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Tumble Batch 1: General failure, lessons learned

After finishing my first batch of tumbles, I took a long break from operating my rock tumblers. I wasn’t happy with the job I did and needed time to do a complete reset. With the experience of my first batch, I now know how I want to tumble and how I want to proceed in the future. Nothing “good enough” makes it past a stage anymore: I want flawless.

My Dallasite and other beach rock tumbles. Some of these turned out okay. A lot didn’t. These are ones that survived a little better. Rocks are pictured dry, showing that they have a bit of shine.

My first batch died during the polishing and burnishing steps. After polishing for two days in my vibratory tumbler, my tumbles had an uneven finish: the quartz and design-heavy areas often polished well, but some of the basalt looked like it had never even gone through the tumbler.

Pieces that had small cracks or pits looked unfinished, and some pieces had frosted/hazed over. Worse, I clearly had grit contamination (where grit from previous stages becomes trapped in rocks or the tumbler bowl and scratches  the rocks in the next stage) and many of my pieces were scratched.

Same rocks, different angle. I like the metal inclusion on the lower left rock. Metal makes your tumbler foam!

Burnishing was the nail in the coffin for any of my rocks that turned out well. I made a lazy mistake of burnishing with liquid Tide instead of the powdered stuff, making the movement in the tumbler bowl very poor. My rocks got hazed even more.

I read good advice about rock tumbling from a friend on the internet: rock tumbling is like cooking. You don’t just follow the recipe straight through even if the cake is clearly not done yet. You have to manage the product the whole way through and make adjustments as necessary.

The whole batch. Dallasite and other beach rocks. You can see some of them look hazy and have cracked/scratches.

It’s not as easy as “setting and forgetting,” even though setting the rock tumblers and forgetting is very easy. It takes experience and a patient, sharp eye to get just the right mix of materials, water and grit in your tumbler bowls.

I think what let me down so much at first was that I was so used to seeing these pieces wet. Most of them did not achieve the depth of colour I was used to.

With grit being so expensive, I slowed down on tumbling rough and have been painfully going through everything I’ve tumbled so far and determining what is ready to move through the next stages. Even ones with very small imperfections are going back to stage 1. Here’s hoping that experience helps me get a better shine this time!


EDIT: I have been playing with my tumbles all night. Now that some time has passed I’ve come to like them. They are still smooth enough to play with in your hands. Still will improve next time though.

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