Black Sludge and Tumbling Shot

Tumbling Shot

I have been having tumbler problems – bad ones.  I use my tumbler to smooth out the edges on some things and to clean metal.  Recently, the metal started coming out dirtier than it went in.  Not good.  The tumbler came with a little pamphlet that discussed some problems one might have, not this problem.  The shot came with nothing – just shot in a bag.  The photo above shows the shot I use for jewelry, it’s a stainless steel shot that comes in an assortment of sizes and shapes.

So, I looked on the Internet to see if I could find any suggestions.  One site said to clean the shot by running the shot in the tumbler with Barkeeper’s Friend cleanser and some water, and then following it with a run of just plain water.  I tried it and after the first run with the Barkeeper’s Friend, I opened the tumbler and this dark, black, sludgy water came out.  I thought to myself, this is good, it’s getting clean, we are getting somewhere.  So, I did the run with clear water and then tried the whole thing again.  More black sludge.  My initial thought was that I should keep doing this until the water ran clear.  I kept thinking that for a while.  After at least a dozen tries, still more black sludge.  What was going on?  Was I creating new dirt somehow in what I was doing?

Totally frustrated, I sent an email to the lovely and knowledgeable Marlene True and she sent back a PDF file with some information about common tumbler problems.  I read it carefully and came across a section that said when you first got tumbling shot it had machine oil on it and you had to run a cycle to clean it before using it.  Uh, oh.  I did not know that part and used my shot right out of the bag.

The sheet said if your silver was coming out black to try cleaning the shot with baking soda and water.  I tried this and let it run for the suggested time.  Then, I got the canister off the tumbler and took it to the bathroom to pour off the dirty water.  I set it on the counter and noticed it was wobbly.  It always sat flat before??  I realized it was sitting wobbly because it was bulging and that there was some sort of increase in pressure brought about by the baking soda.  I knew I needed to open it a little bit to let the gas out and hoped I could do it without getting hurt by flying tumbler debris.  I opened it a crack and gas started coming out just like when you open a soda.  I let it do its thing while standing on the other side of the door.  Once it got itself together, I rinsed it and followed the next instruction which was to run it with a piece of silver and water only.  This was to determine if hard water was causing the problem.  I ran it, opened it, and was delighted to see the first piece of clean silver that had come out of the durn thing in two weeks.  Whew!

I’m thinking that maybe the initial machine oil on the shot attracted the stuff I was polishing off the silver and it stuck on for dear life.  It worked OK at first and took a few times to build up enough that it stopped working.  I am so glad to have this problem behind me and so thankful for people like Marlene who don’t mind taking a minute to help.

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