Tumble -- A Second One?

Second Tumble

I must confess that I have forgotten what I was taught. It perhaps has happened to you too or will someday. 

When I learned about metal clay, I learned one of the steps was to tumble your piece in steel shot. What I have forgotten is what step. Is it after the brass brush? Is it after your piece is complete? Apparently, I have come up with my own system of tumbling.

Here is what I do. Religiously. But also depending on my desired final finish on the piece I am creating.

  1. I make the piece.
  2. I fire the piece.
  3. I brass or steel brush the piece.
  4. I “tumble” (1st tumble) the piece in steel shot with burnishing solution. “Tumble” is in quotes because I use a Vibratory Tumbler, which might more accurately be called a Vibratory Finisher. Such a tumbler vibrates the steel shot and creations rather than tumbling them.
  5. I patina the piece.
  6. I finish the piece to my liking — matte, high shine, a little of both, hand paint patina, etc.
  7. I “tumble” (2nd tumble) the piece in steel shot with burnishing solution. Thus, a second tumble.
  8. I dry, seal with an anti-tarnish coating (or not, depending on the piece), and dry again.
  9. I photograph the piece.

Here we go. Below is the traditional rotary tumbler that most folks learn about in the beginning. I was always fascinated when people said they tumbled their pieces over night, eight hours! The theory behind the tumbling, I was taught, is that the steel shot acts as a thousand tiny hammers, hitting the surface of your creation and compacting the silver more. This work hardens the silver.

Lortone rotary

Here is steel shot, which comes in many forms. I have come to not like the long pointed pieces; I don’t know why. They might be necessary for the hard-to-get areas. But they get stuck in small places. If you put a pipe cleaner in the small openings in your metal piece, the shot cannot get wedged in them. The different shapes of shot result in a different surface appearance, but I do not know anyone who can explain what these are. If you know, please do enlighten me. Anyway, you can buy steel shot by shape or as a mixture of all shapes.

Steel Shot

The solution to use varies. When I learned, it was a few drops of Dawn in water. Sheesh. A different solution to use is one made for tumbling silver and other precious metals in steel shot: a burnishing solution. Burnishing? Yes, as above, the steel shot is not only hammering the silver, it is polishing the metal by rubbing, which is burnishing, right? I use RioGrande’s Super Sunshine Burnishing Compound.

Burnishing Compound

Here is the vibratory finisher that I use. It’s a Gyroc and not that expensive. They can cost near $1,000. I have talked with the fellow who invented the Gyroc. He gave me good advice, which left me wondering why the instructions said one thing and he said another. Some advice he gave me was to fill the Gyroc 3/4 full of shot. And use just enough solution to make the steel shot wet but not puddle at the bottom.

Gyroc-B Tumbler

As a side note, he told me that some people who have experimented with the Gyroc discovered that for a final polish they used only round steel shot and almost dry shot for five minutes. Apparently, this puts a shine on the likes you've never seen. I have not tried this.

Below is a video of my Gyroc running, just to give you an idea of how loud it is. And you can see the steel shot in action and how your pieces are carried in a rotating motion. I have mine on carpet otherwise it walks around. I’ve also put mine on a switch because plugging it in and unplugging it got old. My vibratory finisher and studio are in my garage. I close the studio door, so I don’t have to listen to the rattle. Notice I pull out a chain before I pull out the one piece. 

You may want to lower your volume before you watch the video. 

I use the same shot and add solution as needed in my Gyroc for a few days to a week before I pour the steel shot into a strainer to wash with water. I let the shot dry when I’m not using it for a while. The steel won’t rust but the strainer might.

So, here’s my process and my thinking.

  1. I “tumble” my pieces after the brass or steel brush stage for at least 30 minutes. I have found that 30 minutes in a vibratory is equivalent to about 2 hours in a rotary tumbler. Remember, I do this to work harden the surface and burnish it. This way, in my mind, the patinas and solder that I might be using in subsequent steps are limited to surface areas only. As you may know, metal-clay metals are more porous than sheet or traditionally manufactured metals. Therefore, anything you can do to replace tarnishing chemicals in the pores with anti-tarnishing chemicals will give your pieces a nicer look and a longer non-tarnished life. When this “tumbling” is finished I rinse the piece well. I do this to wash off the burnishing compound, which would prevent my patina from being 100% effective.
  2. I patina the piece. Per usual.
  3. I finish the piece to my liking — matte, high shine, a little of both, hand paint patina, etc. Per usual.
  4. I “tumble" the piece in steel shot with burnishing solution exactly like before but this time for a shorter time. I will vibrate most pieces at least five minutes. This "tumble” cleans off any dust from my polishing process and saturates the pores with burnishing compound. If a piece has a high shine on it, I will let it vibrate longer, say up to 10 or 15 minutes. As the piece “tumbles,” the patina is removed. It therefore becomes a balancing act, as to how much shine I want versus how much patina I am willing to let go. After this “tumble” I rinse briefly in water again, and this time it is to remove the dirty burnishing compound. A longer rinse here may be so that I can add more patina in certain areas with a paintbrush or other tool. At this point, I have been known to soak my piece in a burnishing or polishing solution to make sure this is the last solution to get into my porous silver or other metal.
  5. I dry the piece for at least 30 minutes on a coffee mug warmer then seal all surfaces with an anti-tarnish coating (or not, depending on the piece). I often use EverBrite ProtectaClear, despite that a metal clay expert almost yelled at me once for using it. I have also used Brass Lacquer. I allow the coating to thoroughly dry. You will find the coating usually darkens your patina, which I love because I like drama in silver.
  6. I photograph the piece, but this has nothing to do with tumbling.

Chains are a special. I like to have my chains match my pieces that hang from them. So if my piece has been patinaed and polished, then so will my chain, O rings, lobster clasp, and more. I patina chains and finish them like the piece. I them put them in the vibratory finisher by clasping them closed and placing them in a circle around the middle post in the “tumbler.” You can see this in the above video.

Because I have so few photos this T & T, I will share some photos of my recent work. The brass in these pieces is very porous. In fact, when I tried to add water to join silver, the brass soaked it all up. So, the drying stage and the coating stage were important steps for the brass.

16-1175 kkd

Sterling Silver and Brass Bib Style Necklace

16-1174 1

Sterling Silver and Brass Ring

16-1173 st

Sterling Silver and Brass Cross Necklace

For online courses in metal clay, go to I Love Silver, where you learn how to design and create your own silver creations.

© Kris A Kramer 2018