Titanium Grinding vs. Tumbling

Harbor Freight bench shear

I’ve tried a few different methods over the the years to reduce my hands-on time in getting rid of those razor-sharp fresh-cut titanium edges. I started doing this with essentially no tools or money to buy any. I first bought tin snips, and then a small bench shear something like the one pictured.

Polishing MotorThe merciless edges on fresh cut titanium encouraged me to buy leather gloves. To remove those edges, I first used emery paper (wet/dry sand paper) to smooth them. But the tedium soon urged me to learn that a motor, a couple of taper spindles, and Cratex wheels (rubberized carbide) were much faster and spit few sparks. I put my grinder/polisher together from a salvaged ¼ horse motor and parts from a mail-order catalog (this was around 1980). Now there is website: www.RioGrande.com and you can get everything there. But grinding small parts ended up using up finger tips; both gloves and my own.

Harbor Freight Cheap Rock TumblerOn a whim, I tried out my childhood rock tumbler. I just cut up a bunch of pieces, and threw them in with some rocks, and let them go for a week, then three weeks. There was some rounding of the sharp edges, but not much nor fast. I then ordered abrasive ceramic media from RioGrande, and tried that in place of the rocks. After a couple of weeks, nice, smooth edges. The ceramic media lasts for many uses (I have yet to reorder). You can also get it cheaply from HarborFreight, here or at your local Harbor Freight shop. You can also try rock shops, craft stores, or online.

Lightweight vibratory cleaner/polisherBut, c’mon! Weeks? So (many years later) I went to eBay to find a vibratory polisher. I wasn’t ready to spend $500 on a name-brand one at RioGrande. So I found one specified to clean shotgun shell casings for about $60 delivered. It has a clear top, so I could watch the pieces and media do their thing. It reduced the time to about 4 days. I ran it with a dry load, with no water or agents. Amusingly, the dust that grinds off from the media is hydophobic! Water runs right off of it, like mercury on glass. I found that adding tap water at the end and vibrating for another hour suspended the dust in the water and didn’t darken the titanium too much. Anyway, I etch after I tumble.

But I never did manage to get a shine with this machine. I tried ceramic media and porcelain media, I used polishing compounds, ran it wet, ran it dry, and still my best was a matte finish. My worst was that the titanium turns almost black in water with porcelain.

Harbor Freight Vibratory PolisherSo I thought I’d try another type of vibrator. I got it from eBay, and then found that I could have driven across town to HarborFreight and gotten the exact same unit for about $25 less. I first tried running it wet with porcelain. Blackish titanium, eww. I etched the titanium clean, and then tried dry with ceramic media: Shine! Trumpets and doves and a beam of light from above. The gray ceramic media turned dark and shiny in 24 hours, as the titanium deburred and gleamed.

Had this not worked, I would have finally bought a professional (expensive) circulating fluid vibrator assembly (Raytech). But I’ll hold off on those.


7 Responses to Titanium Grinding vs. Tumbling

  1. Maggie says:

    Would this proccess work with small pieces of Titanium like wire, without bending the wire itself?

  2. MrTitanium says:

    Bill at ReactiveMetals uses a vibratory tumbler (with continuous flow) to smooth and polish their parts, like ear hooks.

    I’ve since experimented with stainless steel shot in my latest vibrator. It polishes and deburrs (rounds sharp edges) nicely. The hard part was separating the non-magnetic shiny shot from the same-size shiny metal pieces. A flat tray helped a lot.

    Also, the abrasive media picks up plastic from the cheap barrel of my latest tumbler. I had to run the now-shiny media in my old vibrator for a while to grind the soft goo off, to prepare them for another polishing run. There is a reason this last one is so cheap: Wrong resin barrel for my needs.

    I may try putting shredded paper in with my next run, in order to keep the media cleaner. Then I’ll report how that works.

  3. Maggie says:

    Ok, so all things considered, especially time, what brand vibratory tumbler, and what kind/size of media, gives you the best results for the buck?

  4. Maggie says:

    I wonder if a metal barrel could be purchased to fit into the Chicago Power Tools Vibratory Tumbler, and if that would solve the difficulties that you experienced. The price is certainly right.

  5. MrTitanium says:

    I recently bought a fancy flow-through RayTech vibrator, but have yet to try it. I’m sure that it will work to get a shine. For smoothing and deburring, a cheap one with ceramic media will do just fine. Just don’t use a barrel that had been used to grind to try to get a shine. Residual grit will fight you. You’ll need one to grind, and another to polish.

    I see others use many barrels for multiple grits and load sizes, to go from machined parts to shined.

  6. Totto Eide says:

    Four years have gone, any new experiences?

    • Dan Klarmann says:

      Time flies. I still use the shotgun shell vibrator for the deburring, and then use the flow through pricey unit with either ceramic or steel shot to make things shine. As I run so few actual batches, my experience is inconsistent in getting things to gleam.

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