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Using a rock tumbler without the refills

Filed Under: toys, Crafts, nature

polished rocks
When I do laundry, I have to do a careful inspection of my son's pockets. Among other various items -- such as Pokemon cards, Hot Wheels cars, and erasers -- I'm bound to find a collection of pebbles and rocks that he's found outside.

My parents really hit a home run last Christmas when they bought my boy a rock tumbler. We ran the tumbler with the enclosed rocks, grit, and polish just as recommended. We had great results (my son even made a ring for me using one of the stones). But the refills were somewhat expensive and, frankly, I thought it took some of the fun out of it.

So, instead of ordering the supplies, we've done several cycles with our own materials. My son has a great time hunting for small stones that might polish up well. It's so much more interesting and educational than ordering a bag of pre-sorted stones. I'll discuss what we use for smoothing and polishing after the break.

Rather than the three or four-step grit material that most tumbler kits use, I just use sand. The grit you can purchase is usually different grades of silicon carbide; it's more effective than sand. To compensate, I run the tumbler longer than the manufacturer recommends when using the provided grit. Also, I change out the sand several times.

Instead of the purchased polish I use powdered Tide detergent. It works like a champ.

Maybe my son and I don't have agates, quartz, tiger eyes, or other more brilliant rocks. But the fun we have hunting for our own rocks and using our own materials more than makes up for any loss.

Want to take DIY rock tumbling a step further? You can even make your own tumbler with a coffee can and a few other materials.


  • Bill Volk

    Maggie -- great post; I enjoyed reading it.

  • K T Cat

    Maggie, thanks so much for throwing me that link. I had a great time putting that tumbler together.

  • 2 Comments / 1 Pages

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