The Unexpected Joy of Rock Tumbling

In August 2020 I was presented with the opportunity to move temporarily from New York to a cabin in the mountains of North Georgia. While very reluctant to leave New York, under the COVID limitations, and my work being 100% online, I thought why not accept this once in a lifetime opportunity.

We drove to Georgia with a stop first in Chester, Massachusetts where I had the chance to rockhound near the old emery mines of Chester. That is the topic of another writing. Then, we got to North Georgia, and I was in rockhound paradise. I wasted little time to start hiking, exploring, and rockhounding along the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Cleveland, Georgia.

The Georgia State Mineral is Quartz, and there is plenty of it around. The cabin is also situated near a stream, full of rocks and stones, and possibly artifacts too. So, for weeks I was rockhounding and collecting fine quartz specimens, and panning for gold and gemstones in the creek. It was a great way to spend each weekend.

Then I suffered some pain one day, and went to the doctor who informed me that I had a hernia and it required surgery! After repeated, “you’ve got to be kidding me, I accepted the planned surgery, and also started to plan on what I would do while recovering indoors, resting and relaxing. That is when I thought why not try rock tumbling? I have a creek nearby, a lifetime supply of rocks and stones, so while I can not be our working on my mineral collection, let some work be done FOR ME, by a new rock tumbler!

So, I started to shop around, and researched and read reviews of various tumblers. There are two types of tumblers, the small kiddy ones and then the larger PVC Piping for the Barrel industrial types. There is a price difference between them of course, but the time is the same. If you have a small rock tumbler, or a large rock tumbler, each project takes a month. So, my thinking was, I have a lifetime supply of rocks right now, and I would like to try larger rocks, around size of my fist, so I will opt for the larger tumbler.

I ordered one large tumbler off the internet that is very popular on eBay, Amazon, and other online marketplaces. I was large, with a 20 lb. barrel. It arrived however, and it requires assembly. The problem with this one, and I would guess this is not uncommon, is that each piece must fit together PERFECTLY and EXACTLY right. On mine there was a steel peg that was just a few millimeters too long and it would not allow the motor to attached straight. I did not have a metal saw and would not want to pretend I could fix it either. The problem, I believe, with this popular large rock tumbler is that, since you have to construct it yourself, each piece must for perfectly together, and if it does not, you do not have any spare or extra parts. So, I can not recommend the large tumblers that require self-assembly. Even if all the pieces did fit, I am not sure I trust myself to know what needs to be fully tightened, what needs to be lubricated, and what to expect for maintenance. I returned that tumbler for a refund.

The next tumbler I bought was from a small business that mostly sells through their website. I was also a 20 lb. barrel, so suitable for larger stones. When it arrived, I was delighted to see if consisted of a base with the motor in place, and the base had two horizontal rods that would rotate. Then it had a large 20 lb. barrel made of steel with a lid. That was it!  You fill the barrel with stones, water, and the grit, secure the lid, place it on the rods and plug it in. The rods start working and the barrel starts rolling. The tumbler also had explicit directions on the manual, and written on the tumbler itself. It does require lubrication every single day, and the bolts need to be tightened monthly. That has proven very easy to accommodate. Once a day I check on it, unplug it, add the lubrication, and then plug it back in.

For the stones I have chosen, it’s been a mixture of quartz and schist from the creek, and I am tumbling stones 2-3 inches across. You change the grit every 7 days, for a total of 4 weeks. Each stage has finer and finer grit to achieve a polished look. I have been delighted to see the stones at every stage. Probably the first stage completion, the rough grit to bring out the potential of what looked otherwise like very uninteresting rocks, was the most exciting. The quartz is looking brilliant too. This is also a fantastic way to improve, polish, and have fun with the minerals you collect that are not natural display specimens. If something had a fine point, or was a beautiful crystal, or mixture of minerals on matrix, I would clean it to display it. But every other sort of interesting rock you pick up, that is not so interesting when you get home and clean up your loot, are PERFECT for rock tumbling.

As I write this, I am just beginning stage 4, week 4, the polishing stage. Below are photos of how it started, and how this rock tumbling project is coming along. I am also in week 4 of recovery from my hernia surgery, and hopeful to be more active in February.

If you have the place for a rock tumbler, they can be noisy, and the time to check on it once a day, and also keep it running 24 hours a day, it’s a great complement to your rockhounding hobby. If you have rocks from past excursions, that are not on display, tumble them! If you have stones that are not as shiny or pretty as you wish, tumble them!

I love rock tumbling, and even when I am better, I plan to keep tumbling various stones from my collection, and consider how much you can tumble during the winter months, when you are not going out anyway!

If anyone has specific questions about the rock tumblers I tested and researched, or the tumbler I use, please contact me through “Contact Us” on

I have been posting videos of the rockhounding adventures in Georgia, and the discoveries can be found by searching in YouTube for “Crystal Discovery at NEW and UNUSUAL North Georgia Site.”