Rock tumbling is a great way for kids to get into the Gemstone and Rock Collecting hobby. Rock tumbling is a very simple process and affordable to get started - a excellent way to spend time with your children.
Basically rock tumbling is the process where rough rocks are polished into smooth and shiny stones which can be used for a variety of purposes. We find that many children are already very interested in the rocks and stones they find in their environment and excited to learn more about them. Tumbling is easy to get into and an affordable hobby.
Types of Tumblers:
Choosing the correct type of tumbler is very important. Typically on Ebay, you will find a variety of "Toy" type tumblers specially designed for children. These usually sell for under $100 and come with a small kit of abrasive grit and rocks so you can get started straight away. A couple of examples are pictured below:
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THESE TUMBLERS
While these types of tumblers are very cheap, we do not recommend them for a few reasons:
- Small barrel size restricts how much rock you can process
- Light plastic construction does not last well
- Small size of motor - tends not to last, may fail very quickly
- Lack of sound proofing means these are very noisy
- Once they fail, difficult to get spare parts
When buying tumblers for children, parents are often concerned whether the interest will be a lasting one. Even though the "toy" type tumblers are significantly cheaper compared to good hobbyist machines, their short life span and operating limitations mean that you may be disappointed in your investment.
When selecting a tumbler for children or those new to the hobby, we recomment you purchase a more reliable machine. If you buy wisely, even if you find that your children lose interest, you should be able to sell your tumbler for a good price. We believe this is a better way to go.
The Lortone 3A is a good choice for this purpose as it is widely sold in Australia, extremely reliable and great value for money. There are other brands of rotary tumbler in this category such as Thumler which are also good choices.
What to look for:
Rock tumbling will always make some noise but the Lortone has a rubber barrel to cut down on noise.
Rotary tumblers are very simple but spare parts (drive belts, barrels) are readily available for the Lortone and other good hobbyist machines
Motors are designed to work continuously for long periods without any problem - your Lortone tumbler should work trouble free for years with just regular oiling as indicated and perhaps an occasional drive belt replacement
Good re-sale value - there is a strong market for used lapidary gear of good quality
Rock tumbling is a slow process - you wont get results overnight so make sure your kids are prepared for this. Some of the harder rocks can take weeks to complete.
You will need a range of grinding and polishing grits to smooth and polish your rocks. Replacement grit is readily available and cheap but you will need some to start so check this when purchasing. Different polishes are used for different types of material so you may find some trial and error is required to fine tune the process.
Not all rocks will polish - a rule of thumb is if the rock is shiny when wet, it should polish well in a tumbler; if it stays dull when wet, it is unlikely to polish well. You should not polish rocks of very different hardnesses in one batch as the soft rocks may be worn away by the harder ones.
You can tumble other materials - try tumbling pieces of glass for mosaic work or for a "beach glass" effect, pieces of metal or various types of "sea beans". These may require different types of polish but the possibilities are endless.
Hope this gives you some information to start with when considering buying a small rock tumbler. We are always happy to answer questions on this so feel free to contact us.