Tag Archives: jewellery workshop

Tool Time – Barrel Polishers


For the next post in our series about great workshop tools to add to your collection we are going to be talking about Barrel Polishers (also called Tumblers)!

When you first start to make silver Jewellery you will probably polish by hand using sand paper of varying grits to get a nice smooth finish on your piece, and a liquid metal polish such as Glanol which comes as part of our fab new polishing and finishing kit.  This process can take quite a while to do by hand, and we have no doubt that soon you will be looking for a tool to speed up your polishing and finishing time.

There are a few options in terms of polishing machines you will want to consider such as a pendant motor, micromotor or even a bench polisher, but one of the most common polishing tools that are purchased first for a new workshop is the Barrel Polisher (also known as a Tumble Polisher).  So what does it do?

A barrel polisher allows you to quickly and economically polish small quantities of Jewellery and Jewellery findings and components at the same time.  You place your Jewellery in the vaned container or ‘barrel’.  And depending on the finish you want you either add steel shot and a teaspoon of polishing compound such as BarrelBrite and just enough water to cover everything and have approximately 1cm of water above the steel shot; or cutting powder, ceramic cones and water for a matt finish.


Shot and Barrelbrite in the barrel.


Jewellery ready for polishing, plus enough water to cover the shot added.

You seal up the barrel so it is watertight as per the manufacturer’s instructions and place onto the rotating motor.  Typically the motor just plugs in at the wall and starts as soon as you turn on the switch at the socket.

Make sure that your barrel is not wet at all or it might not turn properly and don’t touch your barrel with wet hands when it is on.

Ideally tumble your pieces for as long as possible – I always aim to tumble my pieces for at least four hours but I often check them every hour to see how they are looking.  Please note it is best to open and drain your tumbler over a large plastic bowl or container so that you don’t lose all your shot and have to spend ages picking it up.

I normally tend to tumble either smaller pieces or larger pieces together as mixing them can cause damage to the smaller pieces.


The biggest benefit of barrel polishing your pieces is that you can polish multiple pieces at once – you can have your work polishing in the background whilst you do other things so it is a real time saver!

One of the key benefits of tumbling your Jewellery and findings is that the steel shot gently work hardens the outer layer your pieces which is essential for things like ear pins and ear wires.  I normally still gently hammer or twist my findings in addition to tumbling so that I am 100% sure they are hard and robust but the tumbler hardens them a little too and makes them lovely and shiny.


It is important that you bear in mind that for very smooth surfaces the little pins in the steel shot mix can occasionally leave little dents in your pieces.  For this reason you may prefer to remove the pins from the shot if you are polishing pieces with no texture, or chose another means of polishing your piece.

For intricate pieces you might find that the pins don’t quite get into all the nooks and crannies so you may need to either finish your pieces by hand, or look at investing in a pendant or micro motor.

If you intend to use different compounds to enable to you finish your pieces to a matt or polished finish I recommend having different barrels for different compounds so that you don’t get any contamination.  I have two barrels – one for getting a matt finish and one for getting a polished finish.

Barrel polishing won’t unfortunately remove any scratches so you still need to spend the time removing scratches beforehand using your files and your emery papers.

I wouldn’t recommend tumbling pieces with stones set or beads already set as there is a risk that the steel could crack the stones.

Finally please use stainless steel shot!  It is a bit more expensive to buy (do shop around) but it more rust resistant and so will save you money in the longer term!

Which one to buy?

There are a number of tumblers on the market that vary quite substantially in price.  The best piece of advice I can give you is to buy the best tool you can afford at the time.

I initially bought the Metal Barreling Starter Kit With 3lb Machine from Cookson Gold with the plastic barrel and lid.  However I found it was prone to leaking and you do have to heat the lid with warm water before use otherwise it was impossible to get the lid on without cracking it.  You can get replacement barrels, lids and belts for this machine.

