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About tumblers

About Tumblers

Rotary vs. Vibratory

The Basics of Tumbling:

Tumblers are used to simulate the natural process of rounding rocks, using water mixed with various abrasive compounds to help speed up the process. The idea is to start with a coarse abrasive (silicon carbide "grit") and work your way down through the medium, fine (pre-polish) and finally the polish stage.

Each stage takes about 5-7 days to complete. The total process from start to finish takes about 4 weeks. Almost any rock can be tumbled, some soft stones are not suitable for tumbling.

Vibratory tumblers use the same method, except the amount of time it takes for each stage is about 1-2 days. (See differences between rotary and vibratory below)

What size tumbler should you get?

This will depend on the size rock you want to tumble. The smallest of our tumblers (the 3A single barrel) can hold 1 rock about the size of a small chicken egg or a golf ball, the rest of the rock (barrels must be filled 3/4 of the way to work properly) would have to be a variety of smaller sizes.

The 45C tumbler can hold about 2-3 rocks of small chicken egg or golf ball size, again the rest of the rock would have to be smaller.

The QT6 will hold about 5 rocks of small chicken egg or golf ball size.

Remember that using small rock is very important to the process. The small rock will get into the hard to reach areas between the tumbling rocks. You can even use the small gravel from your driveway as small rock filler!

Differences Between Rotary and Vibratory Tumblers
Rotary Tumblers - See our selection
Advantages Disadvantages
  1. Are less expensive.
  2. The barrels "wear like iron."
  3. Can tumble larger rocks in barrel shaped containers
  4. Are quieter than vibratory tumblers.
  5. Do not demand as much attention while operating because the barrel is double-sealed - no leakage, no evaporation.
    (In the COARSE grit stage it is recommended to open the barrel once every 24 hours to vent gas which builds up.)
  1. Processing beach agates or river rocks (already smoothed stones) takes approx. 3-4 weeks, because you can choose to skip the 1st stage or do it for only a couple days. Rough jagged rocks usually require processing twice in the COARSE grit stage, taking from 5-7 weeks to process from beginning to end.
  2. Uses more compound in each grit stage. There are normally 4 steps in tumbling to achieve a polished stone.
  3. The "tumbling" action is more aggressive than "vibrating" rock, and wears down the surface of rock - all the better to remove unwanted edges and surface pits - and will reduce the size of the original rock. It also is pretty successful in breaking softer "junkite", off your more desirable material.
Vibratory Tumblers - See our selection
Advantages Disadvantages
  1. Smoothed rocks like beach agates or river rocks will take approx. 7 days to process. Rough jagged rocks - approx. 15.
  2. Uses much less grit in each stage of tumbling. If you are tumbling a lot of rocks, you will save money since the quantity of grit used is less.
  3. The stone shape remains nearly the way you found it; the tumbler does not round it.
  1. The machine is nosier than a roller tumbler.
  2. The machine is more expensive. If you have a lot of rock to tumble you will be saving on the grit, so it evens out.
  3. Because of the shaft in the middle of the vibratory tumbler bowl, only rocks up to 2 inches in the TV-5 tumbler and up to 3 inches in size in the TV-10.
  4. The tumbler needs new compound put in it every 12 hours, requiring more attention than the barrel tumbler.

Both tumblers achieve the same high quality of polish and are of equal quality in workmanship. They will last for many years. Both tumblers have a one-year warranty against defects in material and workmanship, and come with complete instructions for usage.

See our Abrasives page for grits used in all our tumblers.