Rock Tumbling for Beginners: A Step by Step Guide

Photo of Polished Rocks

Do you find yourself picking rocks when you are walking? It could be a rock that caught your attention along the river bank or your driveway, but did you know that you can take your rock-collecting hobby to the next level by taking on rock tumbling?

Rock tumbling is a great hobby that beginners can pick up fairly quickly. You need a rotary or vibratory tumbler, dense and hard rocks, grit, tumbling media, water, and polishing compound. Some of the rocks suitable for tumbling include aventurine, agate, jasper, and quartz. 

What To Do With Tumbled Rocks

Although most people initially take on rock tumbling as a hobby, some have transitioned to turning it into a source of income. Tumbled rocks can be used as home and office decorations, vases or planter fillers, game markers, key chains, natural magnets, jewelry, and paperweights. 

Why Tumble Rocks?

Rock tumbling is a long process that lasts for weeks, so it is natural for you to wonder if it is worth all the time and costs. However, there are several reasons you should tumble rocks.

You should tumble rocks because they are hidden gems. The rough, pale surface of the rock is deceptive because the beauty within the rock is revealed after it is tumbled, while the colors and designs of rocks become more pronounced after they are tumbled. 

The rotary tumbler also helps to reshape the rocks into curvier pieces. 

Rock tumbling can help you learn more about rocks. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the type of rocks just by looking at them. However, once you see the patterns and colors, you can easily tell if the rock is quartz or a different rock. 

A Brief History of the Rock Tumbler

The rock tumbler was invented in the 1950s. However, before then, rocks, sand, and water were put on goatskin bags, which were dragged on the ground for days to create friction. This was a labor-intensive process that took too long.

The high demand for gemstones demanded a better and faster solution. 

People in this hobby love music, but their playlists get boring—they only listem to rock and roll.

The first rock tumblers were made of paint cans. Since they were too noisy, rubber and plastic tumblers were a solution that many embraced. As tumblers became smaller, individuals picked up rock tumbling as a hobby. 

Tools and Equipment You Need To Begin Rock Tumbling

Before you start rock tumbling, you need to ensure you have everything you need. Fortunately, the materials are readily available. Let’s take a look at what you need to begin rock tumbling.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit - Includes Rough Gemstones, 4 Polishing Grits, Jewelry Fastenings, Learning Guide, Great Stem Science Kit

Rock Tumbler

When buying a tumbler, you need to choose between a rotary and vibratory tumbler. Both are great for tumbling but have unique features that make each advantageous in different scenarios.

How Rotary Tumblers Work

The rotary tumbler is a rock tumbling machine with a barrel that rotates for weeks as it tumbles the rocks. Some rotary tumblers have one barrel, while others have two barrels. 

Once you put the rocks, grit, fillers, and water to about ⅔ of the barrel, you seal it and then place it in the rotary tumbler. As the barrel rotates, the grit rubs against the rocks as it shapes and smoothens them. 

Rock tumbling using the rotary tumbler will last for weeks, with each tumbling stage lasting an average of 7-10 days. The type of grit you use determines the rock tumbling stage. You will progressively use the coarse, medium, and fine grit before moving to the polishing stage. 

Best Rotary Tumbler

This Dan & Darci Professional Rock Rotary Tumbler Kit, on Amazon, is one of the best rotary tumblers for beginners for the following reasons:

  • The entire kit includes the rotary tumbler machine, 5 packets of grit, ½ lb (0.22kg) assorted rocks, a leak-resistant, low-noise barrel, and an illustrated learning booklet that adults and children can easily use. 
  • Its heavy-duty motor can withstand weeks of rock tumbling.
  • Some of the advanced features include 3-speed control settings and a timer that will automatically shut down the barrel when you are away. 
Advanced Professional Rock Tumbler Kit - with Digital 9-Day Polishing Timer & 3 Speed Settings - Turn Rough Rocks into Beautiful Gems : Great Science & STEM Gift for Kids All Ages : Geology Toy

How The Vibrating Tumbler Works     

Instead of a barrel, the vibrating tumbler uses a bowl. You put the rocks, grit, water, and fillers as you would the rotary tumbler, which should cover about ⅔ of the bowl. Place the bowl on the vibrating tumbler, cover it and switch on the tumbler. As the bowl vibrates, so will the rocks. 

