The short answer is that rock tumbling can take anywhere between a few days and a few months.
The long answer is that the length of time it takes to turn rocks into beautifully polished and smooth stones depends on a number of factors, including the type of tumbler you are using as well as the type of your rocks.
Type of Rock Tumbler
There are two types of tumblers available for rock tumbling.
The first is a rotary tumbler, and the second a vibratory tumbler. As the name suggests, rotary tumblers rotate the rocks inside them. The rocks are sealed in a soft rubber barrel and combined with tumbling grit and water.
The second, the vibratory tumbler has a bowl which is rapidly shaken or vibrated by the motor. The shaking produces friction which smooths the rough edges of the rocks.
Rotary Tumblers: Smoothing your rocks in a rotary tumbler usually takes longer than the vibratory tumblers.
This is because there are a few different stages, with a few different types of tumbling grit which need to be used.
The first stage lasts about a week and is done using course grind, the second stage also a week and using medium grind, the next is fine grind and the final is polish.
This whole process lasts about 4 weeks (a week for each stage), however many tumbling enthusiasts will repeat a stage if they are not happy with the result.
Vibratory Tumblers: It generally take a lot less time to produce smooth and polished rocks in a vibratory tumbler than a rotary one.
The most commonly used process is to run a vibratory tumbler for 12-24 hours using a medium grit, before washing the rocks and repeating the process.
You can do this as many times are you like until the rocks and smooth, although it usually takes around seven days.
They are then processed in fine grit and polished, with usually three days required for each.
Overall you can expect a vibratory tumbler to take one-two weeks, although this does depend on the type of rock you are using.
Type of Rock
Of course, the type and hardness of the rock you are using will affect the time it takes to tumble.
Softer rocks include marble, calcite and fluorite, which may take just a few days to smooth. Harder rocks include jasper, agate and quartz, which will take a lot longer.
Another option is to use both a rotary and vibratory tumbler, although of course this will involve purchasing two tumblers!
Running the rocks first in the rotary tumbler with course grit for one to three weeks, followed by the final three stages in the vibratory tumbler will produce smooth and polished rocks faster than using a rotary tumbler on its own.
Any rock tumbling enthusiast knows that opening the tumbler to reveal a set of smooth and beautifully shaped rocks is hugely rewarding, and for this reason it’s easy to rush the process!
Without sounding too cliché, one of the best things about rock tumbling for us is the journey, so we try not to rush the process and instead focus on getting our rocks as close to perfect as possible.
Give your tumblers time, and we’re sure you’ll find the finished product worth the wait.