zealand they are $ 2-300 and are wondering what you use when not using a tumbler. I work with both copper and sterling and have gemstones and pearls in my finished work that needs polishing. Any help and ideas greatly appreciated.
I find a tumbler an invaluable asset for polishing and finishing wire jewelry. Even items with pearls can be tumbled for a short period of time without damaging the pearls. Most gemstones tumble beautifully. Tumble polishing gets into those hard-to-reach areas and gives the jewelry a very neat, professionally finished look. And...... nothing works quite like it. Even though shipping rates can be dear, you may wish to check some on-line jewelry tool providers to see if you might be able to order a tumbler for less than your local suppliers are selling them for. Just be sure that the voltage such as 220 vs 110 is the right one for you.
Another consideration when purchasing a tumbler is the size. A 3 pound capacity tumbler uses one pound of Stainless steel shot. The larger the tumbler barrel - the more shot is required to tumble properly. You must factor this into the cost too.
The only alternative to tumbling is to hand polish with or without the assistance of a rotary tool. You can use fine 3M polishing discs (called Radial Bristle discs) with a flexshaft or other electric rotary tools such as a dremel or, buff by hand. Chemically treated polishing cloths work quickly to remove tarnish and buff the metal to a lovely shine. Some polishing cloths such as Sunshine Cloths are also available in a small buff form for applying with a flex-shaft etc. But for myself, I didn't care for them as they generated too much chemical linty dust - EVERYWHERE! You can also use felt buffs with a polishing compound like red rouge, but must be careful that these do not snag in your wire work. A soft toothbrush and dish soap along with hot water removes any residual buffing compound.
For wire jewelry, you want to avoid metal polishes/protective finishes like Renaissance Wax or other cream polishes as those get stuck down in the nooks and crannies of wire designs where you cannot buff them out. It not only looks bad, but over time if left on the metal, many of those cream polishes react with the metal causing unwanted discolorations.
Which ever way you go, I'm sure you'll agree that properly finished jewelry is a must especially if you're selling your jewelry or giving away to others. If you are creating larger volumes of jewelry, I think you'll find the initial investment cost of a tumbler well worth it in the long run. Thanks for your question and the kudos! Happy wiring!