Rotary versus Vibrating Rock Polishing
By "Tumbler" Tom Kuzia

Rock polishing has several stages to achieve a nice looking polished rock. It normally takes 5 stages and a few burnishings (washing in the tumbler barrel) to do it. Specific instructions are provided with each unit that you purchase. A pretty good primer for rock polishing may be found at the following website: Rock Tumbling

There are 2 types of rock polishers: rotary and vibrating.

As the name suggests, a rotary tumbler slowly rotates causing the rocks inside a watertight barrel to slosh back and forth in a grit and polish slurry. This results in the slow smoothing and polishing of the rocks.

A rotary tumbler will use a lot of grit and polish. The rule of thumb is about 1-lb of grit for every 10-lbs of rocks. So if you had a 4-lb rotary tumbler you would use about 0.4-lb of grit per barrel load of rocks. A rotary will shape the rocks MUCH better then a vibe but takes months to do a full cycle from the rough rocks to a finished polished load.

The rough stage will use the most grit as it takes the longest to round off the rocks and get rid of any imperfections in them. The rough stage is about the most important as it will decide the final result you have. The rough cycle can take several months to do properly. This means that every 7-10 days you will have to empty the barrel, wash the rocks and barrel and start over again until you are satisfied with the way the rocks look. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th stages usually take 7-10 days each in a rotary polisher, plus the burnishings.

A vibrating polisher (vibe) works in a similar manner to the rotating one, except instead of rotating, the polisher simply vibrates as a high rate of speed. The action of the grit and polish slurry on the rocks cause them to be polished.

A vibe will polish rocks much faster (7-10 days) than a rotary polisher, but the rocks will not be nicely rounded. The vibe is very economical as far as grit and polish goes. With a 4-lb barrel you would only use about 2 to 3- tablespoons of grit for every 4-lbs of rocks for the roughing stages. Vibes are MUCH more aggressive, so you will have to re-charge the barrel every 24 hrs. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th stages in a vibe will only use 2 tablespoons of grit in the 2nd stage and 1/2-teaspoon each for the 3rd, 4th stage and 5th stages!

Rotary & Vibrating
So - Do you want fairly well-shaped rocks in a hurry or nicely-shaped rocks in months? Well, there's a way around the waiting game, but it's not the cheapest way to go. For a faster turnaround, you can use a rotary for the roughing and the vibe for the remaining stages.

Suggested Brands
Now, how about my suggestions for which tumblers that I recommend? I'll give you my opinion, but it's not etched in stone!

One of the worse things a "newbie" to rock tumbling can do is to buy a "bargain" tumbler. The belts break often, the motors burn out, the barrel seals leak and the friction bearings on the rollers wear out in a hurry. I know that money can be a deciding factor, but consider buying a car with bald tires and starting out on a cross country trip. You will have nothing but problems and it will ruin the great time you had planned to share with your family.

I have 5 older model Lortone's and they run like a Swiss clock 24/7/365. Lortone has a nice tumbler Model 3-1.5B with 3, 1-1/2 LB barrels.

This unit usually goes for a tad over $100.00. There are many places to purchase this model, including the following website: The While this may sound like a lot of money, purchasing a less expensive brand with only 1 barrel means that you MUST also purchase a 2nd barrel dedicated to the polishing stage. While you may spend a little less with another brand, you won't have the highest quality of a Lortone tumbler.

As for a vibe unit I LOVE the Lot-O-Tumbler made by Bell.

There are many places on the NET where you can purchase this brand, but I suggest checking out This unit, with 2 barrels, is about $180.00. Again, you can find cheaper units, but in my opinion Bell makes a fantastic product and the frame is guaranteed for life!

Join a Group
If you are going to become a rock tumbler, the best information I can give any "newbie" is to join this group: The "specialty" of this group is teaching and helping "newbies" to rock tumbling the ins and outs, the do's and don'ts in every aspect of the hobby. This includes buying the right tumbler for your particular needs and pocket book. At this time it has 1720 members who do 99.999999% rock tumbling. I have been a member for several years and if the answers aren't there they don't exist! You can browse around as a guest and stay in the background or dive in head first and join! I think you will be amazed at what you will read and see there.

You can contact and possibly join a local rockhounding club in your area as these offer a world of information and sometimes have used equipment for sale. Some clubs also offer members a BIG discount on grit and polish! I've seen grit sold for as low as $0.75/lb as opposed to the $2-4/lb offered in rock shops or on the web!!

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