Saturday, November 7, 2009

3rd Edition: Chain Maille Tips and Tricks

One question that comes up often during chain maille classes at the Gemorama concerns the optimal way to clean and de-bur chain maille jewelry.  In my opinion, the very best method is tumble polishing.  Not nearly as complicated as it may sound, using a rock tumbler, stainless steel shot, and some burnishing compound, (which can usually be purchased wherever you normally buy your jewelry supplies), is the easiest and most effective way to clean, polish and harden the metal in your jewelry designs.

Pictured here are the Rio tumbler that I use, and two pounds of stainless steel shot, which is comprised of five shapes: round, tube shaped, one that looks a little like a flying saucer, a tube with angled ends, and a needle like shape with a sharp point on each end.  You might think that putting your latest masterpiece in a rotating bucket with stainless steel needles and things would scratch and dent your work.  Not so!  The tumbling action is actually very gentle, and  will only polish and harden the metal by tumbling against it.  It is even possible to tumble some beads without damage, although I would caution you to experiment first with one or two beads before putting the whole piece in to be tumbled.

You may have seen directions elsewhere on the internet that say to only put an inch or two of water in the tumbler barrel.  I have found that this method doesn't work at all for me - maybe we have extra hard water or something - I usually fill the barrel almost full, leaving about an inch or so of space at the top.  A capful of burnishing compound does a much better job than Dawn, at least in my experience.

I like to set the tumbler on the kitchen counter near the sink.  That way, if the cap on the tumbler barrel were to leak, the water would drain down into the sink.  That's the theory, anyway!  Obviously, the usual precautions should be used when using electrical equipment near a source of water.  I put an old dish towel under the tumbler to absorb any drips, and to cushion the tumbler base on the counter, so it won't scratch anything.

For quick clean ups, on previously tumbled jewelry, I use Wright's Brass Polish, which I buy at my local grocery store.  This works like a charm on every kind of metal that I have tried so far, although I would be very careful about using it on gemstones and beads.  I hold the piece in the palm of my hand, pour a little brass polish on it and rub it around for a few seconds.  A thorough rinse afterward will remove any residue.  One note of caution:  ammonia seems to be the main ingredient of this polish; please take any necessary precautions to avoid injury - you may find it irritating to the skin and eyes!  As with all harsh cleansers, common sense should prevail.

Rock tumblers are available through jewelry supply chains, hardware stores and hobby shops.  It would be wise to shop around a bit before making a purchase.  You might even be able to find a suitable tumbler on E-Bay.
Happy Tumbling!