How to Use a Rock Tumbler: Fun & Educational Hobby

Once you learn how to use a rock tumbler, you’ve got an adventure on your hands! This is a fun, rewarding hobby. Both adults and kids can learn a lot from rock tumblers.

We’ll be looking at the step-by-step process of using a rock tumbler, from choosing the right rocks to achieving a beautiful polished finish.

Assortment of polished rocks after going through rock tumbler

About Rock Tumblers

First, you’ll need to understand what a rock tumbler is and how it works. A rock tumbler is a machine that uses abrasion and friction to smooth and polish rough rocks.

It’s basically a barrel filled with rocks, abrasive grit, and water, which are then rotated for several weeks. The constant tumbling action gradually wears away the rough edges of the rocks, which gives the rocks a polished, shiny surface.

Choosing the Right Rock Tumbler

When it comes to choosing a rock tumbler, you’ll need to decide exactly what you want and which rock tumbler will do the job for you.

Size of the Rocks

Firstly, think about the size of the rocks you want to tumble. Some rock tumblers are designed for smaller rocks, while others can handle larger ones.

Make sure to choose a tumbler that can handle the size of the rocks you have.


Next, take a little time to research different types of rock tumblers. There are various models available, including rotary tumblers and vibratory tumblers.

Each type has its own pros and cons, so it’s important to determine which one best fits your needs.

Customer Reviews

One helpful way to make an informed decision is to read customer reviews and testimonials. These can provide valuable insights into the performance, durability, and ease of use of different rock tumblers.

Consider the experiences and opinions of others to help guide your choice.

Choosing the Right Rocks

The first step in using a rock tumbler is picking out the right rocks for polishing. Not all rocks will work for tumbling, so you need to choose ones that are hard and durable.

Some popular choices include agate, jasper, quartz, and amethyst. Make sure the rocks you choose don’t have any cracks or fractures, because they might break during the tumbling process.

It’s also a good idea to start with smaller rocks, as they tend to tumble more evenly.

Gathering Your Materials

Before you can start using a rock tumbler, you’ll need to gather the necessary materials.

  1. Collect a variety of rocks to tumble, including some different types and sizes. This will let you experiment with different textures and colors.
  2. Make sure you have whatever grit and polishing compounds you need for the finish you want on your rocks. Grit helps to smooth and polish the rocks. You can find different types of grit, such as coarse, medium, and fine, depending on the desired outcome of your rocks.
  3. Set up a dedicated work area with good ventilation and a sturdy surface to set up your rock tumbling materials. It’s important to have good airflow to remove any dust or debris that may be generated during the tumbling process.

Pro-tip: a HEPA purifier is a good idea if this is a room people use regularly.

Preparing the Rocks

Now it’s time to prepare the rocks for tumbling.

  1. Inspect the rocks: Carefully examine each rock for any cracks, fractures, or weak spots. Remove any rocks that are not suitable for tumbling.
  2. Pre-soak the rocks: If the rocks are very dirty or muddy, you can put them in a soapy bucket of water and leave them for a few hours. This helps to loosen the dirt.
  3. Clean the rocks: Thoroughly clean the rocks. Use water and a brush to scrub away any stubborn dirt. Rinse the rocks well.


Some people don’t clean their rocks ahead of time unless they are really dirty. The dirt can act as part of the grit, so read the instructions on your machine to see what it suggests.

The Tumbling Process

Now that your rocks are ready, it’s time to begin the tumbling process.

Loading the Tumbler

  1. Fill the tumbler barrel about 2/3 full with rocks. Make sure the rocks are clean and free of any dirt or debris.
  2. Add plastic or ceramic media to fill any empty spaces in the barrel. This will help improve the tumbling action and ensure even tumbling of the rocks.
  3. Avoid overloading the tumbler. Be sure to leave room for the rocks to move around and tumble properly. Overloading can affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the tumbling process.

