If you are new to the hobby of rock tumbling, you are probably wondering just how long does rock tumbling take?
The short answer? While it may seem quite broad, rock tumbling can actually take anywhere from one week – six weeks+.
The accurate answer can actually vary based on numerous factors, so we’ve done our best to outline these as a guideline to hopefully provide you with a more accurate timeframe.
Type of tumbler:
You probably have purchased or are on the verge of purchasing, one of two types of tumblers. A rotary tumbler, or a vibratory tumbler.
Rotary Tumbler Timescales: 4 – 6 weeks.
A rotary tumbler is the most common type of rock tumbler and typically seals your rocks in a soft rubber barrel of which you also combine with your tumbling grit and a touch of water.
Once active, you can begin phase one of your tumbling. The tumbler shall then ‘rotate’, tumbling the rocks. This process shall usually last for approximately a week before you move on to phase two.
There are a total of four phases, with each phase of tumbling using a different grit. The four grits should be used as follows: Coarse grind, medium grind, fine grind (pre-polishing) and polish.
Each phase shall last around one week, so you can expect on average for a complete run to take around four weeks before completion.
Some experienced hobbyists prefer to run their rocks in the coarse grit stage for two/three weeks to improve the shaping of their rocks, but this is entirely down to personal preference.
Alternatively, you can check the rocks after each run and simply pick out the individual rocks that you think could do with another run, while moving the rocks that have reached a satisfactory standard onto phase two.
Vibratory Tumblers: 1 – 2 weeks.
Vibratory tumblers can complete the task of polishing your rocks in a speedier manner than rotary tumblers, but they are considerably pricier.
The majority of vibratory tumblers have a ‘bowl’ that is shaken by a motor in a speedy manner.
Typically, a vibratory tumbler shall run from between 12 – 24 hours using a medium grit. The rocks are then cleansed, and the process repeated (multiple times) before you have wonderfully smooth rocks.
You can expect for this to take up to seven days, so the process is to be repeated a considerable number of times until you are satisfied that your rocks are ready to be moved onto the next phase.
Next up is the pre-polishing phase (the fine grit) which can take two-three days, and finally the polishing phase, which should take around the same amount of time.
Overall, this usually adds up to about two weeks in total.
While it may sound like an easy decision to opt for a vibratory tumbler, there are a few reasons that rotary tumblers are the most commonly purchased.
Firstly there is the issue of cost. You can expect to pay a significant amount more (think at least an additional 50%) for a decent vibratory tumbler.
Secondly, while a vibratory tumbler will smooth your rocks out, it will not round them the way a rotary tumbler can.
If you are a fan of well-rounded rocks, then you should probably opt for a rotary tumbler to achieve exactly this.
Can I use a Rotary Tumbler and Vibratory Tumbler together?
Yes, you can! Although this involves purchasing both types of tumblers, it is actually quite common to use both a rotary and a vibratory tumbler.
Users usually begin by running the rocks in the rotary tumbler using coarse grit, for anywhere between one-three weeks. As previously mentioned, this will give your rocks that lovely rounded look that is commonly desired.
You can then move your rocks to your vibratory tumbler for the final three phases, which should be completed significantly quicker than if you were to continue using your rotary tumbler.
If you are unsure of the type of tumbler you should purchase, then we’ve put together this handy guide to assist in your decision!