I started out cheap and small, getting
the 'kiddie' rock tumbler. It was actually not a bad buy for me, since
I don't tumble much, most times. I don't do production work. But
the noise, noise, noise. Even in the garage, the noise was annoying.
So, next came the single barrel Lortone 3A. What a difference - nice
and quiet. A little tricky to open, but it seals well, which is important.
Lortone is also a well respected brand and easy to find info and
After much research, reading about the amazing processing speed,
I purchased a basic vibrating tumbler at a gun shop (much cheaper there).
Then I discovered using one isn't quite the same as a rotating tumbler.
So I actually set it aside, intending to do a little more research.
A few years later, just as I was planning to sell it, I figured out
how to use my tumbling stones. And the vibrating tumbler turned out
to be the perfect tumbler when using the stones.
1 lb capacity "kiddie"
rock rotary tumbler. $30 at a toy store. The motor is a noisy little
"Kiddie" rotary tumblers:
- usually the least expensive rotary tumblers ($20 - $30)
- very noisy
- because of the plastic barrel, they won't stain polymer clay
like some of the rubber barrels have been known to do
- small capacity
- barrel has built-in ribs which promotes tumbling
3 lb capacity Lortone
3A rotary tumbler. $65 at a lapidary store. Blissfully quiet.
- rubber barrel tumblers cushion the material so offer a more quite
- rotary action is close to what nature does
- processing times are slower than with vibrating tumblers
- better at rounding shapes and corners than vibrating tumblers
- barrels require being sealed during operation
- more readily available
- tend to be viewed as more reliable, steady,
kinda of the tortoise of the tumbling machines.
3 qt capacity vibratory
Hornady. $65 at a gun store.
- are a little less common, a little less online info on them
be pricier, though for my purposes, the low end ones are comparable
in price to standard rotary tumblers, especially if you check out
- some brands can be more complicated to operate (e.g gyroc brand)
- known to process times 3-5 times faster than rotary tumblers
- less likely to round corners, shape the material, etc.
- can operate while open
- operationally, need to be checked more often (but that applies
more to rock tumbling than polymer clay tumbling)
After you have the tumbler and the
polymer clay beads, you need to choose the abrading material - the
stuff that will grind smooth the surface of your beads. Most
common options are smooth rocks or sand paper. Click on the links
below to learn how to use those materials to tumble sand your beads.
Some ask if they can use loose grit, the material used to tumble
smooth rocks. In the tests I did, the loose grit embedded in the
surface of polymer clay. So I wouldn't recommend using loose grit.
Rotating Tumbler Sanding Info
what I can tell, there are basically two types of rock tumblers;
rotary (like your clothes dryer) and vibratory. I got the models
you see above.
So far, if
the kiddie tumbler didn't make such an annoyingly loud noise
and had such a small capacity, I'd use those exclusively! They're
great for doing polymer clay beads, IMHO.
key factor to know, the rotate tumbling process is much slower
than sanding by hand... per bead. But if you're staring at a
big pile of beads and feel your hands trying to leap off at the
wrist at the thought of that much labor, you may not mind the
tumbling pace. Vibrate tumbling is supposed to be faster.
little objects is generally tedious and mindless, a perfect
task for a machine. And the time you recouped by handing over
the task to a machine, you can use to relax or make more beads!
is dependent on some factors that may be new to you, but perhaps
vaguely familiar, if you do a lot of laundry!
Your clothes dryer
likely has 3-4 'fins' inside. These fins help the clothes tumble
over each other instead of just sliding along the bottom of
the drum. Rotary tumblers have various ways to promote tumbling.
It's important to make sure you don't suppress or interfere
with your tumbler's ability to work effectively.
Carefully read whatever
documentation you can get your hands on about your tumbler and
tumbling. Here's one really good online reference site by Alan