Unlike the rotary tumbler, which reshapes the rocks into curvier pieces, the rocks in the vibrating tumbler retain their original shape and become smoother. 

Best Vibratory Tumbler

If you want to try a vibratory tumbler, this  Raytech Vibratory Tumbler, available on Amazon, can hold up to 4 lb (1.81kg) of rock. It has a clear lid that allows you to see the rocks as they tumble. 

Raytech 23-001 TV-5 Standard Vibratory Tumbler, 0.05 Cubic feet Bowl Capacity, 115V, 60 Hz

It is made of plastic, so it is easy to clean, and the vibrations are not so distracting. Since ceramic media has sharp edges, plastic media is preferred when using this vibratory tumbler. 


Not only will you need a rock tumbler, but you will also need several other supplies. Let’s look at them now.


When buying grit for rock tumbling, you will need coarse, medium, and fine grit. Grit works the same way as sandpaper does on wood. You start with the rough and keep progressing to the fine until the finishing is smooth enough. 

Use 2-2.5 tbsp of grit per pound of rocks.   

When you start rock tumbling, coarse grit goes in the first tumble. Since the rocks are rough, they need coarse grit to help shape and smoothen them, which can take between 7 and 10 days. 

If you are using a vibratory tumbler, you don’t need to use the coarse grit. You should skip this stage and start with medium grit. 

This video offers great insights on placing rocks in the barrel and the quantity of coarse grit to use:

Pour out the wastewater, which is made up of grit and parts of the rocks. Do not pour the wastewater down your sink because it will clog and cause plumbing problems that will prove costly. 

Wash the rocks thoroughly to ensure no grit is stuck on them. 

Leave in water as a precaution because if the grit dries, it will become hard to remove. Wash the barrel or bowl of the tumbler thoroughly before moving to the next stage. Follow the same procedure when using the medium and fine grit. 

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Rock Tumbler Grit - Rock Polishing Grit Media, Polish Up to 20 lbs. of Rocks, Works with any Rock Tumbler, Rock Polisher, Stone Polisher

The RTumbler Professional Grade Rock Polishing Grit Kit on Amazon is an excellent choice for beginners. The pack has Silicon Carbide grit for coarse, medium, and pre-polish stages and Aluminum Oxide polishing grit for the final rock tumbling stage.

Tumbler Media

The tumbler media are small non-abrasive pellets that cushion the rocks, fill the spaces, and protect the rocks from damage. The pellets also reduce the noise coming from the tumbler. 

The tumbler media is either ceramic or plastic. Plastic pellets were traditionally favored, but ceramic has become increasingly popular because you can wash and reuse ceramic fillers. They also last longer than plastic pellets. 

Tonmp 5 Pound Rock Tumbling Ceramic Filler Media - 3/16 X 3/8 inch Small Cylinder Ceramic Pellets for All Type Tumblers (5 LB)

The Tonmp Tumbling Ceramic Fillers on Amazon are ⅜” (0.95 cm) wide and ⅝” (1.58 cm) long. They are non-abrasive, reusable, and suitable for both rotary and vibratory tumblers.

These Tonmp 2 Pound Plastic Pellets on Amazon are a great alternative if you prefer the plastic variety. They are non-toxic, impact-resistant, and easy to use.   

Where To Find Rocks To Tumble

You can find rocks to tumble from different places, including areas historically known to have experienced volcanic eruptions. You can also find the rocks along rivers, streams, oceans, and beaches. 

Unless you can easily identify the rocks you collect, you should consider buying the best rocks for tumbling. At least, you will be sure that you are tumbling the right rocks. 

The table below shows some of the best rocks to tumble, why, and how you can identify them.


