In this article we cover the best tips and information on how to use a barrelling machine for polishing jewellery and precious metals.

What is a tumble polisher/barrelling machine?

Barrelling machines (regardless of size) consist of a container with a removable lid. This is then filled with a mixture of steel shot and water plus a cleaning compound.

It’s then rotated on a motorised unit to gently planish metal items to a shiny finish. Jewellery tumbling machines can also be used for de-burring, cleaning and cutting purposes, by varying the compounds and media placed inside them.

How to polish jewellery using a barrelling machine?

Here’s our guide on how to use a barrelling machine to polish your latest designs.

  • Remove the lid of your barrelling machine – make sure you’re familiar with how the lid is removed and put back in place by reading the product manual. This will avoid any leaks occurring during tumble polishing.
  • Take your mixed stainless steel shot for tumbling jewellery pieces (approximately 250g – 400g for a 3Ib barrel). Add it to the tumbler polisher.
  • Now take your barrelling compound. Add one tablespoon of the compound (Barrelbrite) into your tumble polisher along with the steel shot. If you have a larger unit, you may need more barrelbrite.
  • Fill your barrel with water.
  • Replace the lid, making sure that you’ve put all of the lid components back into place in the right order so that it is properly sealed.
  • Once sealed, place your barrel on the rotating unit.
  • Switch on and leave to rotate for about 30 minutes. This will thoroughly mix the water and the barrelling compound ready for your jewellery designs to be polished.
  • Remove from the unit, remove the lid and place your jewellery pieces into the barrel.
  • Seal the lid and polish for about 20 minutes (This time will need to increase the more pieces you place in your tumbler).
  • Now you’re ready to remove your jewellery component, rinse, and admire the professional shine!

Commonly asked questions about jewellery barrelling machines:

Now you know how to use your tumble polisher here are some commonly asked questions that we hear about using jewellery barrelling machines.

What can I polish in a barrel polishing machine?

Barrel polishers are best for small metal items containing fine detail, metals you can tumble include:

  • gold
  • silver
  • copper
  • brass
  • aluminium

Note: It is advisable to separate different metals to avoid any cross-contamination which may occur.

Metal polishing tumbler machines are ideal for wirework and PMC but not great for items with large areas of plain, untextured metal.

Do not polish the following in your tumble polisher:

  • chains
  • hollow items

Chains can be barrel polished, but they are likely to get very tangled so do consider this before throwing one in at the last minute.

Any hollow items may well come out with shot trapped inside, but this can be removed with a magnet or a little brute force!

Small items such as findings can be threaded onto a looped piece of wire which will save time when emptying your barrel once polishing is complete.

Finally, ensure you check the dimensions of the barrel itself when choosing a machine. The one pictured below has an internal diameter of 10.4cm, which can accommodate a bangle if required.

How long do you tumble jewellery?    

There is no definitive answer to this, but as a rough guide work on the premise of 3 hours. If you are polishing a few small items, you can start to check the polish after 2 hours. But it is not an exact science and you can’t over polish, so timing is not really too much of a concern.

Will barrel polishing remove scratches?

No. Like any polishing process, the final stage is using a tumble polisher. Before this, you must complete all the preliminary filing and sanding stages as you would normally do.

How many pieces can I polish at once?

This depends on the size of your barrel and the size of the pieces going into it. For example, if you were to have a 3lb unit similar to that pictured below, I would suggest putting no more than 10 small items (about the size of a thumbnail) in at any one time. Obviously if your items are bigger, you would put less in to the tumble polisher. You want the shot, solution and pieces to move freely to obtain a good polish, so the key is not to overload the unit.

Metal Barrelling Starter Kit with 3lb Machine (product code 999 600K)

Can I polish pieces set with stones?

It is best to avoid polishing metal pieces set with stones if possible. Softer and more porous stones will be damaged by the steel shot, and there are no guarantees that harder stones will survive unscathed either. If in any doubt, do some tests before jumping in with the main piece.

How to clean stainless steel shot for tumblers:

Steel shot and even stainless steel shot will rust if left damp, so it’s important to care for it well by either:

1. Laying shot out on a cloth and drying with a hairdryer until completely bone dry


2. Store the shot submerged in water with a large teaspoon of Barrelbrite, which will stop the rust from developing

Final Tips On How To Tumble Polish Jewellery

If you are still learning how to use a tumble polisher, the great thing about it is that you can’t really get it wrong. It’s a failsafe method for anyone nervous about using traditional polishing motors. At worst you may find a bit of leakage should you overfill the barrel, but this is easily rectified by removing some of the liquid.

You can also buy replacement lids for the barrels if you find they become loose over time. Providing you look after the motor, your jewellery polishing machine should last you for years and once you come to rely on it you will wonder how you ever managed without it.

An extensive selection of tumble polishing machines and accessories are available from Cooksongold, so why not get started with all of the tools you need for polishing your jewellery designs?

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Author: Cooksongold
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