Basic Barrel Polisher-CooksonGold

Metal Barreling Starter Kit With 3lb Machine from Cookson Gold

After about a year I upgraded my tumbler to one of the rubber ones.  I upgraded to the Cookson Gold Gold Pro one and I love it!   It comes in 2lb or 3lb sizes and you can buy the tumbler on its own or as part of a starter kit.  I have since purchased a second barrel to use with cutting powder and ceramic cones so that it is more versatile.  It is a great option for a good workhorse at a reasonable price.  FYI – I don’t tend to keep my shot and water in the rubber barrel – I transfer it between uses into a large jam jar.


Gold Pro Barrel Polisher by Cookson Gold

If you will be using your tumbler round the clock however, you may want to consider one of the semi-professional machines from Evans or Lortone or a Rotabarrel for the serious workshop!

Barrel Polisher

Author: Karen Young

 London Jewellery School Blog_Karen Young Bio

In the jewellery workshop: Hammer time

jewellery making hammersIf you were to create the sound track of the London Jewellery School studios, hammering would definitely feature.

Hammers are an essential for silversmithing as well as being useful for other jewellery-making such as wire work. So here are a few that would be useful in any jewellery workshop.

rawhide mallet

Rawhide mallet. This studio workhorse hits your silver with less force than a metal hammer so is useful for shaping your pieces when you don’t want to damage the surface.

jewllery making textureing hammers silver

Texturing hammers do what they say on the tin. The ridged patterned ends allow you to make patterns on you metal. They come in a wider variety of patterns. Our beginners silver students usually enjoy testing out a range of these hammers on copper to see what they can achieve.

ball pein hammer

Ball-peen hammer. These all-purpose hammers can be used for flattening and shaping metal, removing dents and to drive chisels, punches, stamps.

planishing hammer

Repousse hammers can be used for both planishing and forming metal into complex shapes and for light riveting. They can be used with a doming block, anvil or sand bag. The large flat surface reduces the risk you may damage your piece.

riveting hammer

Riveting hammers are light weight and used for securing rivet ends. The heads are relatively small to allow you to be precise.


Hammers can also be in wire work to flatten and work harden your pieces. The Whammer pictured was designed by wire jewellery specialist (and LJS tutor) Linda Jones has a domed metal end for flattening and hardening wires against a steel block and a nylon end for working with coloured wires so that the surface isn’t damaged.

In the jewellery workshop: Making space

Where do you do your jewellery making? Do you have a workshop or like many, have you colonised a bit of the kitchen table?

At this time of year it’s possible to bead in the garden or, like one of the London Jewellery School team, turn a flat’s balcony into an open air resin work space, but for most of us finding the space to create involves being creative in how we use out space.

So for some inspiration we took a look at other people’s solutions on Pinterest.

One solution suggested by former LJS student Maria Bateson  is to have a work space in a cupboard that can close everything away. Something like this one, we found on Pinterest.

jewellery workspaces


But you may have a built in cupboard or alcove that could become a bijou workspace like this one created by Jen from Iheart Organizing.

jewellery work spaces


You can also think about a multi-use space – how about a combined laundry and work space such as this found on countryhome.com. We’re sure there are other examples you could suggest.

jewellery work space


But even if you do have a larger workshop are set up, space is probably still at a premium so clever storage ideas are always worth considering – such as this wall mounted tool system

jewellery workshop


Please share you storage ideas or link to images of other clever workspace ideas in the comments below.


In the jewellery workshop: Going green at your workbench part 2

On Friday, Penny Akester suggested some easy changes you can make to make your jewellery hobby or business greener. Now she looks at items specifically used in the workshop…

jewellery workshop chemicals

Jewellery workshops can contain a lot of potentially harmful chemicals – make sure you know what is biodegradable and how to dispose of left over chemicals


The pickle usually used to clean your metal is safety pickle, despite it’s name, it is still a polluting chemical and if you’ve ever got some on your clothes, you’ll have found the holes it creates. A safer and more environmentally friendly alternative is citric acid which you can get from a supermarket or pharmacy. Use it warm and it will do the same job as a standard pickle. Also think about what you do with your used pickle – whatever it’s made of, it should not be disposed of down the sink because it will contain residue of heavy metals – let it evaporate, then wipe out the residue with a tissue.


