Vibratory Tumbler Using Orbital Sander




Introduction: Vibratory Tumbler Using Orbital Sander

I am an IT Manager with five years of mechanical engineering under my belt and hundreds of mechanic…

Do you have parts that need to be cleaned? Are you a reloader with hundreds of casings just sitting around with no way to be polished?

Well, if you have a need for a vibratory tumbler and don't want to pay $75 or more for a dedicated tumbler you'll only use occasionally, then this is for you! It utilizes a reversible modification to an orbital sander, a $1.00 Dollar Tree brownie pan, a milk jug, and some washers. Here's a complete list of everything you need:

1 orbital sander
1 8"x8" steel cake pan (or steel bowl)
4 1/8"x5/8" washers
1 drill and 1/8" drill bit
1 Phillips head screwdriver
1 flat head screwdriver
1 securely mounted vice

Eye protection

Let's get started!

Step 1: Safety First...

Put on eye protection and make sure your orbital sander is turned off AND unplugged.

Prevention is the best medicine.

Step 2: Remove Sanding Plate From Orbital Sander.

To mount the cake pan, we'll need to remove the sanding plate from the sander. On my sander, it is held in place by four screws on the bottom, and a center shaft with a Phillips head screw. Remove these four screws first.

Once the four screws are removed, you will need to stop the motor shaft from turning. I inserted my flat-head screwdriver into cooling vanes of the motor (CHECK AGAIN THAT IT IS UNPLUGGED!) and loosened the center shaft. The plate should come off once you are finished.

Step 3: Remove the Foam Backing From the Sanding Plate.

The next step is to remove the foam backing from the sanding plate. Some sanders have this free-floating and it will come right off. On my sander it was epoxied to the metal plate and I had to gently remove it with a flathead screwdriver.

If you wish to revert your sander back to being a sander once you are done, take care not to damage the foam excessively,as it will not work as well if it is damaged. If you don't care, a heat gun and a razor blade make short work of it.

Step 4: Drill the Holes for the Sanding Plate Mount.

Once the foam has been removed, you can begin the process of mounting the cake pan to the plate.

The holes act as a drill template, and you can either mark the locations or drill straight through the holes with the bit, like I did. Make sure the plate doesn't move after the first hole is drilled, otherwise the other holes will be out of alignment.

Step 5: Reassemble the Sander and Attach the Cake Pan.

Reverse the steps of removing the sanding plate, first reattaching the plate to the motor shaft with the central screw.

Once the plate is attached back on the sander with only the central screw, poke the other four screws back through the holes you drilled to line up with the holes in the plate, and finally to their threaded holes in the sander. DON'T FORGET TO PUT A WASHER ON EACH SCREW! If you fail to put a washer, the intense vibrations will cause the screwheads to punch through the steel of the cake pan, resulting in a substantial mess and a ruined pan.

Once the cake pan is attached to the sander, you can mount it upside down in the vice. Be careful not to crush the plastic body of the sander, only tighten the vice jaws enough to hold it firmly. I found that my Irwin 4-inch vice had enough overhang in the jaws to hold the body in several places, preventing the sander from vibrating itself out of the fixture.

Step 6: Make a Media Vessel.

For this I used a milk jug I cut into a scoop shape and filled 1/4 of the way with corn cob media. You could use whatever container you would like as long as it fits snugly within the pan. If it doesn't seat into the pan securely, it won't transfer the vibration and the parts or casings will not get very clean.

Once you have your media ready to go, seat it into the cake pan and turn it on!

Step 7: Enjoy Your New Vibratory Tumbler!

This project only cost me $15. I got the sander on Craigslist for $10, the cake pan and washers were $2 together, and the media was $3 at Walmart.

In testing I found that about 35 minutes of runtime cleaned 10 .300 Winchester Magnum and 10 .308 casings to almost a factory shine.

Make sure the media you use is smaller than the diameter of your casing neck. I would not use this grade of corn cob media for anything less than .30 caliber neck diameters. In a .223 or similar, the media could get stuck. For handgun casings this media is hard to beat.

I hope you enjoy your endeavors with your new tumbler! Let me know if you have any problems or suggestions for improvement, and I will see how I can solve or incorporate them!

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    1 year ago

    That’s not an orbital sander it would be helpful to people if you included the right tool implemented in the design


    Reply 1 year ago

    Good catch.
    Use a palm sander that does not rotate.
    Although, you could just full-send it and use something that spins 10,000rpm!


    5 years ago

    I apply Cerakote to mostly guns ( custome camo )and needed a way to clean small parts better, thanks for this idea. Small screws and springs will no longer defeat me !


    5 years ago

    Nice and solid looking.
    Would it be too weak if double sided adhesive foam tape were used instead of disassembly and screws to mound the cake pan?


    Reply 5 years ago

    I haven't tested it, but I would not recommend that method. The reason this method works so well is because the screws are stressed in tension and shear, which they are very good at handling. Adhesive, unfortunately, is not good at either.
    I would stick with bolts and screws.

    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    This would probably also be a good way to clean anything with a lot of small parts like the suit of chain mail that I made in college.


    Reply 5 years ago

    I wouldn't recommend cleaning an assembled suit of chainmail in this setup, as it is inherently light-duty and might overwork the sander motor, however it would be well suited for doing the individual links or small squares of assembled links!