Have you ever been on the beach or a river and picked up a Rock that was perfectly smooth and rounded to the touch? That is a rock that has been tumbled by mother nature i.e. water and sand, for hundreds and even thousands of years. Rock tumbling is a process of turning wide range of rocks into beautiful, smooth and rounded gemstones, you can use to make decorations, jewelry, crafts, or maybe just to collect for fun. Nature takes thousand years to tumble a rock that can easily be done at home in just few weeks. In this article we are going to talk about best rock tumblers for beginners.
What is a rock tumbler?
A rock tumbler is a very simple and small device or a machine that turns a barrel, round and round, nonstop for few weeks at once. You just put few ingredients with rock inside the barrel, like water, and grit. The thing what makes the rocks smooth and acts as the sand that nature uses to smooth and polish your rocks is grit. Grit has several levels of coarseness, it is like a sandpaper. When someone will start a project, he will need to use a very coarse grit, that will help to knock down the sharp edges of the rocks. Then after every couple of weeks, one will move on to a slightly finer grit until you will reach the final stage where the grit is almost like a fine powder.
What to Do with Tumbled Rocks?
There are lots and lots of reasons why people love rock tumbling. Soon you will find out that people get into rock tumbling for a number of reasons. While many of them just love collecting a wide range of rocks to display proudly, while others have a hobby of rock tumbling. Let’s talk about some of the more common uses for tumbled rocks:
- It is use for jewelry making.
- For making various crafts
- To decorate vase and planter fillers.
- For holiday decorations.
- You can make key chains with it.
- It is used to make magnets as well.
Types of Rock Tumblers
Rotary and vibratory are the two different types of rock tumblers. Rotary tumblers are not only best for beginners but are much more common. When most people thinking of purchasing a rock tumbler, they mostly go for a rotary tumbler. This is most common because it is the type of tumbler that will knock off the shape, edges, and smooth out the rough rocks in the coarse grind stage. Rocks that are tumbled in a rotary tumbler changes their shapes and become rounded.
Vibratory tumblers are less common for the beginners because they are typically used for fine polishing those rocks you’ve shaped before. That means a vibratory tumbler will not shape your rocks like a rotary tumbler. A vibratory tumbler is for you, if you just want to polish your rocks maintaining the same shape and angles they already.
The main use of a vibratory tumbler is that it forcefully speeds up the tumbling process, after your rocks have been shaped i.e. medium grind, fine grind, and then polish. So, in simple words each of the four stages in a rotary tumbler can take a week approximately, stages 2 to 4 can all be done in only one week. But if you want an ideal setup you can go for both a rotary and vibratory tumbler. It will be less time taking as you can do your coarse grind and shaping during the first week in your rotary tumbler, and then switch over to your vibratory tumbler the next week to handle the other stages.
Rotary Tumblers are best for beginners
The size and price of rotary tumblers varies, depending on how many rocks you want to tumble at a time. Sizes of the tumbler is mainly expressed in pounds. A tumbler of size three pound holds about two pounds of rock and one pound of other ingredients like water and grit. If you are tumbling two different kinds of rocks at the same time and more often, they are of different hardness then it would be best for you to get a double barrel rotary tumbler. Always remember, tumble the similar hardness of rocks, together. This is especially good in the polish stages. And If you really wanted this then you could tumble rocks together of different hardness in stage one and two. But make sure to separate them before stage three and four.
Another good reason of a double barrel tumbler is if you have two batches of rocks in different stages. For example, if you start the coarse grind process on one batch of rocks, and after a week you want to start another batch. You can use one barrel for the new batch’s coarse grinding, and the second barrel for first batch’s medium grinding. It is like having two tumblers in the price of one. If you want to tumble larger amount of rocks as one batch, there’s no need to buy a double barrel. It is much easier and less time taking to manage a single barrel that have a double size, only one barrel to clean and maintain.
The best brands of rock tumblers were Lortone and Tru-square, but now there’s another brand in the race, National Geographic. All of these brands are having good reviews and are always one step ahead in serving you the best. Some of the Rock tumblers from these brands have mentioned below, read them thoroughly and go for the best rock tumbler for beginners.
