How to Choose A Rock - Rock Tumblers & Supplies
Rock Tumbling Corner
Everything you need or want to know about rock tumbling and polishing. And, of course if we missed anything call us toll-free at 888-762-5746, chat with us live online, or visit our showroom at 1017 South Main Street Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.
What You Need To Know About Rock Tumblers:
Where Do I Start?
Choosing the correct rock tumbler for you can seem overwhelming when you start looking at how many rock tumblers are on the market, the numerous sizes rock tumblers come in, and the vast price difference. However, it really isn't that difficult to find the perfect rock tumbler for you!
First think about what size rocks, stones, or glass you want to tumble. If the answer is the size of a quarter or smaller, then think about small beginner rock tumblers such as the AR1, AR2, or UV10 by Thumler's. If the answer is larger than a quarter but smaller than the size of a baseball consider going with a mid-range tumbler such as a AR6, AR12, or Half-Gallon tumbler by Covington. Finally if you are looking at your rock and it is the size of your fist or about the size of a baseball then you'll need a large rock tumbler such as a Model B, or Gallon Size Tumbler from Covington. Rock tumblers are only designed to handle certain size rock. For instance if you put a baseball size rock in an AR1 the rock will never polish and you may damage your barrel.
Second decide if you are REALLY into rock tumbling or if you are just getting started. If you are sure you'll be tumbling for years... or the rest of your life, then consider purchasing a heavy duty rock tumbler such as those made by Covington or the Model B. You'll save yourself the frustration of upgrading later.
Is the rock tumbler for a child? If so you have several options to consider. If your child has siblings that may become interested (or parents) then consider getting a double barrel tumbler that will allow you to tumble two loads simultaneously, while keeping your stones separated.
Finally think about the amount of time it takes to tumble rocks into gemstones. In a rotary tumbler it will take 4 to 5 weeks start to finish. You use 4 different grits, and each ones takes about a week. In a vibrating tumbler it takes just 10 days start to finish and uses only 3 types of grit. So what's the difference? A vibrating tumbler will NOT change the shape of your rock. If you put a jagged rock in you will get a polished jagged rock out. A rotary tumbler re-shapes your rock to the shiny pebbles you see in gift shops and stores. A jagged rock will be rounded, smoothed, AND polished when it reaches its final stage.
Rock tumbling is fun, and educational for children of all ages. Various tumbler brands come with various age recommendations. But after 45 years of rock tumbling here's what we've found...
Children will enjoy rock tumbling, and making jewelry, craft projects, and collections out of the stones once they are done. However, rock tumblers do require some supervision for children 6 years and younger. For instance the motors tend to get warm, not so hot that they will leave burns, but hot enough that they are uncomfortable to touch. Second, rotary rock tumbler require some simple maintenance such as oiling the bushings, which if left un-done can cause damage to the tumbler. Third if the lids are not secure they can pop open during the tumbling process and create a mess of grit, water, and rock 'mud'.
The good news is that the grit you use for tumbling is safe for children, pets, and plants! It's just not safe for drains! DO NOT put the grit down your drain it will clog your u-pipes and creates a cement-like mixture in your plumbing. Instead, just dump it outside... the grass won't mind a bit! We put it in old milk jugs and just throw it away.
We generally don't recommend heavy duty rock tumblers for children unless they are experienced with rock tumbling or are doing this as a hobby with an adult simply because they can be heavy to move once full.
Disposing of The Grit:
As stated above, the grit that we sell is 100% safe for humans, animals, and plants! But it will kill your drains! Do not put the grit down your drain it will clog your. Instead wash your tumbler barrel out, outside. The plants won't mind... it's just silica and dirt!
Here at Rockpick we actually use a 5 gallon bucket with a kitchen colander over it and dump the barrel with the rock in it into the colander and then rinse. It works great! Pour the 5 gallon bucket with the grit, water, and mud in an empty milk jug and just throw it away!
What Size Do You Need?
The size of the rock tumbler you purchase depends on the size of the rock you want to polish and how much rock you want to do at a time.
Think about what size rocks, stones, or glass you want to tumble. If the answer is the size of a quarter or smaller, then a smaller size rock tumblers such as the AR1, AR2, or UV10 by Thumler's. If the answer is larger than a quarter but smaller than the size of a baseball consider going with a mid-range tumbler such as a Model B, or Half-Gallon tumbler by Covington. Finally if you are looking at your rock and it is the size of your fist or about the size of a baseball then you'll need a large rock tumbler such as a Thumler’s Model B, or Covington’s gallon size or their 40 pound tumbler. Rock tumblers are only designed to handle certain size rock. For instance if you put a baseball size rock in an AR1 the rock will never polish and you may damage your barrel.
If you aren't sure read the description for the rock tumbler. All of our tumblers state what size rock you can polish in them... and remember: YOU CAN ALWAYS TUMBLE SMALLER ROCK IN A LARGER TUMBLER, BUT YOU CAN NOT TUMBLE LARGER ROCK IN A SMALLER TUMBLER!
No problem we know you have lots to keep track of so you can always find the rock tumbling instructions for any rock tumbler
What About Ceramic Beads?
Ceramic beads are used as a filler in most cases and you will probably find a lot of information about them on the internet. Some rock hounds swear by them and are willing to pay premium dollar to have them for their rock tumblers... here's the honest truth about it. They don't work any better than rubber bands that you can buy at the dollar store. So skip spending the money and grab a bag of rubber bands!
Want more amazing tips about rock tumbling? Join our Rock Wiki Forums where you can add your own hints and tips, read ours, and ask questions!
What About Plastic Pellets?
