Rock Tumblers

A look into a vibratory tumbler during the polish stage.

A look into a vibratory tumbler during the polish stage.

Rock Tumblers come in rotary tumbler or vibratory tumbler types.

They turn rough rock into polished tumbled stones.

Agate, jasper, chalcedony, quartz — almost any rock can go in a tumbler, provided it is not too soft.

The first thing to understand is rock polishing in a rock tumbler does not happen overnight. This is a longer process than many people expect.

Rotary rock tumblers typically take at least four weeks to turn rough rock into polished stones. This covers one week for each of the four grit stages, from the roughest grit to final polish at the end.

Vibratory rock tumblers are faster. You can turn rough rock into tumbled stones with a vibratory tumbler in a week or two. A lot of rockhound enthusiasts use a combination of rotary and vibratory tumblers for the best result.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between rotary and vibratory rock tumblers:

Rotary Rock Tumbler

  • Operates by rotating a cylinder filled with rocks, allowing the rocks to bounce against each other and grind down in the grit
  • Takes at least a week for each stage of grit
  • “Set it and forget it” – you don’t need to constantly monitor rotary rock tumblers
  • Takes a substantial amount of grit
  • Rounds stones because of the nature of the action in the cylinder
  • Not excessively loud; can’t hear it in a garden shed

Vibratory Rock Tumbler

  • Operates by vibrating stones together inside a bowl, allowing the rocks to bounce against each other and grind down in the grit; creates a “whirlpool” effect
  • Takes only a day or two for each stage of grit
  • Requires regular monitoring to add water and make sure it is running smoothly
  • Very loud, sounds similar to being inside an airplane taking off
  • Stones retain their natural shape more and do not get rounded like they do in a rotary tumbler; this is because of the nature of the action being different
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