Best Rock Tumblers for Beginners (Comparison)
Lortone 33B Rotary Rock Tumbler- Editor’s Choice
The Lortone is one of the leading brand and it’s quality is backed by 1 year warranty. The performance and durability of their products are incomparable. Located in Mukilteo, Washington, North of Seattle, Lortone has a brief history of producing high quality, economical lapidary and jewelry equipment, built to last for hundreds of years. It is their tradition of using superior materials and their workmanship progress, using premium steel (a proven design) and quality construction.
A versatile, handy and a user-friendly unit of Lortone is 33B rotary rock tumbler. This 6.25 by 16 inch tumbler is double-barrel designed, for different kinds of rocks tumbling at a time or maybe you can use abrasives in one while you can polish in the other one. The best part of this tumbler is that you can use it in single-barrel mode as well. It is not only easy to use, even for the beginners, but also it produces fascinating results like a professional tumbler or machine. Each of the molded rubber barrel has a quantity of almost 3 pounds, that makes a total of 6 pounds. This rock tumbler model of Lortone gives a perfect polishing of rocks, jewelry, glass or beads. It’s body is made of steel and that is why it is very strong and stable with 115 Volts strong motor.
Given below are some of the pros and cons of this model of Lortone.
This is an amazing and cheapest model off of list. The rotary type of rock tumbler with a strong body that is made up of steel. A rock tumbling machine with double barrels, easy and convenient to use. Each barrel has a capacity of 3 pound, and this is best for the beginners. This product of Lortone gives very fascinating and fine results. In simple words you can say a great price product with the best quality.
National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit
The 126 years old National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest and nonprofit, scientific and educational organizations with a mission to provoke people to care about the only planet we are living in.
The best way of introducing your kid to science is the fun way. National Geographic inspire future generations by showing them the surprises of the natural world. Rock tumbling is a fun or enjoyable activity for children of all ages, and it helps in developing an interest in geology and science. And they are proud to provide a 100% satisfaction guarantee with all their products so that you can buy with confidence and
without being pessimistic. And after observing the interest of students in nature, National Geographic Society has introduced this rock tumbler kit. This High quality tumbling machine of National Geography is having a most powerful motor that will last for years. And the best but not the least feature of this rock tumbler is Automatic shutoff timer so you can set it and forget it.
If you are a house wife and rock tumbling is your hobby and you don’t want motor to die, then this feature suits you a lot. And as you know most of the rock tumblers make a lot of noise, manufacturers recommend putting them in your garage or on in your basement, but this rock tumbler has a leak proof barrel with stainless steel lid that is used to reduce noise coming from it.
If it’s your first experience of buying a rock tumbler then most probably you can go for it because the rock tumbler kit contains half pound of gemstones from around the world and they are of 9 different types, you can practice or can learn it by using these gemstone. This kit also encloses four different, or best polishing grits. This rock tumbler is just perfect because it also features jewelry fastenings for you, so you can create your own unique jewelry.
Every beginner needs an easy guide so that it would be easy for him/her to understand the new machine so National geography offers a full color information guide with cool facts about each of the gemstones included in the kit. It also carries rock tumbling instructions which are easy to follow. National geographic society also provides 2 years warranty of their product.
Now with this rock tumbling machine, which has one touch setting, you can make any stone sparkle and of course now you can polish simple rocks into dazzling gemstones, make all of them shine like professionally polished stones.
Following are some of the pros and cons of this National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit.
This rock tumbler is an amazing product of National Geographic Society, and that shows the interest of this Society in spreading the information about nature. This kit features many products which are handy for a beginner. It’s automatic shutoff timer is the best part of it. It contains a strong yet most powerful motor.
Hence, a great quality, with great price product, best for beginners.
Tru-square Metal Rotary Tumbler
This is the professional grade Rotary Tumbler but that doesn’t mean beginners cannot use it, keep in mind every rotary tumbler is helpful in tumbling of any kind of rock. This most professional quality rotary tumbler features a capacity of 15 pound only. This rock tumbler has steel hexagon barrel with a removable rubber liner.
