Pits, cracks and undercutting: the sad side of rock tumbling

It’s painful to go through your freshly tumbled rocks and hold your breath when you see a great one and then inspect for problems. Sadly, some of my best-looking pieces have suffered from undercutting during the rock tumbling process.

A nice yellowy piece of Dallasite has some clear pits here after being tumbled. This will have to go back to coarse grind.

A nice yellowy piece of Dallasite has some clear pits here after being tumbled. This will have to go back to coarse grind.

Rocks typically undercut and pit because they are made up of materials of different hardness. During the rock tumbling process, softer or more brittle sections can crack out before other sections.

This piece of Dallasite undercut at the front. The gray is actually still slurry from the rock tumbler stuck in there.

This piece of Dallasite undercut at the front. The gray is actually still slurry from the rock tumbler stuck in there.

Dallasite, the colourful jasper breccia I find on Vancouver Island, is made up of several different materials and so is prone to undercutting. Some pieces are better than others but it’s very sad to see a great piece marred by undercutting. Freckled Opal tends to pop out its vesicular opal bits too, as they are softer than the surrounding basalt.

Here's what we're dubbing Freckled Opal, a vesicular common opal in basalt. Unfortunately this very colourful piece developed a few pits.

Here’s what we’re dubbing Freckled Opal, a vesicular common opal in basalt. Unfortunately this very colourful piece developed a few pits where the opal was.

Another angle of the unfortunately pitted Freckled Opal piece.

Another angle of the unfortunately pitted and cracked Freckled Opal piece.

When rocks undercut, you have two options: keep tumbling them, but make as absolutely sure as possible no residual pieces of grit are in those undercuts or pits, as the grit will come out in the next step and scratch your batch up; or throw them back to the coarse grind step.

A big pit in this piece of what I'm guessing is wood.

A big pit in this piece of what I’m guessing is wood.

I judge undercuts on a case-by-case basis. I am mostly concerned with having as smooth as possible rocks at the end. I seek zero imperfections but sometimes I can tell a rock is at its best likely state after coarse grind despite some small scars, so I make sure to get any grit out and move them along.

I love the streaks of green in this piece of Dallasite but unfortunately they undercut in the rock tumbler.

I love the streaks of green in this piece of Dallasite but unfortunately they undercut in the rock tumbler.

The crappy thing about putting rocks back in coarse grind is they lose more size. Some rocks get withered down majorly before being smooth and hard all over. Some are just not destined to become tumbled stones.

Here's a quartz-y piece I found on a river whose inner crystals are still of macro size, making this pit very easily. I'm not sure a rock like this will ever get nicely smooth.

Here’s a quartz-y piece I found on a river whose inner crystals are still of macro size, making this pit very easily. I’m not sure a rock like this will ever get nicely smooth.

I can hardly even see the undercut in this piece of Dallasite but it's right in the front there. So sad, great piece otherwise.

I can hardly even see the undercut in this piece of Dallasite but it’s right in the front toward the bottom. So sad, great piece otherwise.

I can’t finish this post without a mention of Undercutters Pizza. Take care.

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