These days I typically deburr and take the edges off machined parts by hand, and I rarely go beyond that to spruce up their surface finish. If I really need to produce finer surface or edge quality, I whip out some wet/dry sandpaper and add some elbow grease.
It’s okay to finish a few parts by hand, but there is a better way to deburr and polish a greater number of components, and that’s to use a vibratory tumbler.
A rotary tumbler can also be used, but rotary tumblers produce slower results and tend to round edges and corners a little more than vibratory tumblers.
This video, by RockTumbler.com, shows what happens under the lid of a vibratory tumbler:
Often, several steps are required before a machined part is ready for use or for application of a final surface treatment such as anodizing or powder coating.
I mainly work with aluminum and hard plastic parts, which means I would need plastic triangles (in fine-cut and maybe medium-cut grades) for light deburring and surface preparation of aluminum, and maybe ceramic media for use on plastic. Polishing would be done with 4mm porcelain balls, preferably with smaller sizes mixed in, and final polishing would be done with compound-loaded walnut shells.
Using a vibratory tumbler is relatively easy, but using one effectively requires multiple types of media, thorough before-and-after cleaning steps, several deburring and polishing stages, occasional cleaning or through-flow water setup, one or more detergent compounds, and a lot of time.
Prices are all over the place, with small light-duty models starting out at under $100 and going up towards $300. Industrial models are built to handle greater loads and with extra features, while lighter duty models are built with economy in mind.
Vibratory tumblers are also often used to take the edges off rocks, to polish certain jewelry pieces, and to clean brass ammunition casings.
If you intend to look at tumblers for workshop use, you might want to stay away from the lighter duty models marketed for cleaning brass casings. These units are designed to work with light casings and low-density corn and walnut shell media. Plastic, ceramic, and porcelain media will greatly shorten the lives of such models.
There are many inexpensive models available (Amazon Search Link), even for as low as $50, but I have my eyes on the Raytech (via Amazon) and Thumler’s Tumbler (via Otto Frei) 0.1 cubic-foot (~3 quarts) models. I’m leaning more heavily towards the Thumler’s Tumbler, but Raytech seems to have more of a foothold in the tumbler and abrasive media market.
For now, the ToolGuyd workshop will have to do without a vibratory tumbler, but it’s one of several pieces of equipment that’s near the top of my must-have wishlist. Maybe I’ll put it off until I’m also ready to purchase a CNC mill or aluminum-capable router. In the meantime, my small army of deburring blades, scrapers, files, and sandpaper are always ready for action.