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Musings From the Store

Rocks In My Head

Posted by Lyle on



“Rock Tumblers” are a great method of quickly polishing stones and also for polishing metal jewellery. They can be used for polishing either but the polishing process is quite different for each. There are different sizes available depending on how much you want to polish per batch.

For stones tumbling occurs when fine grinding compound (known as ‘grit’) rubs with the force of a stone against other stones lightly abrading each stone. Successively finer grits shape then polish the stone. Most tumbling is done wet where the grinding grit sticks to the outside of each stone and by falling action forces the grit against surrounding stones.

There are two main types of tumblers: vibratory and rotary – vibratory tumblers polish stones much faster than rotary tumblers but are far less mechanically reliable than the rotary tumbler. For this reason Capilano Rock & Gem only sells the more reliable rotary type.

Advice for polishing stones in a rotary tumbler

  • Your biggest stone in the barrel should not be more than twice the size of the smallest – you want to polish your stones not pummel them!
  • Don’t fill your barrel with water – about ¼” – ½” above the top of your stones is about right
  • Feel free to check your stones by opening your barrel any time!
  • Do clean your barrel between runs! A good rinsing followed by a light scrubbing (a worn out toothbrush is an excellent tool for this) to remove all traces of grit greatly improves your results. Don’t ignore the inside rim – a small amount of grit build-up there can cause catastrophic water leakage.
  • A week at each stage from coarse to final polish is normal
  • Don’t flush your used grit down the toilet bowl! (It makes a wonderful quick setting concrete…..)

A tumbler can also be used for polishing jewellery. This can be done wet or dry with the most common method being with water, soap and stainless steel shot. (Non-stainless steel shot is available at a much lower cost but requires much more cleaning than stainless. Non-stainless shot will rust over time – we have dropped this type as we feel stainless is much better value for the money – well-kept stainless steel shot can be used for years!)

When tumbling jewellery in a tumbler use from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of tumbling soap depending on the size of each load. Shot does a good job of removing tarnish and small pieces of ‘burs’ while acting as tiny hammers to polish your jewellery

Basic advice for polishing jewellery in a tumbler:

  • Some stones resist damage when tumbling with shot than others, safest is to polish your metal before setting your stones
  • Don’t use water with dry polish, don’t try to do wet polishes dry!
  • If you are also tumbling stones don’t try to polish your jewellery in the same barrel as the stones – it only takes a small amount of stone polish to savage your metal! (Yes we sell replacement barrels)
  • Don’t be embarrassed to experiment!
  • For either type of polishing keep your tumbler well cleaned and well oiled.Well maintained tumblers routinely give 20+ years of service.
  • Detailed how to books for polishing stones and polishing jewellery can be found on the website under “Manuals/Instructions” Our staff are knowledgeable about tumblers and can provide detailed help. We keep a full line of parts on hand for the tumblers we sell though mostly they sit in the drawergathering dust and help us sell tumblers!

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