How To Choose A Rock Tumbler
Rock tumblers are fun and easy to operate. Choosing the right model for you makes all the difference. There are so many options and choices when it comes to tumblers. How are you supposed to choose when you are just starting out in the rock polishing hobby? Answer the following questions to find your tumbler:
1. Do you want to polish large stones and large loads, or smaller stones and smaller loads?
If you want to polish stones over 1.5" in diameter, then you must use one of the larger model tumblers. The 6 pound barrel tumbler will polish stones up to golf-ball size. Or it will polish lots of smaller ones. The 12 pound barrel will take rocks up to 2.5", or you can polish lots of smaller stones.
If you want to polish only small stones, under 1", or not many pounds at a time, then you can use one of the smaller barrel tumblers. The 3 pound barrel will do 1.5" and smaller only, or about 3 cups of finished rocks about 1" in diameter.
If you want even smaller stones, try the 1.5 pound barrel tumbler. It will only polish "nickel and dimes" size rocks.
Keep in mind that you must keep your tumbler barrel at least 1/2 full at all times for a good polish. Ideally, you will start with 3/4 of your barrel full of rock. If your rock supply is limited, stick with a smaller barrel. For those of you with lots of rock, a larger barrel will meet your needs better.
2. Do I want one or two or even three barrels running at one time?
- There are five advantages and only one disadvantage that I know of for running two or more barrels.
- You now have basically two tumblers, one for you and one for the kids or your significant other.
- You can run two different types of rocks that are not compatible together in their own barrel.
- You can start one today and one in 2 weeks. Because the process takes about a month, you will be finishing every 2 weeks instead of ever 4 weeks--if you are inpatient like me this is a great advantage.
- You can also use one barrel for just polish. This will cut down on you chance of contaminating that last stage. This is where most people run into problems. By using one barrel for just polish, you eliminate the problem. (An alternate to a double barrel machine is to purchase an extra barrel for just polish.)
- You can combine rock into one barrel in the third stage to save on pre-polish and polish, and to get better looking rocks.
- The one disadvantage is multiple barrel machines do cost more than single barrel machines, although not as much as purchasing a second machine.
3. Do I want rounded rocks, or more natural looking rocks?
If you really do not want a well rounded rock, you may want to look at a vibrating model instead of the Lortone rotary machines. We get consistently better results with our rotary models, but occasionally we find someone who finds a vibrating model suits their needs better. If you are just starting out we recommend starting with a rotary machine. They truly are easier to operate.
Rotary Rock Tumblers vs. Vibrating Rock Tumblers
I am often asked the question of which type of tumbler is better--rotary or vibratory.
The real question people should ask is "what type of rocks do I want when I am finished?"
A good rotary tumbler (Thumler's or Lortone) will take your rough stones and make them beautiful rounded, polished gems. A vibratory type tumbler (Thumler's) will take your rough stones and polish them only. Vibratory type tumblers do NOT round or shape the rock.Whatever shape you put in is the polished shape you will get out.
"So why get a vibratory tumbler?" you ask. They have a very useful purpose. They don't change the shape of your stones. If you have stones that you have cut and ground to a specific shape and you want to polish a lot of them at once, then you can use a vibratory tumbler. This is great if you have made a lot of pre-formed cabs and want to polish them without changing the shape. I know a lady who cuts out little dinosaur shapes from slabs on a diamond band saw, and then fills her vibratory tumbler to polish all the dinosaurs at once.This process will save her a lot of time and money in the long run.
Another advantage with a vibratory tumbler is that they only take 7-10 days vs. 30-45 days with a rotary tumbler. The trade off is that vibratory tumblers are usually a lot more expensive.
There is another type of tumbler on the market that I am often asked about. That is the -sonic type tumblers. These type use ultrasonic vibrations to create the action that polishes the rock. Once again, they are like a vibratory tumbler except they tend to not last long, as the transducers are easily broken with prolonged use.