The Rock Tumbling Hobby

Rock Tumbling

Rock Tumbling is the process of (a) rounding, (b) smoothing, and (c) polishing rocks and other materials, such as glass, wood, coral, bone and shells.

Mother Nature will round and smooth rocks via the process of erosion in streams and on ocean beaches, but will seldom bring out a decent polish. By today’s standards, even the Ancient Chinese and Egyptians could not bring up a polish as good as you can working in your garage, using modern rock tumblers and supplies!

A tumbler operator is often “judged” by others on how highly polished are their rocks. However, it is a fact that the maximum polish a material will take is based on the material itself, rather than the skill of the tumbler operator. The operator’s job is thus to bring a rock to it’s maximum potential. That should be the measure of a tumbler operator--how close do they come to getting a rock to shine as much as God meant it to shine? Rocks which have significant porosity and undercutting tendencies will never polish up very well. But materials like Obsidian and rose quartz can literally blow your socks off when you look at a well-polished specimen!

What is Your Goal?

To be sure, there are many goals in rock tumbling. Some would create rocks just slightly polished to give away to schools and other organizations. Some would strive for a higher polish to suit other purposes, but are not interested in taking the time necessary to produce highly polished specimens. And some want to enter a case in the next lapidary show and want every sparkle they can get out of their stones. What is your own purpose for tumbling rocks?

One of the great potentials of rock polishing is that it can transform the relationship between a Father and his Child or between a Mom and her Child. I have seen this process work miracles on many occasions, and it never fails that both the parent and the child benefit greatly. Doing rocks together gives you both a common ground from which to launch discussions, dreams, goals and life’s lessons. I have been emotionally moved by Moms who chose rock tumbling after Dad left the home. Their reports are heart warming and life changing. If it weren’t for rocks, their kids would be lost in a sea of promiscuity, drugs and alcohol. Choosing rock tumbling may yield benefits far beyond pretty rocks!

The "Higher Calling" of Rock Tumbling

The other great testimonies I hear are from people whose Dad or Mom included them in rock tumbling when they were just kids. They are now grown and eager to introduce their own kids to the hobby. One Mom had our Book, “Modern Rock Tumbling” sent to her son when he was in the Armed Services stationed in Iraq. As soon as he got home, he called us at Little Red Store and put together an order so he could begin sharing his former hobby of rock tumbling with his 5 year old daughter! I really like these stories, because they are examples which show the very real “higher calling” of rock tumbling.

Technically speaking, rock tumbling introduces a rock to an ever-finer sanding process, until, with enough time, the rock is transformed from rough & jagged, to rounded (called Baroque), smooth and polished. The process itself is very close to sanding a fine piece of wood--you start with coarse sandpaper, then medium, then fine and finally, extra fine--then, when you brush on the finish, it looks awesome. With rocks, we do this same thing in a barrel containing a liquid “slurry” which collects the rock dust so it can’t do any harm to our lungs. If you have never tumbled a batch of rocks, I invite you to join us as we whittle away the outer layers and see what magic is inside these tumbled rocks.

Read some of the other “Technical Tips” we offer to help you understand before you buy, and be sure to call us at Little Red Store if you would like more explanation on a particular subject. I promise you, the more you know, the better your decisions will be and the more fun you will have.

Happy tumbling!