Using a Tumbler for Polishing Jewelry with Beads

by Marina

Hi Stacy,

I would like to ask you about using a tumbler for polishing jewelry with beads as ceramic, lampwork, pearls, gems, corals. What kind of beads are safe using this process?

Thank you very much for this topic. Marina

Stacy's Answer:

Never tumble porous materials such as pearls, turquoise, coral or soft/brittle gemstones like fluorite or those that have been dyed. The tumbling will usually leach the dye right out of them and, believe me, you won’t recognize them when you remove them from the tumbler! Coated items should also not be tumbled with stainless steel shot. This would be such things as AB coated Swarovski crystals, glass ‘pearls’ and coated ceramic beads. I’ve never personally had the Swarovski beads or pearls damaged, but I’ve heard the horror stories of others that have. I have had some fired ceramic beads enter the tumbler one color and come out a completely different color, ruining the bracelet that I had used them on. Another thing to be careful with is satin finished glass lampwork beads as the stainless steel shot will transfer itself to the bead’s slightly rough surface, giving them a silvery sheen.

When tumbling your jewelry, tumble like items together such as three or four bangle bracelets or a handful of earrings. Do not tumble heavy items with lightweight items as the lighter items could be damaged.

And this is really really important!!!

When tumbling loose beads such as hollow Bali silver beads, etc., be aware that whatever sized tumbling shot can fit inside the hole opening of your bead, WILL!!! I can’t tell you how many of those little nails in the shot will enter into a bead and cram themselves in the hollow space inside the bead. It’s like a contest to see how many can fit themselves in there. And let me tell cannot get them out again. Your 6 gram bead now weighs 20 grams and fine beading wire cannot be forced through the bead. Your bead is ruined! So, to avoid learning this expensive lesson yourself, do what I now do and that is thread your beads using inexpensive copper wire or fat butcher string so no unwanted shot pieces can bully their way inside.

Comments for Using a Tumbler for Polishing Jewelry with Beads

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Feb 25, 2009
What about highly polished gemstones?
by: Barbur

Thanks for the information about tumbling. I have a pendant with a highly polished black onyx. Can that and other shiny gemstone finishes be scratched in the tumbler?

Stacy's Answer:

Onyx, a type of quartz, is pretty hard and should not be damaged by tumbling with the jewelry mix of stainless steel shot. However, there are a couple of things to consider.

First, use common sense and don't tumble your onyx with heavy items like big bangles that could damage it or leave it in the tumbler for hours and hours. If you're just touching up a pendant, one-two hours should suffice.

Second, some so-called 'onyxes' are actually black stones of unidentifiable origins that have been coated with a shiny lacquer to imitate highly polished onyx. If acetone does not remove the high polish from your stone, you are probably OK. I have successfully tumbled onyx and rainbow obsidian along with many other gemstones with no problems. On a side note, some jaspers can easily lose their high-polish finishes, so I don't recommend tumbling those for more than a couple of hours.

Sep 23, 2013
Ceramic Shot
by: Lynn

Hi Stacy,
Great website. I found it searching for tumbling info - yours is the most detailed. The best by far. Thank you for that.

I use copper, sterling silver and brass wire wrapping with gemstones (natural, not dyed, try to find hardness 5 and jasper). My question concerns tumbling finished jewelry pieces with a mixture of the above.

I haven't heard much about ceramic beads instead of steel shot. Does it only polish things? I was told it would be safe on stones but if it doesn't work harden wire or take off surface scratches from stone or wire, are they a "why bother" medium? When do you use them, if ever?

You mentioned tumbling may take off polish from rocks. Aren't they polished by tumbling, not dulled? Or are some of these gemstones polished using shiny product coatings instead? How do we know when choosing gemstones such as jasper?

Sep 17, 2015
Gold Filled Mars-PLEASE HELP
by: Tia

Hi, I am new to jewelry making and I stumbled upon your blog. First, I absolutely LOVE it! Thank you so much for all the tips and tutorials.

I just made my first ring with a rainbow moonstone cab. I realized after I finished burnishing that I put mars on the ring itself from the burnishing tool. Can I tumble this? Is there a certain sandpaper I could use to remove some of the mars?


Sep 19, 2015
Removing Burnisher Scratches
by: Stacy

Hi Tia!

Congratulations on finishing your first fabricated ring! Steel burnishers have a sharp point on them, so you've got to make sure it does not come in contact with the metal you're burnishing. Sometimes using the burnisher with the curved tip pointed up can help you avoid that. I often use an agate burnisher to finish the bezel of cabochons, but if the agate is harder than your gem material, you've got to be careful with stone-on-stone contact as the burnisher could scratch the stone just like a steel one.

Sadly, tumbling with stainless steel shot/water/dish soap will only give you shiny scratches. And, you can't use anything more cutting as you'll damage your gemstone. You'll need to smooth the scratches using pumice stone or silicone polishing wheels/tips for a flex shaft - available in different grits, or use the little 3M sanding bristle radial discs. You'll have to remove some of the metal with a courser grit and then use a finer grit to smooth the metal and then polish. Pumice wheels are safe around gem materials with a hardness of 5-1/2 or better. Moonstone has a Mohs hardness of 6 to 6-1/2.

You could use wet/dry sand paper and start with perhaps a 600 grit, then 800, then 1200 and then polish if you can shape it to access all the areas around your moonstone. But careful as sandpapers can scratch your stone! If you do not have a flex shaft, a dremel will work too, they just have a lot of vibration where a flex shaft is steady.

I hope your are able to successfully remove the scratches in your ring! Another option is to add a brushed finish to the entire ring.

Sep 23, 2015
Thank you!
by: Anonymous


Thank you very much I will try these options this weekend!

You're the best!

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