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Basically, there are two ways you can go about buying a rock tumbler. You can pick up the standard educational-toy model online or at most toy stores or you can get a hobbyist/professional model. Which to choose? Anything to watch out for? Preparations to make? Read on...

The Standard Model Most toy stores carry various takes on the same model of toy rock tumbler. This is a rotating tumbler that comes with rocks, grit, and some jewellery findings. This model is fun (had one myself in the good old days) and can last indefinitely with proper care. Be advised that your choice of rock size is limited by the small rotor power and that it may be difficult to get replacement parts (e.g., broken belt from overweighed tumbler).

Rotating Tumblers

Most hobby stores carry a type of rotating tumbler, where the rocks fall over and over and over, polishing rocks in much the same manner as the ocean has for millions of years. I recommend buying a tumbler from a company that has been around a while, with an established record of quality and service. Eventually, you will need a replacement part; you want the company to still be there when that happens.Lortone and Thumler offers several sizes of tumblers, some with double barrels.

Vibration 'Tumblers'

Vibration or agitating tumblers don't actually tumble the rock, but use either ultrasound or spin around the vertical axis. They cost a bit more, but have two characteristics that make them more desirable for certain users: they polish rocks much more quickly and they retain the essential shape of the rocks rather than producing only rounded rocks. They are a bit quieter, too. Raytech and Thumler are established manufacturers of vibration tumblers (and other lapidary equipment).

Size Does Matter ...

For most people price does too, so balance the needs of your inner rock hound against the limitations of your bank account. Tumblers are sized according to the weight of the load they can continuously bear. The most common cause of motor failure and belt breakage is improper or over-loading of the barrel. Smaller barrels hold smaller rocks (no big surprise), so larger barrels can hold both bigger rocks and more small rocks.

Double barrels can be used to polish lots of rocks or to ensure a really good polish (if you reserve one barrel for that purpose).

Helpful Preparation Tips

  • Okay, so you've selected your tumbler! First, keep the time it takes to tumble in your mind (about a month for a rotating tumbler/ week or two for vibrating or agitating types). Get vaseline to seal the barrel against leaks!
  • Buy extra grit (unless you want to keep that as an excuse to go out and buy more stuff).
  • If noise is a concern, consider getting a cooler or other sound insulator to house the tumbler.

Which one should you buy?

The type of tumbler that you should buy depends upon the types of material that you will be tumbling, how fast you need results and how much rock you have to tumble. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of each.

Rotary Tumblers:


  • Very easy to use
  • Lower cost than a vibratory tumbler
  • Shapes rough into rounded stones


  • Difficult to polish fragile rocks
  • Each tumbling step takes at least one week
  • Requires more grit and polish
  • Occasional leaks



  • Tumbling takes a few days per step
  • Requires less grit and polish


  • Rough rocks receive minimal shaping
  • More expensive

In summary, if you are starting out with crushed or hammer-broken rocks with jagged edges and desire tumbles that are nicely smoothed and rounded then a rotary tumbler is best for you. A vibratory tumbler does not do a lot of shaping so if you put in angular rocks your finished product will be angular tumbles.

On the other hand, if you are working with pre-shaped rocks (such as beach stone or cut cabochons), thin slabs, or very delicate material such as glass or obsidian then a vibratory tumbler would be more effective.

Also, if you opt for a rotary tumbler, purchasing a double-barrel tumbler is helpful in reducing tumbling time. Two barrels allow you to simultaneously tumble rocks in two different steps of the tumbling process, or rocks of two different harnesses’.

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