Standard resins are toxic and manufactured from potentially dangerous chemicals, bio-resin is a more ethical alternative, without the toxic fumes, formulated from sunflower oil, it is used in museum restoration because it will stay clear and not yellow with time as some other resins do, it is also non-toxic and food safe. It makes more bubbles than standard resin, which can be used for effect in your designs.


Lead is often used in enamels, but is a poison and there is now regulation regarding lead content for consumer products – to avoid any risk to yourself or people wearing your jewellery, look for lead free enamels.


Always make sure to save your offcuts, filing dust and any other metals – you can take them to a metal dealer to be recycled and you will be surprised how much money you get for them too!

If you’re interested in casting your own pieces, silver can usually be melted up to twice before the alloy degrades and it needs to be sent off to be re-processed.

Clean up

Use a separate hand vacuum to clean work areas and always use a bench skin to catch your waste, then re-claim the metal from the contents. Keep all your waste sandpaper, sweepings and other waste (if you work in silver clay – keep all those used baby wipes too) in a bag which you can then send away to reclaim the metal. Not only will you be recycling metal and getting some money back for new supplies, but keeping your work area clean will help you work more efficiently, there will be less dust that you could be breathing in and it will also prevent any contamination between different metals.

These are just a few ideas to get you started – look out for more articles here in the future, and in the meantime, for more information and links to lots of other useful sites – check out http://www.utedecker.com/ethical_jewellery.html#tips. Ute Decker is one of several jewellers leading the way in creating beautiful jewellery that is ethically produced and she has collected together a huge amount of information to help other jewellers looking for greener or more ethical options.

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve made any changes or are interested in green or ethical jewellery issues – please leave a comment here.

In the jewellery workshop: Lighting

Lighting is an essential aspect of your jewellery making space regardless of whether you have a permanent workspace or have to set up an area when you want to work.

jewellery work bench

Being able to see your work clearly is key if you are to be able to complete fiddly tasks, ensure colours work and finish items to a high standard. As well as reducing the chances of eyestrain and headaches.

Some jewellery makers prefer natural light for some jobs. For example some people choose to do work such as pearl knotting in natural light in the mornings whereas if you are torch firing metal clay you need to be able to reduce the light in your work space.

If you do have natural light in your workspace arrange your bench so that the best of the light hits the area you will have the piece you are working on in but don’t place your chair between the window and bench and create a shadow.

Even if you have natural light you may still need extra light to fill in shadows, and if you work in the evenings or don’t have natural light then you will probably need more than one light to eliminate shadows and let you do detailed work.

Thinking about the lighting for your bench or table, there are a few key considerations such as ensuring the brightest area of light is where you will be working, reducing shadows and avoiding any glare in your eyes,

To achieve this you may need more than one light positioned at different angles.

jewellery making light

Consider lamps, such as the one pictured (by Daylight  Company) that clamp onto your table or bench  and which have flexible or adjustable necks. An adjustable neck will allow you to angle the beam of light into the best position for you to work. Using a clamp on lamp can save you space because you don’t need lots of table space for the lights which could also be fixed to shelving around your work space if necessary. These lights can also be repositioned depending on what you are working on.

Another issue is whether to use daylight or full spectrum lights. These, as the name suggests, are designed to closely replicate daylight. With a similar “colour temperature”  to natural light, which is colder and whiter than normal household lighting. These are useful for both reducing eyestrain by giving you a clearer light on your work and for showing colours more accurately – important if you are matching colours in resin or polymer clay for example or work with gemstones. Daylight lamps generally give the appearance of matural light while full spectrum lights more closely give off light closer to what you find outdoors.

As has been said with other workshop items, buy as good lighting as you can afford. It will make you more productive and a good quality lamp is likely to be hard wearing and last longer. But as always it is also worth asking other jewellery makers what they use and how robust they have found particular lights.