You can use it for a variety of tumbling and mixing operations like for the polishing of rocks, brass, and other metals. It has a strong and powerful duty motor of 115 volts. It is very versatile as it is made up of steel. This heavy rock tumbling machine features fan cooled with overload protection. It is extensively used by some serious hobbyists, schools, laboratories, and industries. This model of Tru square is known as the standard of hard loading experts. It also come with a 5 year guarantee on barrel and liner by a vendor.
Some pros and cons are mentioned here.
This rock tumbler is most known professional rock tumbler that works best in industries. It’s steel body makes it so strong to handle any kind of rock which will be carried in a barrel of 15 pounds. It’s barrel is also very strong and have a removable rubber liner. Anyways, this rock tumbler by Tru square is the best rock tumbler available on the market for the professionals and for the beginners as well. And with a proper and decent care this tumbler will last a life time.
Stages for processing of Rock Tumbling
And once you have your tumbler and all the supplies you will need, let’s learn about the more detail about each of the stages of rock tumbling.
Stage 1 – Shaping
Now all of you know that the first step of the rock tumbling process is shaping with coarse grit. Shaping will remove the rough edges from your rocks and will give them a round shape. At first to start, fill your barrel about half to almost two thirds of the way full, and for best results, you should try using various size rocks. In case you don’t have enough rocks to fill the barrel, you can surely add some plastic pellets after adding the rocks. If your rocks are fragile or have a flat, rounded shape you should add pellets at this stage.
The next step is to add your coarse grit, and as it measured in pounds so two tbsp per pound of rock, and then add water to nearly the top edge of your rocks. Close the barrel tightly and clean up any debris or water left. Every rock tumbler has a maximum weight it can carry so it is important to stay under its weight, so you don’t wear out the motor. So, for this weigh your barrel before starting the machine. Put the barrel on your tumbler, plug it in, and it will start.
Rock Tumblers can be noisy
We should mention that tumblers can be noisy, as some customers have complained about it, so you should perhaps set up in either your basement or in your garage – or even a shed if it has an electricity connection. The edges of rocks are being knocked down after a process of few days, so to make sure you will have to check the progress. Then remove your rocks from the barrel and wash them thoroughly or rinse them in a clean bucket of water, after your rocks have been tumbling for about a full week, and they have turned into a shape you wanted them to be.
But keep in your mind that your time may vary depending on the kind of rocks you’re tumbling. Softer or smoother rocks will take shorter time to shape than harder rocks and rocks with strong angles. You can put the rocks back in for as long as it takes if they are not the desired shape after the first week, but just check on them every day or so.
At this stage, when you prepare the rocks for stage two of the process, you will also need to clean out the barrel with water and soap. You have to be 100% sure that all of the coarse grit is cleaned out of the barrel, so coarse grit will not be mixed with the fine. Some people use separate sponges for each type of grit for cleaning their barrel. At all stages of cleaning do not ever dump slurry down the drain. Once clean, now it’s time to move onto stage 2, the finer grit.
Stage 2 – Medium/Fine Grit
In this stage you have to follow the same process as before, add the stage 1 tumbled rocks and add pellets if needed. But clean the pellets greatly because grit will stick to them. It would be easier for you to use a new batch of pellets. Stage two, the finer grit, can take about the same amount of time as stage one, approximately. But this is stage has its own importance as it will remove any visible scratches or cracks or pits and to create a dull glow on the rocks when they will be dried. Yes, time here will vary, as I’ve mentioned above, you should have to check your rocks daily to see how they’ are progressing. After another full cleaning process, stage 3 is the pre-polish stage.
Stage 3 – Pre-Polish
The purpose of this pre polishing is to make your rocks look silky, smooth and start to bring out a bit of spark. The mileage of this stage may vary but it will not take more time. After this last full cleaning we are onto the final stage that is polish.
Stage 4 – Polish
During this polish stage, it would be best if you will use some plastic pellets because they will protect your rocks from hitting each other. There is nothing worse than spoiling a batch of rocks after a month of processing. In this stage, you are going to use a grit that is of fine powder shaped. After putting another week in this stage, your rocks should come out with a bright, shine and an absolutely stunning look.