Hardness (Ohm’s Scale)

Quartz7White, clear


6.5 – 7

Red, Orange, White, Pink, Yellow


6.5 – 7

Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Brown


5.5 – 6

Royal blue with white stripes

Rose Quartz


Light pink
Deep purple, shades of purple

Tiger’s Eye

Golden, red-brown (spotted or striped)


6.5 – 7
Orange, yellow, brown, blue, green, pink

Rock hardness is critical because it determines how well the rock will resist or respond to the tumble. 

Which Rocks Not To Tumble

You shouldn’t tumble rocks with a smooth, gritty, sandy, or grainy texture. These will break and cause the slurry, which is a mixture of grit, water, and rock wastes, to become too thick and possibly solidify. 

Likewise, a rock that is too hard, such as diamond which is the hardest on the ohm’s scale (10), may barely change even if you tumble it for months. 

How Many Days Should I Tumble My Rocks?

As a beginner, you may need to follow the guidelines. However, the tumbling duration will depend on the type of rock and the rock tumbler you use. 

When using the rotary tumbler, you should tumble the rocks for 7-10 days for each tumbling stage. However, if you opt for the vibratory tumbler, the first stage (medium grit) should last 7 days, while the fine grind should last 2-3 days. The rock’s hardness will also determine the duration. 

It is also easier to estimate tumbling duration when working with rocks of similar hardness. The rule of the thumb is:

  • Tumble rocks with a hardness of 7 for at least 7 days.
  • Tumble rocks with a hardness of 6 for 5 ½ days.
  • Tumble rocks with a hardness of 5 for 4 days. 

The Rock Tumbling Process

The rock tumbling process might be a bit more complicated than you realized. The following sections show you what to expect before getting started on your new hobby.

Inspecting Your Rough

Before putting your rocks in the barrel or bowl, you need to inspect them. It doesn’t matter whether you picked the rocks or bought them. You need to be sure they are all high quality before tumbling them. 

You need to check for:

  • Porous rocks: Rocks that have tiny holes or spots are most likely to be porous. These rocks absorb water, so if they spend weeks in the tumbler, they will break. 
  • Cracks: Rocks with cracks are also unsuitable for tumbling. If you find these rocks, put them aside.
  • Signs of softness: If some rocks appear to be softer than others, separate them. It is usually best to tumble rocks of the same hardness together. 
  • Size: Smaller rocks wear out faster than larger rocks. If the rocks are relatively the same size, they should be okay. However, if some are much smaller, remove those and set them aside. When tumbling small rocks, you can tumble them together. 

Loading the Tumbler Barrel or Bowl

Wash your rocks and put them in the barrel or bowl, depending on the tumbler you are using. Ensure they get to at least ⅔ of the barrel or bowl. If not, add enough tumbler media to fill the spaces. Add enough water until it covers the rocks. 

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Rock Tumbler Grit - Rock Polishing Grit Media, Polish Up to 20 lbs. of Rocks, Works with any Rock Tumbler, Rock Polisher, Stone Polisher

Coarse Grinding

Put 2 level tbsp of grit, add the tumbler medium (plastic or ceramic fillers), cover the barrel or pot, and then fit it in your tumbler. Switch on the tumbler, and leave the rocks to tumble for 7 days. 

Switch off the tumbler after seven days and open the barrel. Pour out the wastewater, but don’t do it in the sink, because it will turn to cement when it dries out. Instead, pour it out where it is least likely to cause any damage. 

Wash the barrel and rocks thoroughly. Ensure no residue remains on the stones or barrel. Leave the rocks in the water as you check for signs of damage. 

Remove cracked rocks before moving to the next stage. 

Medium Grinding

If you are using the vibratory tumbler, this will be the first stage of tumbling for you. If you use the rotary tumbler, this is the second stage. 

Put the rocks until ⅔ of the barrel or pot. If the rocks have become too few, add more fillers to occupy the space. However, if you have more rocks to tumble but are yet to use the coarse grit, tumble these first so that you can have more rocks to fill the barrel during the medium grinding stage. 