Adding the Grit

When adding grit to your rock tumbler, it’s important to follow these steps:

  1. Start with a coarse grit and gradually move to finer grits for optimal polishing.
  2. Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adding the appropriate amount of grit.
  3. Mix the grit with water to create a slurry before adding it to the tumbler barrel.

Running the Tumbler

  1. Securely close the tumbler barrel, making sure it’s properly sealed.
  2. Place the tumbler on a flat and stable surface to prevent any accidents.
  3. Set the tumbler to the recommended speed, as specified by the manufacturer.
  4. Let the tumbler run for the specified tumbling time, which can vary depending on the type of rock and desired results.

During the tumbling process, pause it and check the rocks every now and then. If you’re satisfied with the smoothness and shape, you can proceed to the next step.

If on the other hand you want more polishing, you can repeat the tumbling process with finer grits. Once you’re happy with the results, you can move on to polishing and finishing the rocks for a beautiful shine.

Final Polishing

After you’re happy with the smoothness and shape of the rocks, it’s time for the final polishing step. This step involves using specialized polishing compounds or powders to give your rocks a stunning luster and shine.

Follow these steps for your final polish:

  1. Clean Your Rocks: Remove any leftover grit by rinsing your rocks thoroughly under running water.
  2. Apply Polishing Compound: Depending on the type of rock you’re polishing, choose an appropriate polishing compound or powder. Apply a small amount onto a soft cloth or polishing pad.
  3. Polish Your Rocks: Gently rub each rock against the cloth or pad in a circular motion. Apply gentle pressure and continue until you achieve a glossy finish.
  4. Rinse and Dry: Once you’re satisfied with the polish, rinse your rocks one final time under running water. Pat them dry with a soft towel or let them air dry.

Finishing Touches

Congratulations! You’ve successfully used a rock tumbler to transform rough rocks into beautiful gemstones. Here are a few finishing touches you can consider:

  • Displaying Your Gems: Showcase your polished rocks by arranging them in a display case or using them for jewelry-making projects.
  • Identifying Your Gemstones: Use field guides or consult experts to identify the types of gemstones you’ve polished.
  • Experimenting with Different Rocks: Expand your collection by trying out different types of rocks and experimenting with various tumbling techniques.
  • Sharing Your Experience: Join online communities or local rock clubs to share your experiences and learn from fellow rock enthusiasts.

Cleaning the Tumbler

Once you have finished tumbling your rocks, it is important to clean the tumbler to keep it in good shape and ready for the next rock tumbling session.

  1. Empty the tumbler barrel, carefully discarding any remaining grit and debris.
  2. Using a brush and water, thoroughly scrub the inside of the barrel to remove any residue or buildup. Pay extra attention to hard-to-reach areas.
  3. Rinse the barrel with water until all the cleaning solution and debris are completely removed.
  4. Allow the barrel to dry completely before storing it. You can use a clean cloth or towel to wipe the barrel dry if necessary.
  5. Before putting the tumbler away, check the motor and other components for any signs of wear or damage. If you see any issues, consult the manufacturer’s instructions or contact customer support for assistance.

Dispose of the Slurry

Once you’re done, the tumbler will be full of a watery slurry from the polishing grit and dirt. Be sure to dispose of the rock tumbler slurry properly. Do not just put it down a drain, or you’ll have plumbing problems!

Storing Your Polished Rocks

You’ll also want to store your rocks so they won’t get damaged.

  1. Choose a container that provides enough space for each rock to be arranged without rubbing against each other.
  2. Consider using individual compartments or compartments lined with soft material to minimize scratches or damage.
  3. Another option is to wrap each rock in soft cloth within a container.
  4. Label the container to easily identify and categorize your rocks, especially if you have a collection.
  5. Store the container in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight or extreme temperature changes.
  6. Avoid storing the rocks in a location prone to moisture or humidity, as it can affect their shine and quality over time.
  7. Regularly check and clean your stored rocks to maintain their condition and prevent any deterioration.