And then there comes a bonus stage which is not exactly necessary but can boost the brightness of your rocks, especially agates and jaspers. You can call this stage burnishing and is considered to be an additional stage of polish.
Stage 5- Burnishing
In this fifth stage of tumbling, you will use some form of soap or powdered laundry detergent, instead of grit. This will make your rock more shining, will brighten them up, and will remove any left out haze from your rocks. There is a simple test that can be done, if you think burnishing will not add more glaze to your rocks. Take one of your rock and buff one side with a very soft cloth gently for 10 to 20 seconds. If the side you buffed is shining more than the other side, it will be benefited from this burnishing stage.
You can use whatever soap you want to use, you can either use borax or shaved layers of ivory bar soap, but make sure there isn’t any additive in the soap that will damage your rocks. Do not forget to add your plastic pellets for protection. The ratios here are the same as in any grit stages and as mentioned above, two tablespoon per pound of rock is suggested. More often you will need 24 hours in a rotary tumbling during this burnishing stage. But you know the longer, the better.
There are some other tips, or you can say some points, you should know about or should keep in your mind while tumbling.
During both the polish stage and burnish stage, you must have full knowledge to batch your rock types. Since you can be tumbling types of quartz at first, you can group them all together for these last two stages.
- Make sure to remove all other families of rocks.
- Expect to wait 3-6 weeks on an average to complete the full tumbling process.
- So, there you have your complete process of tumbling rocks in your rotary tumbler.
- And yes, patience is bitter but it’s fruit is sweet.
HOW TO CHOOSE BEST ROCK TUMBLERS FOR BEGINNERS
Looking for the best rock tumbler around? Well, you are lucky because so were we. We spent days exploring and analyzing some of the perfect, coolest, affordable and highest-rated rock tumblers around, finding the best and putting them on our top list for you. All of these mentioned rock polishers or tumblers are just awesome, and they have many of the greatest features. When picking out our personal favorite, we used a few specs to help you. We figured out different great tumblers for different situations. Here are those stats we used and a little description about them, for this going to be easy for you.
Type of tumbler
What type of rock tumbler is it? As you know there are two types of tumblers, rotary tumbler or vibratory tumbler, both have their own importance, if you are the beginner then you should probably go for rotary rock tumbler.
Does the rock tumbler you are looking for features an auto shut-off feature? Direct switching is kind of dangerous.
Make sure that the rock tumbler you are choosing is of perfect size. If this is for your hobby then you can go for a smaller one i.e. the tumbler with one barrel, but if professional, you can search for the one with double barrel.
The tumbler must be portable because in emergency if you want to take it with you then it must weigh less. Be sure your tumbler won’t be too heavy and big for whoever it is intended for.
Manufacturers usually offer warranties on tumblers to protect against flaws, try to find the one with best warranty.
Do you get any gems with tumbler because you will need some rocks to be able to play with your tumbler, so check for the one which comes with stones and gems or you can get your gems.
Wrapping it up
Rock tumbling is a rewarding hobby that people of all ages enjoy. Whether you are creating and selling jewelry with your rocks or you just wanted to spend some quality time with your loved ones, consider getting yourself a rock tumbler and try it for yourself.
There are hundreds of different rock tumblers in the market with fluctuating prices. If you are the one searching for one of these tumblers, now a days, you will find that each one of them comes with its own unique features and options, some come with best speed, some have automatic shut off and many others. If you are the beginner or you are buying it for the first time then, a cheaper one is available from $100 to $200 and will most likely serve you with exactly what you need. Some of the expensive rock tumbler are also on display, these models tend to have a more powerful motors that lasts longer and are able to polish and shape materials more precisely.
The fact is that you do not naturally need to spend a lot of money to get a best solid rock tumbler, though it’s true, you get what you pay for with regards to overall quality, quantity and durability. The size of the barrel is another essential factor to take into consideration, as it determines how many rocks you can fit inside it at a time. Currently, there are a variety of rock tumblers displayed on the market, so it is highly suggested that you take the time to review your options before making your final decision on anything.
Happy tumbling 🙂
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