Just like the ceramic beads above you'll find information on using plastic pellets online, in the instruction books and by word of mouth. They are about $8.00 per pound if you buy them at the craft stores... or you can do what we do... grab a bag of rubber bands from the dollar store! Rubber bands work better, cost less, and you can use them for longer before they wear out!
Are They Noisy?
Well it depends. Toy tumblers are EXTREMELY LOUD they will drive you and your neighbors crazy.
Hobbyist Tumblers such as Thumler's and Lortone are not loud at all. In fact, they sound about like a dishwasher running. Don't believe us? Check it out for yourself in our YouTube Video here...
Professional rock tumblers such as Covington tumblers are slightly louder than hobbyist tumblers as they are generally used in a workshop rather than on a kitchen counter or in an office. However, they still are not nearly as loud as toy rock tumblers.
Rock tumblers are a hobby machine, they aren't going to run up your electric bill. Smaller rock tumblers such as the AR1 or UV10 you probably won't even notice them on your electric bill at all. Most rock tumblers are going to add the same amount of electric use on your bill each month as a 60 watt light bulb.
Professional grade rock tumblers such as the Covington and Model B rock tumblers will add slightly more as they have a larger motor.
Vibrating vs. Rotary
Vibrating vs. rotary rock tumblers is as easy as time and shape.
Time: Rotary rock tumblers take 4 to 5 weeks start to finish. While vibrating rock tumblers take about 6 days start to finish.
Shape: Put a jagged rock into a rotary rock tumbler and a smooth shiny pebble will come out a month later. Put a jagged rock into a vibrating tumbler and a shiny jagged rock will come out six days later.
Rotary rock tumblers are more popular because they are less expensive, not because they are better. What's better? That's up to you and what you want. If you are collecting a bunch of petrified wood and you want it to look like petrified wood when it comes out; a vibrating rock tumbler is better. If you have a child who is filling up your washer machine with rocks and you just want them out of the washer without breaking the bank, then a rotary tumbler is perfect!
A vibrating tumbler can be used if you are making beach glass. See beach glass instructions.
It can also be used if you want to polish shapes without changing the shape. Cut out your shape (marble, dinosaur, cabochons) and put them in a vibrating tumbler and polish them without changing the shape.
How Long Does it Take?
In a rotary rock tumbler it takes 4 to 5 weeks start to finish to tumble a batch (meaning however many rocks fit into your tumbler at once) of stone.
In a vibrating rock tumbler it takes approximately 6 days start to finish to tumble a batch (meaning however many rocks fit into your tumbler at once) of stone.
Note: how many rocks you can fit into your rock tumbler depends on the size of the rock tumbler and the size of the rock. For example: in a 3lb rock tumbler approx 3 cups of 1 inch rock will tumble in a single batch.
What if I Have Questions?
We're here to help! Yes please call us, e-mail us, or chat with us live! We want rock tumbling to be fun an exciting, not overwhelming!
We will be glad to answer questions before, and after you purchase a rock tumbler! Here's our toll-free number again in case you missed it: 888-762-5746, and don't worry about trying to save that- it's on the top of every page. So please feel free to contact us at any time! Being here to help is just one more reason to concider buying a rock tumbler for the rock hounds here at Rockpick Legend Co.
Can I Re-Use The Grit?
No. The grit breaks down in about 10 days days of being squished between rocks. Literally it turns into mud and looks much like a milkshake when you poor it out. There's not much left to try and salvage and even if you did manage to screen it off it will have tiny chips of rock in it that could contaminate your next load.
What Kind of Rock Can I Tumble?
Any. You can literally tumble any type of rock with out hurting your rock tumbler. Not all rocks will shine up but that doesn't mean you can't make them smooth and fun to play with!
In order to ensure your rock actually takes a shine you have to keep all the rock in a single batch about the same hardness. How do you know if rocks are the same hardness? Well to start with you can scratch them together, if one scratches or chips the other don't put them in the tumbler together. The softer stone will disappear or never take a shine. If they scratch each other equally you're good to go!
Some rocks are trial and error. You don't really get a great idea of what can be tumbled together with out doing it a few times. Or... you could attend one of our tumbling classes here at the rock shop! We are in downtown Salt Lake City, so if you happen to be in Utah stop by and arrange a class, or give us a call!
Can I Ruin The Tumbler?
We have seen some interesting things happen to rock tumblers over the years. From lighting strikes frying the electrical componenets in them, to people bending the frames. Under normal wear and tear though... we'd be willing to venture you can't ruin it.
You aren't going to ruin a rock tumbler by tumbling rock. You aren't going to ruin a rock tumbler by letting your children tumble rock. You probably aren't even going to ruin your rock tumbler by letting your friends borrow it (although that's a risk you'll have to take on your own, we're not guaranteeing it)....
You will ruin a rock tumbler by not oiling it or following any maintenance schedule. You will ruin a rock tumbler by leaving it outside in the rain and snow. You will ruin a rock tumbler by running over it with your car - you wouldn't think we have to state that but you'd be surprised.
How Much Maintinance Do Rock Tumblers Need?
Rock tumblers require very little maintenance. You do need to oil them and you can watch our YouTube video on how to oil your rock tumbler HERE. Other than that just make sure they don't get dirt, dust, or rock chips in the bushings. On hobbyist tumblers, and professional grade tumblers virtually ever piece is replaceable so if something does happen, just give us a call!
What If I Need Help?
Just give us a call: 888-762-5746 e-mail us at [email protected], chat with us live (we've put the link below), or stop by our showroom in Salt Lake City, Utah! We'll be glad to help answer all your questions, set up your rock tumbler, troubleshoot and more!