Add 2 level tbsp of medium grit to the rocks, cover them, and tumble it for another week. Once the week elapses, wash the rocks and barrel or bowl in preparation for the fine grit. 

Fine Grinding

The fine grinding stage is also known as the pre-polish stage. At this point, the tumbled rocks should be significantly rounder and smoother if you are using the rotary tumbler. If you are using a vibratory tumbler, the rocks should be smoother, even though they retain their angular shapes. 

After washing the rocks and barrel, follow the same procedure as medium grinding, only instead of medium grit, use fine grit. Add 2 tbsp of fine grit and tumble the rocks for another 7 days. The duration in the vibratory tumbler should be 2-3 days. 

Wash the rocks and tumbler thoroughly after the specified duration. 

Check to see if the rocks are smooth enough. If not, repeat this stage. The polish will be more effective if the rocks have a satiny texture, despite their dull appearance. 


Polishing is the fourth and final stage of rock tumbling. There are different polishing compounds that you can use during the final stage of rock tumbling. Some of the most popular include: 

  • Titanium Oxide
  • Tin Oxide
  • Chrome Oxide
  • Aluminum Oxide
  • Cerium Oxide

Prepare the rocks as in the previous stages, but the water should be just below the rocks. Add 2 tbsp of the polish to the water. Tumble the rocks for 7 – 10 days if you use a rotary tumbler or 2-3 days with the vibratory tumbler. 

Polly Plastics Rock Tumbler Grit Refill, Final Polish 1200 Fine Aluminum Oxide, Stage 4 for Tumbling Stones (2 Pack) (1 lb.)

If the rocks are not as shiny as you had hoped, or if they still appear dull, repeat the pre-polish stage. Avoid polishing them again because more polish will not be helpful, nor will tumbling them in polish for longer. 

You need to use the fine grit to remove the polish and smoothen the rocks further before you attempt polishing them again. Don’t forget to clean the barrel thoroughly because the polish and dirt build-up can affect the final product.


If your rocks are perfect, drain the water. Add enough water to cover the rocks, then clean the polish off the lid and barrel seal before using them in the final tumble.

Add powder detergent to the water, seal, and let the rocks tumble for a day. This process brightens the rocks and makes them shine a little more. Do not use liquid detergent because it will scratch the rocks.

When you finish tumbling, pour out the water, wipe the rocks, and they are ready for use. 

Golden Rules for Successful Rock Tumbling

Here are some great rules you should follow when you want to be successful in rock tumbling:

  • Do not use poor-quality rocks.
  • Wash the rocks and barrel thoroughly after every stage to avoid contamination. 
  • Don’t rush the process. Give the rocks a chance to tumble within the recommended period. 
  • Keep a record of dates, supplies, and grits you used. 
  • Keep the tumbler in the basement when in use to control the noise.
  • Ensure you maintain your tumbler as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

How To Polish Rocks Without a Rock Tumbler

If you don’t have a rock tumbler, you can smoothen and polish the rocks by hand with hand-held tools. 

  • Wash the rocks with warm soapy water. Use a toothbrush to scrub and remove stains.
  • Use a hand-held rotary tool to grind the stones. Wear protective gloves and eyewear as you work.
  • Use sandpaper to make the rock smoother. Start with coarse grit and progress to fine grit as the texture changes. 
  • Use a heavy cloth to rub polish onto the rock, and rub until it shines. 


Rock tumbling is a satisfying hobby, especially when you see the changes in the rocks as you progress from one stage to another. As you gain experience, you will discover the types of rocks that most appeal to you, where to get them, and how best to tumble them.

Michael Carpenter

Hi, I'm Mike. I grew up in North Carolina having a blast on trampolines, go-karts, and just sitting on the porch with my friends. I have since moved to Las Vegas with my wife, 2 children, and 3 dogs. When I'm not chasing the kids around the house, I am probably chasing them around the backyard!

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